This was the blog of an Eloise wannabe and her 2 roustabout kitties as they work on a book deal in the City of Lights, giggling all the way. Now it's the blog of an Eloise wannabe planning her next escape (California, Canadia?) with 2 other kitties--still working, still giggling.
I've had a lot of time over the past few days to laze around and do nothing, and so I've been on a Redford kick. Seriously, what better way to spend my time than watching the works of a man who's been an inspiration to me for over 30 years?
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is my favorite, favorite movie of all time. I can't remember how old I was when I first say it--9, 10, 11? Up until then, my movie star crush had been Paul Newman, courtesy of The Towering Inferno. But as soon as I saw that opening scene with Sundance, lean-hipped and beautifully dangerous, his hair so light and his eyes so dark and shrewd in that sepia tone, it was goodbye Salad Dressing Man, hello Strawberry Blondie. Nothing has changed since then, he's still my favorite actor. Not just because I think he's gorgeous (he's the only guy I ever think looked good with a moustache), but because of his history of picking intelligent, thoughtful films with true soul, and his obvious lean toward a good love story. His co-stars have been women of substance--Streisand, Streep, Fonda, Dunaway--which leads me to guess he's quite comfortable around women. (See below. I watched Streisand and Fonda on episodes of Inside The Actor's Studio recently, and they were both still breathless over him.)
And then there are his off-screen works: The Sundance Institute, his environmentalist stances, his care for Native American concerns, his belief that everyone's entitled to have their voice heard. Some people, I'm sure, consider him unpatriotic (Bill O'Reilly, for one) but to me Redford is quintessentially American, with his concern for saving his homeland and his never-ending defense of freedom of speech (unlike Mr. O'Reilly, who yells at people he disagrees with, or throws them off his show--now that's class). He's been a mentor for me since before I even knew what a mentor was. How could he not be, when he wrote the foreword to The Great Margarita Book?
I find it inconceivable that the studio didn't want Redford as Sundance. It never occurred to me that he was a relative bit player at the time, one also known for doing what he wanted regardless of what the studio wanted, because in my mind, Redford was born for that role. Originally, though, Newman was signed on to play Sundance, Steve McQueen was Butch. Then it was decided that Newman would play Butch and McQueen didn't want to play Sundance, and so the fight was on to bring Redford in. The director wanted him, Newman wanted him, Redford badly wanted the part. Finally the studio caved and magic happened. The first real buddy film, the first "roadtrip" film I can ever remember seeing. Inspired cinematography that made me fall in love with the American West. That delicious scene with Katharine Ross stripping while Redford holds a gun on her. The critics hated it, but what did they know? There was a remarkable synergy between Redford and Newman, one that made you believe they'd been riding together for a long time. I fell in love with the outlaw mentality, especially Redford, with his sly grin and his rich chortle as he said "You just keep thinking, Butch, that's what you're good at." Not to mention his "Oh, shiiiiiiiiit" as they went off the cliff.
Next up: The Way We Were.
Has there ever been a character more doomed by his choices than the golden Hubbell Gardiner? This film is one of the best examples of internal conflict I've seen. No fueding families to push a couple apart, no serial killers to be on the run from, just two people who love and admire each other but know they're too different to make it work--but not without first trying. The chemistry between Streisand and Redford was electric and warm. Every time I watch this, just hearing the strains of the theme song chokes me up, and I usually get teary when Hubbell and Jj are on the boat and you see the look on Hubbell's face as he realizes he;s losing Katie. By the end, when they meet again outside The Plaza and the pull is so obvious but they know they can't, when Hubbell asks if another man is being a good father to his child then ducks his head and is fighting tears, I'm blubbering. Fucking blubbering. It's the saddest moment I've ever seen on film. And yet I watch it again and again, because it's such an outstanding scene.
Around this time, I discovered The Outlaw Trail, a book Redford wrote about the trip he and 7 others took, riding the path the outlaws took from the Canadian border down to Mexico.
Reading about his love for the West and his passion for what was being lost is the first time I remember being moved by someone's concern for the environment, and thinking about it myself. I loved that book so much, I came thisclose to stealing it from the library. I was thrilled, some 20 years later, to find a copy in Powell's. (Seriously, what can't you find there?)
Also around this time, I guess I was in Year 11, some Year 12 girl overheard me professing my love for Redford (when most other girls were into Leif Garrett--not that I also didn't love Rick Springfield) and invited me to her place to watch a movie I'd never heard of before then, Three Days of the Condor. I think we watched it 3 times in a row that day. My God. I'd probably seen All The President's Men by that time, my mum always took us to see adult films as well as kid's, but this one really woke something up in me--and I don't just mean the tension between Redford and Dunaway, though that certainly made a lasting impression (mmmmm, bondage!).
