Sunday, January 4, 2009

Movies: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Played as a double feature with Fight Club as a film that shaped the young David Fincher’s cinematic sensibilities, this classic is surprisingly spare, a kind of extended chase sequence that sets a posse of six at first unidentified lawmen blazing after the unstoppable Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman), the brains (with a twinkle in his eye), and his partner, the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford), the crack shot (with a glued-on mustache).

After one too many railroad hold-ups set the posse on their backs, the friends enlist their friend (and the Kid’s lover) Etta (“I’m 26 and I’m single and I’m a school-teacher. . . That’s the bottom of the heap!”) and run away to Bolivia (via steamer from New York, their short stay in that city depicted in a long montage of sepia-toned still photographs, rather than moving film). There, they immediately begin robbing banks again, earning the risible moniker Banditos Yanquis, until the posse shows up there too, forcing them into a “straight” life, and sending Etta on her way back to the States alone.

The still photograph figures prominently again when, at the film’s end, the two are cornered by not only the police but a regiment of the Bolivian army, who line the parapets of the courtyard in which the Banditos are hiding, pointing their rifles at the empty plaza. Rather than show our heroes shot full of holes and falling down dead, the film freezes into a sepia-toned still at the moment they charge out to their deaths, guns the air, grins on their faces. They are, then, memorialized completely without sentimentality, which cool touch I would like to say Fincher learned for use in Fight Club, even if he forgot it in time for Benjamin Button.

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