Have you ever revisited a favorite book or movie, only to discover it’s not as good as you remember? That’s been my experience recently and it’s left me feeling uneasy. It started when a writer friend mentioned that “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is actually boring. That’s certainly not the way I remembered it, so I decided to see for myself.
He’s right. Except for two memorable scenes, one at the beginning where Butch kicks Harvey Logan in the groin, and another where Butch and Sundance jump off the cliff: —
Butch: “What’s the matter with you?” Sundance: “I can’t swim.”
Butch: “Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.” Sundance (jumping): Shit!!!
…except for those scenes and a lot of colorful dialogue (which certainly helps), nothing much happens. Most of the movie involves Butch and Sundance running from the super posse (“Who are those guys?”) all the way to Bolivia, with that odd interlude where they ride bicycles with Etta to the strains of “Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head,” which has nothing to do with anything but was sandwiched in so Burt Bacharach could win an Oscar for best song.
So I’m sorry I watched it after all these years, because it was better in my mind; most things are. I’m sure it’s a matter of context. The film seems dull because modern movies and books are generally fast-paced, with quick cuts and short build-ups. One of the cardinal rules of writing these days is “get into the scene late, get out early.” If you watch just about any classic movie, they take an inordinate amount of time showing people driving, getting out of the car, walking up a driveway, knocking on the door, waiting, lighting a cigarette, etc. We just don’t have the patience for that now.
One exception to the rule is “Chinatown.” It holds up remarkably well, maybe because the cynicism rampant in the movie is more relevant today than ever. And it’s just damned stylish, with Nicholson playing everyone’s favorite jaded PI to the hilt. Jack took a lot of chances back then. What other major star would let himself be filmed for half the film with his nose slit open?
Quick story: A year ago, I realized my wife had never seen “Chinatown,” so I made a trip to Hollywood video to remedy that injustice. Not finding it on the shelves, I asked the teenage girl behind the counter for help. She looked it up on the computer and disappeared into the bowels of the store for a few minutes. When she emerged, she triumphantly handed me a DVD. “Big Trouble in Little China” with Kurt Russell. Not quite the same thing. That’s when I decided to subscribe to Netflix.
Lesson learned: Most things, no matter how popular, are lost in one generation. No need for sadness and hand-wringing; it’s just the natural order of things. Here’s a good one: My 33-year-old son-in-law never heard of Steve McQueen. I’d give him a copy of “Bullitt” but I’m sure he’d be disappointed. I probably would, too.