I want to commend Jane Galbraith for her excellent article about the MPAA re-rating of Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" ("Sam Peckinpah Meets the Mild Bunch," March 14). The history of "The Wild Bunch" is complex and, considering deadline and space limitations, Galbraith did an excellent job of reporting it.
She is absolutely correct when she writes that the MPAA rated Peckinpah's uncut version R in 1969, and now has turned around 24 years later and rated the exact same cut of the movie NC-17. However, she incorrectly quoted me as saying that Peckinpah's version of the film played briefly in American theaters in 1969. This is not true.
After the MPAA gave the film an R rating, Warner Bros. decided to remove a flashback from "The Wild Bunch." This was done for commercial reasons. Two weeks after the film's opening in the U.S., the studio cut another eight minutes out, including an even more crucial flashback that explains how William Holden and Robert Ryan ended up on opposite sides of the law. So, except for private screenings held by Peckinpah in the 1970s, the uncut "The Wild Bunch" has never been shown in theaters in this country. Many of us who care passionately about this film--which has been recognized internationally as one of the milestones of the American cinema--hoped that it would finally get a public screening in its native land.
Now the MPAA has scuttled that hope by slapping a rating on the film that makes its rerelease commercially infeasible. No matter what euphemisms you wrap it up in, this is censorship.
How fortunate for the American public that the MPAA's jurisdiction does not extend to the legitimate theater and literature. If it did, most of the plays of William Shakespeare, James Joyce's "Ulysses," Melville's "Moby Dick," Tolstoy's "War and Peace" and thousands of other works would either be banned or butchered at the alter of "family values."
Weddle is author of "If They Move . . . Kill 'Em!: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah," to be published next year by Atlantic Monthly Press.