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Moving Picture Novels 2: the First Nominee for Inclusion in the Canon

August 24, 2012

[New Readers are referred to Moving Picture Novels 1, which sets out my ideas on this evolving form, with some quite demanding criteria for inclusion in the canon. Here is my first nominee; one which I hope will stimulate surprise and some controversy! You may detect some cheating going on, but then Aristotle probably wouldn’t have thought much of Shakespeare’s play writing technique!]

 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

 1. It’s Personal

It’s personal to me as I have fond memories of seeing this when I was a kid, back when going to the cinema still seemed quite a glamorous activity.

More important, though, is that so much of this film’s unique style and tone derives from the excellent (Oscar winning!) script by William Goldman. This is not to denigrate the talent of the large cast and crew involved (listed in the link above). This is one of those films where every contributor seems to add a personal touch that enhances the overall piece.

But Goldman, the author of numerous scripts, novels and film related literature including “Adventures in the Screen Trade” (a splendid guide to the realities of writing for Hollywood), gave them a wonderful script to work on, and his particular tone – tough, humorous and elegiac – is all over it.

2. It’s Fictitious.

Cassidy and Sundance are historical figures, of course, but the Sixties styling and attitudes and the film making technique are “fictions” that provide the chief pleasure and interest here.

3. It’s Prose.

Some of the dialogue may seem rather dated, but fans of the film still enjoy quoting from this film, as IMDB’s extensive roundup demonstrates.

To fans and “readers” of cinema the cinematography, acting and soundtrack of this movie are as rich as Dickens. Sequences such as that showing a mounted posse jumping out of a train and the outlaws’ spectacular high dive, not to mention the stills montage set in New York and the final freeze frame, show Director George Roy Hill using his “prose” with a flexibility that puts most modern writers of actual prose to shame.

4. It’s Of Book Length.

Clearly it isn’t, but the leisurely pace, plot twists and the characters’ picaresque journeying across the West and into Bolivia and the Twentieth Century add to one’s sense of having travelled far and long.

5. It’s a Physical Object.

It’s available in more up to date formats, I’m sure, but true collectors will want their motion picture novels in pristine editions of their first available form. The only surviving VHS video version which I’ve found of this cleverly art directed film vividly demonstrates what a problem this format presents to lovers of the beautiful.

Nevertheless, as a curio and an artefact of the exciting days when it became possible to buy your own copy of a full length movie, I’d be kind of proud to have this on my bookshelf even though I no longer have a video player. Or maybe get a copy of the soundtrack album?

6. You get Notes and Addenda.

Film aficionados always enjoy generating anecdotes and titbits on favourite works, and a quick scan of IMDB or Wikipedia reveals a wealth of material here. It may seem trivial compared to proper literary notes, but I usually prefer anecdotes of the film’s production to academic film criticism.


[I have a few other possible Moving Picture Novels in mind, but hope that readers may care to add their nominations to the comment list below.]


From → Critic

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