JN: Jump Cut
SO: Jump Cut nr 12-13 (1976); p 35-36
TI: Male companionship movies and the great American cool.
AT: Article; Illustrations
The Jump Cut article by Arthur Nolletti Jr., “Male Companionship Movies and the Great American Cool,” represents a strong criticism of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and other movies like it. According to Nolletti, Hollywood produces two types of “companionship” films: films of ‘bonhomie’ and films of ‘friendship.’ Bonhomie films, as Nolletti describes, are based around “rugged individuals” who do not show real affection for their comrades. Wary of implying homosexuality in these man-to-man relationships, directors carefully craft their characters to fit the standards of American Cool: “the art of being, calm, steady, and in control in the face of confusion, crisis or chaos.” However, as a result, these films often cause viewers to mistake the “absence of feeling and emotion” for strength. In friendship films, directors show human relationships for what they are in reality. Yet even though these films do recognize emotional involvement between their male characters, they too attempt to preserve some aspect of “cool” in the nature of their protagonists.
While citing several films as either ‘friendship’ or ‘bonhomie,’ Nolletti identifies Butch Cassidy as an archetypal bonhomie film that “shamelessly advocates and glamorizes ‘cool’.” Butch and Sundance’s “incessant wisecracking obliquely indicates affection” as they “courageously try to keep up a front [of cool] even in the face of death.” Hill’s emphasis on the ‘coolness’ of his characters makes “Butch and Sundance’s camaraderie superficial” and “vulgarizes their relationship with women.” So the question remains, “Why have audiences paid over 44 million dollars [by the mid 1970’s] to see Butch Cassidy?” The answer, of course, is that audiences crave the type of “glamorous, escapist fun” characters like Butch and Sundance represent. Movies like Butch Cassidy or The Sting (also starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford) utilize the “implicit definition of heroism” of “never allowing yourself to be intimidated” to drive their characters and inspire their audiences. In Butch Cassidy, the protagonists “die uncompromised” in their viewers’ eyes since, “they never lose their cool.”
To Nolletti’s dismay, Americans comfortable “accept cool as a form of self-protection.” Hollywood films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid “propagate and cultivate cool as if it were a consummate virtue.” Thus, what viewers believe to be an example of the ideal human friendship actually becomes a celebration of emotional non-involvement.
McQueen earns his chops as the coolest guy on the planet in this flick. His tough guy persona is tempered by his humanity that comes thru in two scenes: the first scene where his partner is making him coffee and he is just waking up; and in the scene with his girlfriend at the end. Two nice bookends for this story.
But this movie is a classic and revived the car chase thematic in modern films. It positioned the car chase as an expression of the comittment, to the exclusion of all else, that a dedicated 'cop' must have to play the game. In each of these movies, a car chase, sometimes multiple car chases, serves as a centerpiece to the story. These movies trace the evolution of the cinematic car chase from humor to intensity and back.
Bullitt is notable for re-defining the car chase. The cool car, the speed, the driving acumen, and icewater blood necessary to catch the bad guys. The images in this film show up in all of the subsequent films while each of them is more than merely derivative, but try to raise the excitement and awe of the chase. But each leaverages the basic formula.
I guess it goes without saying that Bullitt established, along with The French Connection what we expect a car chase to look like.