I Saw a Film!

Going back in time is such fun, recalling whatever it was a felt about these old movies as a lad, when I’d, in fact, seen one of them, is a kind of self-exploration too many of us don’t really think about. I know what I loved about this particular film as a kid. I had been entirely won over by the “buddy-outlaw”, goofball fun of being a train-robber, gun-fighter, rebel. Which on mature review was all the film honestly has, cute bank-robbers.

The entire pleasure of this film is the fun of Redford and Newman playing off each other like the Beatles in Help!. It is a lot of fun to imagine these two clever, handsome, hipsters circumventing the law and order of the day and playfully, and nearly harmlessly, blowing up trains and taking the cash. Of course, this is, and has long been criticized as a horrendous representation of anything like the old West criminals who actually had the names our favorite actors are using. However, the over-arching story of the film is fairly correct. They did end up in Boliva with their girlfriend, and are believed to have been gunned down by the serious Bolivian law enforcement. Reading through the Wikipedia pages dedicated to these fellows (which are ridiculously short compared to the massive efforts dedicated to Scrappy Doo! No kidding!) it becomes clear that our film did not attempt to portray the horrors of the killings the numerous shootouts resulted in. Many lawmen were killed by these thugs, lives destroyed, civilization dampened. But, somehow we still adore the murderous riff-raff, in much the same way we still want to love the Confederate rebels even though, ultimately, they wanted to tear the country apart resulting in a preservation of slavery. Grotesque, but the human animal is nothing if not full of reversal, fickle devotions, and irrational affections.

At some point we’re looking at Paul Newman riding around on an antique bicycle while an old sixties pop-tune plays, raindrops keep falling on my head. I’d entirely forgotten this silly romanticism leveraged into the tale. But it gets worse, later, when our trio (the daughter from The Graduate) are running around causing selfish trouble, while the soundtrack gives us joyous sixties pop-song voices bopping away making us sort of wish we were these outlaws robbing banks and ruining lives.

Apparently, the best reports we have are that they were badly losing the last gunfight, and ended up killing themselves (one shot both). They had been riddled by bullets by then and this, naturally, would not fit the feel good hipster outlaw story. So we go for a freeze frame of our protagonists jumping out into the gunfire. Much like the American remake of Breathless, with Richard Geer, which my younger brother, youthfully in love with the Geer character, postulated his survival, jumping about the room with his finger extended like a pistol. My amusement frustrating him.

This is running free with your Hulu subscription in USA and at best is a study in how we can create a fictionalized affection for basically any–even the most heinous– life, probably best lampooned in Springtime For Hitler. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a sixties peak of what we’d probably refer to as ‘Gangstah’ culture today. It did, of course follow on the heels of a popular representation of Bonnie and Clyde, and before films were common, we passed the stories of John Dillinger (himself the subject of many films) around like talismans. Do we need to revere these old gun-slinging criminals to somehow value our social and lawful civilizations? I don’t know if I have an answer to that, but the “Scarface” appeal, the “Godfather” values, the fact of the many faceless and entirely forgotten victims for whom we couldn’t care less (there are no films of the lives of the victims of serial killers), could provide a lead into our duplicitous civilization disorders. As long as we give our darker side the outlet of films, and stories, perhaps we can keep our world working despite how boring and soul sapping our day to day lives can be.

2 thoughts on “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

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