Thursday, December 10, 2009

December 10, 2009
Having visited Bolivia last summer, I re-rented Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid from Netflix about two weeks ago to see how they handled the Bolivia scenes, but it sat on our end table night after night because I couldn't get any interest from my family to watch it with me.

Last night Kathy had a bunco get together down in north Scottsdale and so I snuggled in and gave it a look, starting with the making of the movie video in the Special Features part of the menu, which has become one of my favorite things to watch because it's so inspiring and educational in terms of craft and story telling.

The director George Roy Hill narrated in minute detail all of the problems of the shoot: the too-much-dynamite on the safe scene (matching the smoke and floating money with the explosion and then the actors was a bitch), and the Super Posse exploding out of the special train car (they built a special car with a higher door so the riders wouldn't be decapitated). He had several running arguments with Paul Newman. One daily argument was the placement of the scene where Butch and Sundance visit the friendly sheriff who immediately instructs them on how to tie him up, and he also tells them their time is over and they will, sooner than later, be shot down and killed. Newman believed that scene should run immediately before they decide to go to South America and Hill believed it should run earlier, before the jump off the cliff scene, some twenty minutes later. They argued about it so much that someone quipped they should call the movie The Blah-Blah Scene, based on the sheriff's character speech, can't think of his name off the top of my head. Anyway, it's an easy call today—Hill was correct. It needs the Super Posse build-up, after the sheriff's speech because we, the audience, are still in denial, along with the boys, about their ability to escape. Absolutely brilliant story telling. Everything works perfectly and the screenwriter, William Goldman, on the commentary track, tells how rare this is in movie making.

Another gem is that Darryl Zanuck spent a boatload of money on a New York street scene for another Fox flick filming at the same time, Hello Dolly, and Hill wanted to use the street for the New York segment on BC&SK but since Hill's movie was coming out first, Fox wouldn't let them use it. So, Hill got them to agree to using still photos on the street, then came up with the still photos montage, where they shot the actors on the Hello Dolly set but then married those still photos with actual New York Historical Society photos.

At almost every turn, Hill and crew turned a problem into a solution (although he was very disappointed in the slo-mo death scene of the payroll shootout and never did get it the way he wanted). Really a must see for anyone who thinks they can do a Western. I'm going to watch it again tonight with the Hill commentary (last night I watched the William Goldman commentary). Just the absolute best.

And, oh, yes, the Bolivia scenes were filmed southwest of Mexico City and the transition from New York harbor (we see the Statue of Liberty go by) and then it cuts to big letters across the top of a railroad car: "Nacional Bolivia" and the train goes by and we see Butch, Sundance and Etta standing at a gutted out train station. Really clever and satisfying. I forgot how great the Bolivia bank robbery scenes were where the guys can't speak Spanish, and Butch is cribbing from notes.

Oh, and Hill was very afraid the movie would get too many laughs and be perceived as a comedy and thus ruin the ending when he wants us to feel bad. They snuck the film in San Francisco and the title card at the beginning—"Not that it matters, but most of this is true"—got a huge laugh, so, in a panic, Hill excised half the card ("Not that it matters") to deaden the humor. Talk about agonizing over the details!

"Who are those guys?"
—Butch and Sundance marvelling at the prowess of the Super Posse

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