(1969) dir. George Roy Hill
Watching a film on an old VHS tape might be the second worse way to watch a movie. Regular TV broadcasts of movies, edited for language, violence, nudity, and time elements hack movies to bits and roll them in advertising, which is even worse than VHS.
The worst thing about VHS is the poor quality of the image, which degrades seemingly over time to a point that it just looks like the movie was shot horribly. And the cropping of the image to meet the full-screen television aspect ration feels like you are close up to the image and missing most of the composition as well.
I mean, it was a breakthrough in its day, allowing access to older films that previously one could only see in screenings or revivals. And you do get to “see the film” so to speak. But really, this is no way to see a film. I usually avoid it like the plague.
The poor viewing of the film makes it hard to really estimate the qualities of the visual aspect and keys one in to focus on the story and characters, performances, etc. And in that sense, I feel like I have now seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a cinema classic that I had never managed to see before. Still, it feels a bit cheapened.
The film was a smash hit in 1969, putting Robert Redford on the map and reaffirming Paul Newman’s stature at the time. They both bring a genuine charm in their rapport, though ultimately they also are essentially two-bit criminals and not entirely likeable.
There is a Pop quality to the movie, with the Burt Bacharach pop music (especially the “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” sequence, which just seems like a very surreal moment and out of step and context with the rest of the film). As well, the light air that the film takes in tone, is an interesting contrast with the serious quality of the Western as a genre. It’s very strange.
But it’s plenty entertaining, with a few flashes of classic scenes and some good character actors in smaller roles.
The character of Etta, played by Katharine Ross, is particularly odd, too. Being the somewhat shared girlfriend of both title characters, she also tosses out painful lines about joining them on their foray into Bolivia because she, at age 26, isn’t good for anything being a single woman. She says that she’ll darn their socks and cook for them, she might as well go along. It’s hard to know if this was a comment on the period, 1895-1905, or weird sexism of the late Sixties. I assume perhaps the former, since she later participates in the robberies and teaches the gringos Spanish to help with their lives of crime.
It’s a weird mixture of things, this film.