Ode to The Sundance Kid

“Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid” does not appear on any list of sexiest movies except mine.  Maybe it was the potent combination of my impressionable age as a tween when I first saw it in 1969, and the cultural context of the blossoming women’s lib movement at that time.  Or maybe it was the sizzling combination of Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Kathryn Ross, and hints of their menage a trois.  But whatever it was, that movie stunned me like a shot from Sundance’s six-shooter.  Something in me was so stirred by that movie—and by Redford, in particular—that after my family-of-origin finished watching it together, I asked my mother if she would come back and pick me up at the theater if I stayed to watch it again.  She agreed, perhaps recognizing something in her adolescent daughter that I didn’t quite recognize, myself.  I became a woman that evening, right there in the Terrace Theater, watching a movie about the Wild West in the western suburb of Robbinsdale, Minnesota.

Robert Redford and The Terrace Theater, two icons of my youth, have been in the news lately here in the Twin Cities.  Redford, whose movie-acting career began with a bang when he played Sundance in “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid,” is being exalted as an actor, director and champion of independent filmmaking in the Walker Art Center’s 6-week retrospective of his career, Robert Redford: Independent/Visionary.  The retrospective culminates this Saturday, November 12, with an appearance by the still ruggedly handsome Redford, himself.

The Terrace Theater, on the other hand, is being torn down despite efforts to save it by civic groups like Friends of the Terrace.  According to this group’s website, the Terrace was “…A soaring and inspired mid century movie palace…recognized nationally by architectural historians as ‘one of the first ultramodern theaters in America’,” after it opened in 1951.

I guess, like Butch and Sundance, even the most daring are no match for the law.

Redford has said “The art of making a film and its content are far more interesting to me than the result or impact. Of course, you hope it has impact. … I want an audience to be fascinated by the process of finding an answer, or finding out there isn’t one.”  I wasn’t looking for an answer when I went to the movie with my parents and younger siblings all those years ago.  And if anything fascinated me, it was the powerful new reaction I was having—one that simultaneously riveted me in my seat and moved me in a strange, deeply pleasurable way—that left me with more questions than answers.  Why does it feel so good to watch men who are behaving so badly? What is happening behind those closed doors above the saloon?  How does a good woman get mixed up with a couple of dirty bandits?  Is she really balancing on his handlebars?

I may have figured out the answers to some questions over the years, but I’ve also learned that when it comes to the mysteries of  love and attraction, more often than not, there isn’t one.

So Redford’s impact on me, personally, was an awakening.  Concurrently, thanks to the rising feminist movement of the late ’60’s and early ’70’s, women of all ages were being encouraged to openly ogle and objectify men as only men had been given permission to do up until then.  The Sundance Kid was a good-natured outlaw caught in the crosshairs of my expanding culture and exploding hormones.

This raw sensuality was not only conveyed by Redford and Newman, a duo that would go on to win seven Oscars for “The Sting” four years later, but also by the artful elements of the movie itself, with its warm sepia tones and masterful Burt Bacharach soundtrack.  The content of this film is loosely based on fact, which is probably why the Library of Congress chose it for inclusion in the National Film Registry, calling it ”culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and why the American Film Institute ranked “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” 49th on its list of 100 Greatest American Movies.

The Terrace Theater, for its part, was a work of art in its own right.  The spacious lobby housed twin mod chandeliers that looked like big, round fireworks with large, clear, globe-shaped lightbulbs at the end of each spoke.  But what I remember most is the contemporary yet homey lobby, with its sunken “garden style” lounge and its huge, gleaming copper fireplace and plant boxes overflowing with lush greenery kept watered by a tiny, babbling fountain.

Today, once glamorous notions like movie star and majestic movie theater seem quaint, replaced by youtube stars and multiplex theaters with reclining seats and cocktail lounges.  Robert Redford is 80 years old, now.  Paul Newman is better known, these days, for his salad dressing and spaghetti sauce.  The Terrace Theater is being demolished to make way for a Hy-Vee grocery store and a gas station.  And Burt Bacharach songs are the stuff of Karaoke nights in dive bars.

But the magic of the movies and movie going experience will live on in my heart, the last refuge for all things sentimental.  And I’m beginning to notice how much nostalgia I harbor there, sometimes even before my landmarks are gone.

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3 thoughts on “Ode to The Sundance Kid

  1. I LOVEd your essay. I think it’s new and improved and delightful reading. ANd maybe a little dirty, too. Words like being stirred, becoming a woman, riveted in my seat and moved me in a deeply pleasurable way… maybe you need a pseudonym in the future for your erotic writings. I’ll have to ponder it. I also loved your line about the theater and Butch Cassidy being no match for the law. It came together brilliantly!!! Write constantly. I can’t wait to see what’s next. Xo

    > On Nov 10, 2016, at 6:54 AM, expecting to fly wrote > >

  2. I love that movie too, Gail (for different reasons). I’m also growing increasingly nostalgic for pre-internet times. You are really talented Gail. Write more for us readers.

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