Back, back, back. Back before the compact disc, back before the personal computer, back before the existence of the mini-van, there was a public library in Tipton, Indiana with a brand new laser disk player, complete with about seven film choices.
In my mesh football jersey and yellow swimming trunks, bike resting unlocked in the rack outside, I made my way to the circulation desk to ask for the same thing I always asked for:
Would they please issue me a pair of headphones and cue up Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?
The short walk from there to the carrel where the TV was wired to the player gave me just enough time to feel something I seldom experience anymore–expectant joy at seeing a movie again.
Don’t get me wrong. I will see a film more than once on occasion these days, but it’s usually for a utilitarian purpose–like I missed something or fell asleep in the middle or thought I hated it only to hear of a trusted friend who loved it–so I go back to have my mind changed.
But seldom do I go back because I want to experience the same joy I felt the first time I saw it. And that’s mainly because lately that feeling of joy is hard to come by. With a couple of notable exceptions, it seems like movies these days are much more disposable than they used to be–like can openers.
Remember how growing up, your mom bought one can opener and it stayed in that same drawer, opening thousands of cans until you graduated and left home? We’ve been through maybe five already in our first fourteen years of marriage, and they’ve all been mostly plastic and mostly defective– under the pretense of being ergonomic, as if the can-opener people know anything about what makes me comfortable.
We don’t really expect that much from our can openers anymore. And in that little oddity, I see a parallel to movie-making.
But Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is on TV right now and I tell you this film must be one of the most perfect movie-making accomplishments of all time. It’s not my favorite movie. But I can’t think of many others that beat it in terms of the pace of it’s storytelling, or the way it doesn’t look a bit dated, or the chemistry between Redford and Newman.
Or the ending. Oh, the ending!
I watch this film now and I’m that kid on his way to the pool stopping off at the public library real quick for a two hour detour. Again.
Except there’s one thing I have added to my experience these days that couldn’t have been further from the mind of the yellow haired boy at the study carrol.
See, these days we live in the land of the Internet Movie Database. And not only that, it seems Hollywood is short on original ideas.
Those two realities, friends, make me wonder how long it will be until some studio genius with a “green light” button thinks Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson should connect for a killer remake of the 1969 original?
So I check. Nervously, I check.
Nothing in pre-production. Whew!
Then I go to the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid page to investigate any message board rumors. And sure enough, someone’s clamoring for a Matthew McConaughey/Brad Pitt remake, only to be corrected by another that Clooney and Pitt would have more chemistry.
Thankfully, almost everyone else has the good sense to remind these yahoos that the film has no need to be redone, since when they made it the first time, they made it as close to perfect as any film of the past 30 years.
So I ask you two questions today. Answer either or both, or even one I’m not asking.
1. Is it accurate to suggest films are much more “disposable” these days than they used to be–and by that I mean, do you suppose the mentality behind making them is that no one really expects a film to carry across generations anymore, so why not just settle for pleasing the current audience?
2. Of which films should we say, “Leave it like it is. A remake would be a desecration?”
Russ Ramsey is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Cool Springs in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and four children. He grew up in the fields of Indiana and studied at Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM). Russ is the author of the Retelling the Story Series (IVP, 2018) and Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017).