Tuesday, August 27, 2013

All the Small Things

Cinema is full of great pairings: Laurel and Hardy, Tracy and Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. But none have made so great an impression with so few pairings as the cinematic partnership of Robert Redford and Paul Newman. The duo only made 2 films together, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973) – both directed by George Roy Hill – but it's hard to imagine the one actor without the other. Oh, sure, they had successful careers separately beforehand. Newman had 4 Oscar nominations under his his belt before teaming up with Redford – who was doing alright himself having received the Golden Globe already for New Star of the Year (Whatever happened to that category? I bet the Zac Efrons of the world were wishing it was still around...) But somehow the two together just clicked. Their combination of star wattage, rugged good looks, and good-natured banter became synonymous with the Buddy Film genre. And their first outing together as a couple of real-life bank/train robbers, happens to be the subject of this week's edition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot from Nathaniel over at The Film Experience

I guess the same can be said about this blog post...
I haven't watched the film in over 10 years and while I remember it being mostly enjoyable (Redford and Newman really are very good together. Star powers unite!) not much about it this time around clicked for me. It takes an awfully long time getting anywhere and I'm not entirely sure it has any destination at all in mind. 

Entire stretches of the film seem like mostly filler – granted, beautifully shot, Academy Award-winning cinematography filler – but, filler, nonetheless. The first 10 minutes are shot in sepia tone for no other reason than it looks old-timey. The repetitive "chase" sequence seems to go on forever and seems to draw more attention to the majestically shot mountains and rivers rather than bringing any useful insight into the characters or, you know, advancing the plot along. And then right in the middle of the film we get a completely unnecessary movie montage of Adventures in New York (in sepia tone, naturally). And I haven't even mentioned the groovy music video within the film for the Burt Bacharach penned, B.J. Thomas sung, Oscar-winning song, "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head". But it just so happens that my choice for Best Shot comes from that moment in the film.

The song is arguably even more famous than the movie itself. Although, it seems to exist in the film for the sole purpose to win an Oscar. It does show how Katharine's Ross school teacher has more of a bond with Newman's Butch Cassidy than she does Redford's Sundance Kid, but it doesn't amount to anything as the film's focus is on the male relationship. And she doesn't end up with either of them anyway (uh, spoiler alert? Like I said, it doesn't matter. That's not the point of the film). But mostly its a moment for Newman to do a lot of mugging for the camera and show off some impressive tricks on a bicycle, while Ross pretends to be amused. But stuck in the middle of it all is this breathtaking shot:

It jumps out from the rest of the scene because it seems so out of place. All her previous shots in the scene are of big, toothy laughs that seem like forced joy regarding Newman. This shot is so pensive and thoughtful as if we're catching a glimpse into the inner workings of her mind. It's a real moment captured on screen. It doesn't even seem like Ross is aware of the camera on her – which makes it even more exciting. For a fleeting instant we get to see the artifice stripped away to show the actress' humanity. And amid a film full of big stars and bigger set pieces (no offense to Redford and Newman), its this little thing that counts.


  1. Nice post. It seems like we had a similar idea in mind. I also chose a shot with Katherine Ross, albeit a different one.

  2. thanks, shane! it seems weird to have chosen a shot of her when redford and newman are such big stars and dominate the film, but that shot of ross really jumped out at me.