Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Redford Mystique

I've been watching Perry Mason reruns lately. I get them from the Superior Library and this week have a set from Season 5 checked out. If you haven't watched Perry Mason in the past half century, you owe it to yourself to check it out. The music incorporates contemporary jazz, the arts, and a lot of panache. In one episode the soundtrack was clearly a knock-off of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. Yes, the culmination is always a courtroom drama, but it's clever, with good scripts and interesting characters.

In one episode I saw recently, there was James Coburn. In another 1960 episode a young Robert Redford appears. The show features four or five regulars, so they could really churn through a lot of up and comers to feed the need for bit players. When the 73-year-old star looks back on his career, I'm curious what he remembers about his role as Dick Hart in "The Case of the Treacherous Toupee" a half century ago.

Trivia: Name Robert Redford's first television role.
A: Jimmy Coleman in an episode of Maverick, the show that helped launch the likable James Garner's career.

Redford either had a good agent or hustled a lot because he made appearances in quite a number of shows in the first half of the sixties. The work paid off and gained him the career in film he no doubt prized. It could be argued that his role in the 1967 Neil Simon Broadway play and film Barefoot in the Park proved to be his breakout, and in his next role as the Sundance Kid alongside Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy, Redford became a household name.

I know some people who actually don't care much for Redford as an actor, but I personally enjoyed many, if not most, of his films. He's been involved with a lot of great projects, both in front of and behind the camera. I've probably seen all his films from 1972 on. The Candidate, Jeremiah Johnson, The Way We Were, The Sting, The Great Gatsby, The Great Waldo Pepper, Three Days of the Condor, All the President's Men, A Bridge Too Far, The Electric Horseman, Brubaker, The Natural, Out of Africa, Legal Eagles, Havana, Sneakers, A River Runs Through It, Indecent Proposal, Up Close & Personal, The Horse Whisperer, The Last Castle, Spy Game, The Clearing... And then there are the rest which he directed of produced. Some are truly great films. I have a personal affinity with The Natural, and think Spy Game is a movie that is somewhat underappreciated. I've watched A River Runs Through It (Redford is only a voice there, a film he directed) at least five times. Great story. (I've read the book four or five times, too.)

So why is Redford not on my list of "best actors"? Well, perhaps, in part, because the guy has lived a charmed life and doesn't need to be a great actor to be either influential or liked. On this list of Top 100 actors, Robert Redford is #78. When you think "great actor" who comes to mind? I think of people like Brando, Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis. (For the record, the list I linked to here seems weighted toward "popular" more than talent, but cream still rises to the top for the most part.) The point is, Redford is not at the top of any list when it comes to acting, but he should be very much near the head of the pack of any list of influentials.

The Sundance Film Festivals have produced a venue for countless emerging artists and an impact that has rivaled Hollywood. Redford, as inaugural chairman, was undoubtedly a major force behind this effort to help emerging film makers. Sundance has become the largest independent cinema festival in the U.S.

Yesterday Robert Redford spoke at the Americans for the Arts summit in Baltimore. Using his clout after of lifetime of advocacy, he appealed to artists to push government to take a stronger stand in support of the arts. Or rather, to keep government from pulling back on arts funding.

It was through a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that Sundance was able to get off the ground. Today, the festival generates as much as 90 million dollars in revenue for the state of Utah where it is hosted.

As someone who leans libertarian, I am not sure whether I agree with him. I know that Kurt Vonnegut, whom I interviewed once, had strong convictions that a slice of tax dollars would be well spent if directed toward support of the arts.

Ultimately, Redford wants government to support more artists and artists to become more political. It reminds me of my days in art school at Ohio University. I had a friend who repeatedly reminded me, "the artist is the vanguard of the revolution."

Revolutionaries love the power of the arts. But what about those who aren't so sure they want to be co-opted for others' revolutions? I think of John Lennon, who believed in peace but also wrote, "If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow." Or Dylan, who denied being a revolutionary, who spoke to issues as he felt them, as a perceptive human being, but not as a leader in the political sense. Power was not his aim. Consciousness was his appeal.

Anyways, I've rambled enough. Hope your weekend is a good one.

1 comment:

C.J McEleavy said...

Think Redford is mysterious? Dive into the life and times of Raymond Burr who played Perry Mason 1957 - 1966.