At the world premiere of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” 40 years ago, Robert Redford and Paul Newman DRA ’54, dressed in elegant black suits, graced a red carpet — not in Hollywood but in New Haven.
The Whitney Humanities Center screened the film last Friday before an audience of more than 200 to celebrate the work of director George Roy Hill ’43 and the 40th anniversary of the film’s New Haven world premiere at The Roger Sherman Theatre, which was located across the street from the Shubert Theatre before it closed down more than 25 years ago. After the screening, Academy Award-winning screenwriter William Goldman and editor Robert Crawford participated in question-and-answer sessions, which focused on the writing and production of the film.
The celebration was conceived as a way to honor Hill for giving back to Yale, Michael Kerbel, director of the Film Studies Center, said. Hill, who passed away in 2002, donated to Yale all the production materials from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and a significant portion of those from “Slaughterhouse-Five,” another film he directed. The production materials include sketches, costume designs, storyboards and photos. Now that the exhibit on “Butch Cassidy” has closed, the materials will be stored in Yale’s Manuscripts and Archives.
“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was a groundbreaking film in its revisionist approach to the Western genre, Kerbel said.
“[‘Butch Cassidy’] used a lot of avant-garde and unconventional elements,” Kerbel said “It was the beginning of the genre of the ‘buddy film,’ which focuses on two men and their relationship and adventures. It mixed contemporary music — ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head’ — with historical events such as the true story of outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
“Butch Cassidy” was also the first film in history to have a ‘making-of’ documentary, and the documentary was screened at the Whitney Humanities Center on Saturday.
Crawford said the timeless appeal of lawbreaking adventurers makes the film appealing today.
“We love to watch outlaws because they can do what we can’t,” Crawford said. “[There is] something about running on the wild side and how that dovetails into embracing humanity.”
The film centers on two outlaws, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who rob banks and trains in the American West and in South America while fleeing from a strange assortment of people, including the police, local sheriffs, an Indian tracker and officials from a railroad company.
Goldman said the real story was more fascinating than fiction.
“It’s a fabulous story — I didn’t make up anything,” Goldman said. “[You have] those two guys: this affable figure [Butch Cassidy], who ran the biggest gang in the history of the west, and this devastating gunman [the Sundance Kid]. It’s amazing material.”
The spirit of “Butch Cassidy” has influenced many films produced today, Kerbel said.
“Many of the people making films today grew up watching “Butch Cassidy” and films of a similar period, which makes the spirit of the film still relevant today to many students,” he said. “It transcends its time, and the performances still hold up today.”
Though many Yale students are too young to remember the film’s world premiere, three students in the audience said the film had more than nostalgic value.
Johnny Copp ’13, who had seen the film before, said he enjoyed seeing it again.
“I had forgotten how funny the movie was,” Copp said. “It really worked.”
The events of the weekend continued with a screening of Hill’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” on Saturday night.