Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid is an underappreciated gem of the Western genre. As Alias, Tom Wopat would be taking one of Bob Dylan’s best movie roles (not that’s he’s had many, or that any of the others were remotely good). Dylan also provided the soundtrack for the film, which, apart from the classic “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” is best left to Dylanologists.
Representative Scene: the whole movie
With Tom Wopat in the role, we’d beef up Alias’ part from what is essentially a one-scene-and-done character into a sort of “wandering troubadour” narrator. Wopat knows his way around a song and a guitar, so we’d have him pop up throughout the film, supplying narration through singer-songwriter-y, half-folk, half-outlaw country ballads.
Seven of Dylan’s soundtrack album’s ten tracks don’t even have words. We’d like to hear Wopat’s take on the tale and the task of soundtracking the film. His albums have often toed the line between rock and country, so he’d be a perfect fit here.
Give him an old, beat-up looking Gibson acoustic guitar and have him appear in the background as scenes unfold, leaning against a hitching post on a dusty street, for example, or sitting by a campfire. Then, as the characters move on (and out of frame), Wopat stands up and, looking directly into the camera, starts to walk and sing, slowly following James Coburn’s Pat Garrett (for example) out of the shot.
Wopat’s songs would continue playing as shots changed and the scenes moved on, sort of making the shots in between scenes of action and dialogue into musical montages, if you will. Alias wouldn’t necessarily appear in these continuation shots, but he would show up again later, in the background of scenes, coming to the fore when another musical interlude was needed.
The production of Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid was a notoriously difficult one. We can’t help but think that the presence of a true pro like Mr. Wopat would’ve made things go at least a little more smoothly. Plus, who wouldn’t want to hear a Wopatized version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”?