Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (Hill, 1969)
I am compelled to rant for a moment. Anyone familiar with the “Reviews” system in the Rotten Tomatoes Community knows about the little sidebar that shows up when you write. It shows the three most recent user reviews for that particular picture. At this moment, I’d like to share the kind of unfortunate crap that people think about movies:
“Watch it, that is all.” “Probably the first of the westerns with slapstick humor” “One of the best Westerns ever made, Paul Newman and Robert Redford make one of the best pairings in cinema history.”
I honestly want to see a list of the pictures these people have seen that they would consider “Western.” Butch is about as much of a Western as No Country. It’s an homage from a much different time. Butch is what happens if you take a bunch of cocky youths out of their VW Rabbit, give them a joint, make them watch The Tin Star, and then hand them a camera.
Indeed, this is precisely what makes Butch such an enduring picture. It preserves both a tested cinematic format and the edginess of 1969. But is it deserving of the label “one of the best Westerns ever made”? No way. It is a shameless carbon-copy of Bonnie & Clyde. The second half of the film is remarkably slow. And, those who have seen it will understand, it is too damn pretty.
I will agree that Newman and Redford make an endearing couple. Redford’s passion for cinema is tangible and Newman follows his impossibly charming lead. But there’s something else. I never pick up on cinematic homoeroticism. But here? Even Little Ms. Robinson can’t calm them down.
Those who point to Days of Heaven as some kind of cinematographic landmark need to take another look at Butch. The picture-taking is so under-appreciated. Perhaps it is so because it is remarkably out of place. The camera is outrageously active. It plays around with weird and aimless focus lengths, puzzling apertures, and every zoom opportunity in sight. It doesn’t fit. But that doesn’t change the fact that some of the darkest, most dazzling photography of the second half of the century lies dormant in this picture.
None of my evaluation changes the fact that I watched this movie with my father. I remember him recommending it to me years ago and we finally looked at it last night. He saw it in on the big screen when it came out in ’69 and there is no substitute for the joy a movie lover can feel when he or she enjoys their favorite hobby with someone so close and who shares the real connection we seek.