Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

#50: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969)

I decided to start with a few movies that are probably not entirely stellar in everyone's book, but made lasting impressions on me one way or another; as Steven says, more faves than undeniable classics (later for the latter). Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—or, according to "Mad" magazine, "Botch Casually & the Somedunce Kid"—was just another Friday night at the movies in junior high. But a few months later I found a copy of William Goldman's screenplay in mass market paperback and was fascinated with the structure and syntax of it, the CUT TOs and FADE IN ONs and so forth, and the way that all those elements with the dialogue told a story. Then I went to see the movie again and again for a time. I see now that it doesn't amount to that much—the broad humor, the jokey camaraderie between Butch and Sundance, and the various musical interludes scattered along the way often seem to me basically dreadful. But it's almost always entertaining and comes with numerous memorable moments (e.g., Sundance: "Can I move?"). It's notably good on the bittersweet inevitability of the ends of things, and was set up unusually well to wield the point, effectively equating the end of the '60s with the closing of the western frontier and the coming of the movies, or something like that. I couldn't find a clip of the saddest scene in the whole thing, when Sundance's girlfriend tells Butch and Sundance she's decided to head back to the States and wait for them to meet her there. All three know she's leaving because she doesn't want to see them die, and that their deaths are not far off. I remember recognizing it as the way a lot of people seemed to feel about things then, even though, just like in the movie, there was a lot of forced hilarity going on at the same time.

"Raindrops keep fallin' on my head / But that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turnin' red" 

"Mad" magazine movie parody titles

Phil #50: The Heartbreak Kid (Elaine May, 1972)
Steven #50: Under Fire (Roger Spottiswoode, 1983)

Countdown exercises are slightly different animals by design from pure lists simply because they are upside down. In effect, by definition, you are forced to lead with the item you find least interesting of all those you are about to discuss. My strategy to deal with this is typically to make the first few picks specifically personal, however I can. This enables me to start to introduce myself and create a context for what's ahead. Thus, even if it was a much larger list of 100 or a list as short as 20 or 25 (though no room on a top 10 for this I'm sure), it would probably start with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—as long as the list was presented in the countdown format—simply for being the movie that introduced me directly and first and so vividly to the idea that films are constructed and made.

One aspect of countdown-making that I like was never discussed between the three of us, and that is an upfront listing of also-rans, which in this case for example could have been our #51-100 lists. I like doing this because it enables people to understand immediately what won't be included on a list, as well as foreshadowing the general contours of one's taste. This is probably a kind of quirk on my part, something I picked up around the Internet. I don't know how common it is generally, and in any case I was having a hard enough time finalizing 50 so was happy simply to follow Phil's lead on this.

Already, at #50, I think we began to surprise one another—Phil picked a movie I'm still not sure whether I've seen or not (if so, it was back in the day and, obviously, made little impression on me) and Steven picked one I not only haven't seen but was only vaguely aware of. (Many of their titles, these and many more, seen and unseen previously by me, are now working their way up my groaning old Netflix queue and/or I have since acquired and/or looked at.) Steven later mentioned on his blog that he rates Butch Cassidy 3/10, which I think it's safe to say means that he abhors it. I suspect the difference says more about our respective appreciations of the Western than anything. It was the only Western on the list I started with (the only other one I ended up including is a highly stylized version of the genre), whereas two of them would find their way into his top 10.


  1. First off, thanks for doing this. I look forward to your reflections on these films. Second, you read my mind ... I've been thinking that my next on-going blog project would be #51-75. Finally, 3/10 isn't quite in the "abhor" range, and I'd probably be kinder to BCATSK if I watched it again (on the other hand, I give Top Gun 3/10 and I've seen it many times). No, if I really hate a movie (yes, I'm talking to you, I Am Sam), it gets 1/10.

  2. I hope you do a #51-75 -- it would be interesting to see. Heck, take it all the way to #100! I'm pretty sure this and other things will keep me preoccupied for awhile, but I've been thinking about borrowing a version of your "what I watched last week" feature just because I haven't given myself the outlet yet for all the new and new-to-me stuff I see.

  3. I'm thinking of doing 51-75 because the last list I made before the final cut had 79 movies on it.

    "What I Watched" is fun, but it encourages more Xgau Consumer Guide/Kael New Yorker blurbs than it does longish essays. I've tried recently to single out one movie each week for at least a second paragraph. Who knows if it'll work.

  4. I always felt the people of the '60s (depending on what you mean by "the '60s") let it down as much as anyone else. Certainly I think the reaction to it by subsequent generations (coughPunkcough) carries a certain subconscious disappointment of its own. At the same time, they did open things up in a way that wouldn't have happened otherwise. I was very happy to live as a child in a '70s society that had plainly taken a few steps in the direction that the '60s set, and no one should've felt like the they were a failure simply because Hippie Utopia didn't materialize immediately. But people did feel that way, and the discouragement that engendered was the '60s bane even more than the Ohio National Guard, since when a more subtle counterattack came no one seemed to fight it. The Establishment learned how to capitalize on the Boomers' own disappointment, and so here we are. What do we do now?

  5. Jeff Blanks, that's the $64,000 question all right! Thanks for your comment.