Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Butch Lives? Bolivia's Cassidy Movie

Everybody’s seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and I myself have written about their life in Argentina before they died in a Bolivian shootout. Their cabin in Cholila, in the Patagonian province of Chubut has become such a popular pilgrimage site that, at some point, it wouldn’t surprise me to see cardboard cutouts of Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the windows.

There have been many tales of their escape from Bolivia, including one that Butch returned to the United States and spent his late years under another name in Spokane, Washington. All of these have been effectively debunked by Buck and Anne Meadows, in several editions of Digging Up Butch and Sundance, but there’s a new Butch story out in cinematic form that depicts an aging Butch – portrayed by Sam Shepard – brought out of retirement in Bolivia.

I haven’t yet seen Spanish director Mateo Gil’s Blackthorn, but Buck has sent me some commentary that I think is worth passing on. “Blackthorn is fictional, not that there's anything wrong with that, most movies are, but as a drama, not very entertaining. Plodding and preachy, though the Bolivian scenery is breathtaking.  The film will most certainly deliver a jolt to tourism there.  Rachel Saltz's review in The New York Times last week pretty much identifies Blackthorn's dramatic problems.  That said, a lot of critics liked the film.

“Although there are dozens of folkloric stories of Butch's (and Sundance's) resurrection in various parts of the world (inventoried in "Butch and Sundance: Still Dead?") there are no tales of his continuing to live in Bolivia.  Likewise, the idea of an ex-Pinkerton agent (played wonderfully by Stephen Rea in the movie) residing in Bolivia is fictional.  In interviews, Blackthorn director Mateo Gil said that they made a decision to depict Cassidy as a social bandit.  That they did. The viewer all but expected Cassidy to pull Das Kapital out of his saddlebags.

“The real bandit, though, was just that, a bandit, who robbed banks and other financial institutions because, as Willie Sutton said, "that's where the money is."  Finally, a major plot point revolves around the workers expropriating the mines in the late 1920s; in fact the mines were not expropriated until 1952, and then not by the workers but by the government.”

“Coincidentally, the was a major mine payroll holdup in the late 1920s, in Pulacayo, by the Smith gang, a trio of UK and Americans, ex-mine workers.  They were all captured and went to jail.  Bolivian filmmaker Antonio Eguino worked that story into his 2007 film, Los Andes No Creen en Dios, an adaptation of Adolfo Costa du Rels's novel.”

Despite Dan’s critique, I’ll probably see the film myself – I’m a sucker for Westerns, even counter-factual ones, especially if they involve South America and Butch Cassidy. I might wait until it’s out on DVD, though.

Moon Patagonia on the Road
Starting tonight, I take the new third edition of Moon Handbooks Patagonia on the road, with a series of digital slide presentations on southernmost South America. In addition to covering the capitals of Buenos Aires and Santiago, the gateway cities to Patagonia, I will offer a visual tour of the Chilean and Argentine lakes districts, Argentina's wildlife-rich coastline and Chile's forested fjords, the magnificent Andean peaks of the Fitz Roy range and Torres del Paine, and the uttermost part of the Earth in Tierra del Fuego. I will also include the Falkland Islands, with their abundant sub-Antarctic wildlife.

The first event will take place at 7 p.m. tonight, October 18, at Wide World Books (7 p.m), 4411 Wallingford Avenue North, Seattle, Washington 98103, tel. 206/634-3453.  Tomorrow, Wednesday, I will be Village Books, 1200 Eleventh Street, Bellingham, Washington 98225, tel. 360/671-2626, also at 7 p.m.  On Friday October 21 at 6:30 p.m., I will at the San Mateo County Library, 620 Correas Street, Half Moon Bay, California 94019, tel. 650/726-2316. On Saturday the 22nd, at 5 p.m., I will be at the Travel Bug, 839 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501, tel. 505/992-0418.

For those planning trips to the south, there be will be ample time for questions and answers. Books, including my other titles on Argentina, Chile and Buenos Aires, will be on sale at all the events. Admission is free but seating is limited, so it’s a good idea to get there early.

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