It's widely believed that notorious outlaw Henry McCarty, a.k.a. William Bonney, better known as Billy The Kid, was shot to death by Sheriff Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881 but this 2006 documentary from director Anne Feinsilber does an interesting job of raising a few questions about the circumstances surrounding his death and even about the outcome. Was he really killed by Pat Garrett or was it a cover up of sorts?
Using Kris Kristofferson in the role of Billy The Kid (a role he played for Sam Peckinpah in the excellent feature Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, the movie attempts to recreate what happened between the two legends of the old west that fateful day over a hundred years ago. The film presents the theory that it's possible that Billy The Kid was not buried in that grave but that he in fact left the area and lived a normal life under an assumed identity. The filmmaker's even go so far as to approach the current Sheriff of Lincoln County who had hopes of having McCarty's mother's corpse exhumed for purposes of doing a DNA test. According to the Sheriff, however, the local magistrate refused the request for rather unusual and somewhat suspicious reasons.
Whether or not the content of the film has any basis in historical accuracy is difficult to say. Some obvious research has gone into the project and it's interesting to see some of the people from the area talk about the myth's and legends surrounding the case. Some of them have more to say to the camera than others but things are talked about in an almost reverential manner. These odd bit part players are almost fetishized by the camera with the film really focusing on their eccentricities and uniquely western characteristics.
Along the way, Requiem For Billy The Kid takes us on a tour of the area with the gorgeous widescreen cinematography completely soaking in the landscape and the settings where much of the story it is attempting to investigate took place. Interesting comparisons are made between the life of Billy The Kid and that of poet Arthur Rimbaud, which is an unusual comparison to make on the surface but which actually proves to be a little more understandable than you might at first expect given the paths that the two lives took before their early retirement, both at the young age of twenty-one. Obviously Billy The Kid's was a little more permanent, at least if the history books are to be believed.
Feinsilber uses clips from Peckinpah's film to illustrate various points, which solidifies the inclusion of Kristofferson as narrator/storyteller. His low, gravelly voice suits the material well and it's interesting to imagine him here as an aged version of the character he played opposite James Coburn in 1973. The film places him in similar context to the other people interviewed on camera, such as the modern day Sheriff and the locals who live in Lincoln County and who still live their lives in a manner befitting the wild west in which they reside.
Kino presents Requiem For Billy The Kid in a nice 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Some of the inserts look a bit rough but the newly shot footage comes through with a nice level of clarity and detail and solid color reproduction. Some shimmering is present and there might be a bit of edge enhancement here and there but there are no problems with mpeg compression artifacts to complain about. There is some mild motion blurring here and there which indicates that this might be a slightly botched PAL to NTSC transfer.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is clean, clear and free of any hiss or distortion. No alternate language options, subtitles or closed captions have been provided. The background scores sounds good, levels are properly balanced and at no times are there any issues understanding the performers or the narration.
Unfortunately, aside from a fairly basic menu and a text biography for the director, this release is completely barebones.
History buffs or fans of the Old West will probably get more enjoyment out of this than your average man on the street but Requiem For Billy The Kid remains a well made and reasonably though provoking documentary. Seeing Kristofferson reprise his role from the Peckinpah film adds some charm though the lack of extras hurts the release despite a decent presentation. Consider this one a solid rental.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.