Thursday, April 14, 2011

Butch Cassidy & the Wild Bunch

No, the theme for Friday, April 15 will NOT be at all related to taxes, taxing, or being taxed. Isn't it enough that they exist?

Rather, an item of interest. April 15 is the birthday of, among others, Butch Cassidy (1866-1908), the infamous outlaw of American's Wild West and the ringleader of the Wild Bunch gang.

Butch Cassidy, mugshot from Wyoming Territorial Prison (Laramie), 1894
Born Robert Leroy Parker, Butch spent the first 15 or so years of his life living semi-respectably (but highly unknown and unsuccessful) outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He worked on several ranches, eventually coming across a cattle rustler and horse thief by the name of Mike Cassidy who would become a sort of antiheroic mentor to the burgeoning desperado.
Don't your feet get cold in the winter time?
The sky won't snow and the sun won't shine
It's hard to tell the nighttime from the day
You're losing all your highs and lows
Aint it funny how the feeling goes away...

You better let somebody love you
You better let somebody love you before it's too late (Eagles)
He also held a job as a butcher in Wyoming for a time, before turning away from legitimacy and the 'straight and narrow' and combining 'Butch' from this cleaving job with 'Cassidy' appropriated from his old friend to establish a new identity... and ultimately a legend.

So who is the man behind the myth? Well, I have no idea and no way to answer that. Even as I began to delve deeper into his past, I found that there are numerous birthdates reported as his; thus I cannot even verify the 15th as the day on which to 'thematize' him. Oh well.

About 6 years after the mugshot above, Butch partnered up with the Sundance Kid, his alias pinched from the town of the same name. (Ever heard of it?? Yeah, I think there is some kind of annual celebration of film there or something like that...)

Robbing trains and holding up banks, the two attracted others -- yes, the Wild Bunch -- and in their downtime, this highly likeable outlaw and his band took refuge at their hide-out, the Hole-in-the-Wall. After there developed an ultra-vigilante outfit intent on capturing the gang and putting an end to their pursuits, Butch and Sundance escaped to Bolivia where they managed to live peacefully for almost a decade before they turned, once again, to a life of crime and robbery. While their exact end is not known -- and is heatedly debated -- the legend many choose to believe in is the one in which Butch and Sundance take their own lives together rather than face the humiliation and submission of capture by authorities.

The Wild Bunch gang looking surprisingly upright
Perhaps it is the general lawlessness of the wild West society of which Cassidy was a part that makes it so hard to deride his choice of occupation and unorthodox lifestyle. Perhaps it was his seeming generosity of spirit and love for mankind, once famously proclaiming his doctrine of spurning groundless violence by announcing: "I have never killed a man."

Or perhaps it is, in large part, the way history and cinema has framed, retold, and memorialized his life and his persona. In the unconventional and noteworthy film version, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Paul Newman and Robert Redford were auspiciously paired, establishing an on-screen chemistry of buddies that can hardly be topped. In his review of the film, critic James Berardinelli notes the unusual nature of the film, differentiating it from previous and ensuing Westerns most especially because of...
...its lighthearted tone. The movie is jovial without being silly; it retains the sense of adventure that characterizes the Western, but replaces the often somber mood with one that is airy and, at times, almost comedic.
In honor of one of my favorite films, in honor of the power of myth and legend, in honor of the combination of the comedic with the tragic, in honor of Redford and Newman, in honor of impossible dreams and dreaming, in honor of the appropriately lawless, in honor of vision, in honor of knowing what the heck bifocals are, tomorrow's theme is all about Butch. Research the real Butch. Rewatch the film. Or watch it for the first time -- ouch! I really hope that is only a small minority of you out there. You just can't go through life without witnessing Paul Newman doing tricks on a rickety old bicycle in the 'Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head' scene.

Film still from the 'Raindrops' scene

Sundance: What's your idea this time?
Butch: Bolivia
Sundance: What's Bolivia?
Butch: That's a country, stupid! In Central or South America, one or the other.
Sundance: Why don't we just go to Mexico instead?
Butch: 'Cause all they got in Mexico is sweat and there's too much of that here. Look, if we'd been doing business during the California Gold Rush, where would we have gone? California, right?
Sundance: Right.
Butch: So when I say Bolivia, you just think California. You wouldn't believe what they're finding in the ground down there. They're just fallin' into it. Silver mines, gold mines, tin mines, payrolls so heavy we'd strain ourselves stealin' 'em.
Sundance: (chuckling) You just keep thinkin', Butch. That's what you're good at.
Butch: I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.

Who are those guys?

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