Yes, Redford was once again golden and glorious, but through his portrayal of the confused and scared, yet smart and resourceful, Joe Turner, my nascent feeling that something was wrong with the way things were run was heightened. His dialogue of "Boy, what is it with you people? You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?" encouraged me to speak up about what I thought was the truth. Watching it now, some aspects are dated (but in a nice way--the death scenes are far less gory than we see now), some are bittersweet (the scenes in the World Trade Center), some are fun (the wocka-wocka soundtrack) and some are scary and very current (the whole oil aspect). It's an intelligent thriller, albeit it slower to start than today's movies. But I'm fine with that. I've never thought you needed pyrotechnics and clever car chases, when it's the story that counts. I can still finish watching this film and play it over again, I enjoy it that much.
Next, The Electric Horseman. Lordie lordie lordie! Redford back with Jane Fonda (their 3rd film together), back in the saddle, back with Sydney Pollack (their 5th film together) with another tale about loss of innocence and the meaning of the American Dream.
Sonny Steele lit a flame in me when he rode that horse out of the arena and just kept on going. Haven't we all wanted to do that at some stage? Didn't we all want to stop the horse from becoming a commodity, and let him run free? Didn't we want to see Sonny regain his pride and lose the drunken cardboard cutout he'd let himself become? Then there's the fine comedic moments: Redford belting out "Mommas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" with Willie Nelson, or when he's staggering around in Fonda's prescription glasses.
Those are my favorite Redford films (and I don't think there's any
surprise that they're mainly from the 70's, a period I think was so
rich in creativity and diversity, before big business really came to
town and we started hearing crap such as "high concept") but there are
so many others I enjoy: Legal Eagles (especially the tap-dancing scene), The Candidate, Brubaker, The Sting, Little Foss and Big Halsy, Downhill Racer, Out of Africa, The Natural, and the magnificent but harrowing Jeremiah Johnson.
There's often a sense of melancholia to Redford's works, a loneliness,
and the scene in which Jeremiah comes home to find his family
slaughtered is one of the toughest to watch. His directorial/producing
works are also some of my favorites, especially The Milagro Beanfield War (not that I wasn't jazzed when I heard him narrating A River Runs Through It, I love his voice) and Incident At Oglala: the Leonard Peltier Story.
I remember sometime in '95, '96, settling into bed one Friday night, with a book I was eager to read: The Horse Whisperer.
When I read the description of Tom Booker, I thought, "Mmm, Brad Pitt."
Then it mentioned his age and I thought "Even better! Redford!" So I
was delighted to read later that Redford had the film rights, though I
was worried about the final scene. I'm not a fan of seeing Redford die
on-screen (which is why I haven't yet tackled The Clearing--I don't know if he dies in it but I suspect he does, and The Last Castle, The Great Gatsby, and Up Close and Personal
were enough for me, thanks very much) although I didn't have the same
problem that some friends did with the book, who thought the scene was
out of character for Tom. So I was thrilled when Redford filmed the end
differently (and thought his logic, that Annie had to make a choice and
not have it made for her, suited the story more than the original) and I was even more thrilled
with the dance scene, when you see his hand settle into the small of
her back and you realize this is it, this is the love scene. The movie
is spiritual and hopeful, and even though I find the opening scene
difficult to watch, it's shot with such care that it's not at all
gratuitous. The film runs for 2 hours and 45 minutes. Really? Excellent!
Redford's been criticised over the years for "playing Redford," but I'm just fine with that. I like knowing that I'm going to see a film that makes me think as well as entertains me. I like knowing there'll be moments when the eyebrow will go up, or you'll see that classic double take or hear him laugh as he speaks, usually when he's saying "Jesus!" in disbelief. Every film, I search for the silver ring he wears on his right hand, even if it's not really the character. The Sundance Kid wears it, Tom Booker wears it, Joe Turner wears it, Einar (An Unfinished Life) wears it--even WASP Hubbell Gardiner wears it.
I like knowing that he won't be pushed around and he won't bow to criticism. I love that his voice is strong and clear, kind but incisive--still not suffering fools. His latest film, Lions For Lambs, is already causing controversy, even before its release, and he's bound to cop some more, now that he's signed on to direct a film adaptation of Richard Clark's memoir, Against All Enemies. There are those who think entertainers shouldn't voice their political leanings, yet Redford has commented that he didn't give up his citizenship when he became an actor. Honestly, I wouldn't be so interested in him if he weren't involved as he is. It's part of what makes him so incredibly attractive.
That, and the bondage scene ;-)
For me, Robert Redford is in a class all of his own. I can't think of any other actor from his generation who still commands top billing and who's so involved in his community. Not afraid to look into the darkness of the soul yet still come out hoping for the best, and believing art can help do that for people.