Monday, 8 August 2011
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) Directed by George Roy Hill
The concept of celebrity has been with us a long time. It may take different forms or shapes, some celebrities may be real or imagined. Celebrity goes hand in hand with myth making. Despite constant changes in fashion and thinking, celebrity still obsesses us. In Forbes' recent list of top earning film actors, the list displays that it's your fame/connection with the public that puts bums on seats more than your acting talent. But in many ways, it has always been like this. Hollywood has always worked on this type of demand quota. It's amazing that in 2011 we still buy into this shallow process. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid then, is a star vehicle from the old days. If they had cast the movie today (or remake it, though an improbable sequel is being made!), it would be Leonardo DiCaprio teaming up with the slightly older Johnny Depp, the love interest being supplied by Anne Hathaway (if she's not too tall for those guys!)
But then, similarities would cease. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was made in the climate of New Hollywood, so even in a commercial fair like this (despite being a Western), some risk taking has happened. The hazy, hippy photography of Conrad Hall, the wit and counter culture nodding of William Goldman's script (a Ménage à trois is heavily suggested throughout). Lets not forget the greatest thing about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the Burt Bacharach soundtrack. Bacharach's soundtrack adds a depth and pathos to certain sections of the film that is often lacking. But what Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid lacks in grit and substance, it makes up for in chemistry. The superstar variety.
This brings us back to celebrity. The reason we entertain a picture like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the first place is the pairing of Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The chemistry and play between the two 'sexy' superstars (this was a fledgling pairing of superstars for Hollywood) is so easy on the eye, so effortless, so witty yet honest, it's pure entertainment. It saves this endeavor and makes you want to return again and again to the film (as I have done over the years). Actually, in many ways I love this film, even though I'm also secretly repulsed by it. Far greater than the very contrite and contrived pairing of Newman and Redford in The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is some kind of classic. Yet the picture itself has a moralistic view towards robbery and outlaws, that ultimately, the picture is against its own heroes. This is a republican Western in many ways. One that lulls you in. It fooled its left-leaning stars of the day too.
As you may have guessed already, Paul Newman and Robert Redford are eye-candy for me. That's why I suggested we revisit this film. I like their suits and hats. 1969 was still a good year for suits and hats. Then there's the silly and quite unnecessary scene with Newman and Katherine Ross on a bicycle together, which was the other reason I wanted to see the film again. Somehow the innocent and ridiculous morning ride (accompanied by Bacharach's jolly song) had become very meaningful in my memory. On a second look the scene was so unrelated to the rest of the film that it was hardly the right reason to watch it again.
The rest of the film then: Well, there is a lot of horseback riding, getting away from the chasing parties and then running away some more. Oh yes, and robbing trains and banks (in a Hollywood way where everything is too easy and showman-like). Everything takes place in a great scenery and varying degrees of natural light and is filmed with gritty and often unfocused lens, which is refreshing after watching today's super clarity and CGI. The plot is just a bit boring for my hunger for intelligence, psychological complexity, or something else to throw me out of being sure of what's going to happen next.
Sundance Kid (Redford) has a girlfriend (Ross), but the relationship between the girlfriend and Butch Cassidy (Newman) seems almost hotter in the film. There is a feeling all along that she is being shared by both of them – just like the two buddies share everything else... I would have been interested in seeing a bit more than a suggestion to this direction. In fact there is a part in the middle of the film that describes the threesome's travels from the Wild West via New York to Bolivia and from the pretended home camera footage they could have made a whole different movie about the three-way love Butch, Sundance and the woman (whose name was not repeated enough for me to remember it) had. But somehow the director was more interested in gun fighting scenes and endless horse riding. That's where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid lost me.