Forty years of Robert Redford
In the last four decades, he has come a long way from just being a good-looking blonde. An Oscar-winning director, his commitment to parallel cinema is impressive, writes Ervell E. Menezes

Robert Redford has always been one of my favourites over the years, not only because of his protean acting skills and his even more impressive show as a director but because of his commitment to parallel cinema through his Sundance Institute. He has the courage to break away from the Hollywood pattern which today seems to be scraping the bottom of the barrel.

So when this writer chanced to catch Spy Game on Star Movies the other day, one couldnít help going down memory lane with Redford. That Spy Game, too, is one of the best spy thrillers in recent times just cannot be doubted with British director Tony Scott doing an excellent job. And young Brad Pitt who co-stars with him harks back to the budding Robert Redford of the late 1960s as far as youth went.

True they have totally different personas but Redford made as impressive a start in Hollywood as Pitt in This Property Is Condemned (1967) and Barefoot in the Park. His seniors were Natalie Wood and Charles Bronson in the former and a blooming Jane Fonda in the latter, which is before becoming an anti-war activist and aerobics instructor. Redford was also an exuberant young newly wed in Neil Simonís play-turned-film Barefoot in the Park.

Then Redford teamed up with "Blue Eyes" Paul Newman in two of George Roy Hillís most outstanding movies Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, an off-beat Western, and The Sting, about a con operation, both runaway successes that sent his stock skyrocketing. I remember the film particularly for the scene in which Butch and Sundance jump off a ravine into a river down far blow, hollering, to escape from their pursuers. But the Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head with Newman and Katherine Ross on a bicycle is not far behind. Why, the Sundance Institute and festival are derived from his Sundance Kid performance. As for The Sting, that last incident, faked for the benefit of Robert Shaw, is just out of this world. That was Hollywood at its best.

Maybe Redford wasnít in as many films as Pitt but he tended to pick and choose his roles. Who can forget his gritty performance opposite Dustin Hoffman in All the Presidentís Men (1976), the story of Watergate and Richard Nixonís Waterloo?

Journalism was a familiar Hollywood subject in those days and several films were on the Fourth Estate, such as Network and Absence of Malice. But especially memorable was his getting under the skin of that Long Island socialite in The Great Gatsby, based on a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel whose milieu was that New York suburb. Incidentally Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather) wrote the script.

The 1980s saw Redford in an occasional film, like Brubaker (1980) and The Natural, but they were merely potboilers. He must have been more involved in directing and the Sundance Institute. After all one must grow in life and for talented guys like him leave some mark on the cinema world.

He made his directorial debut in Ordinary People, which won him an Oscar in 1980. It marked the emergence of new star Timothy Hutton though the main honours belonged to Donald Sutherland, by then a veteran, and Mary Tyler Moore.

The thing about Redfordís direction is his choice of films. He steered clear of the routine or humdrum topics. The Milagro Beanfield War (1988) is a heart-warming story of impoverished New Mexico farmers fighting against the unscrupulous land developers. In A River Runs Through It (1992) he deals with fly-fishing and how in some parts of the United States it is a virtual religion. It was also one of Pittís early films.

Quiz Show (1994) is an expose of one of those popular 1950s TV programmes where the prizes were fixed and apart from Paul Scofield (A Man for All Seasons), he worked with comparative newcomers, one of them Ralph (pronounced Rafe) Fiennes. But what an enthralling drama he churned out. The Horse Whisperer tackles an unusual subject in which he is that rare breed. Kristen Scott-Thomas too plays a supporting role in this compelling drama, which only shows that if one wants to, one can make some delightful, thought-provoking films.

This is what I like most about Redford who in the last four decades has come a long way from just being a good-looking blonde. Hereís wishing him more strength to his bow and like Oliver Twist one would sincerely ask for more.