August 18, 2016

20,000 Vinyl LPs 63: Jeremiah Johnson ~ Robert Redford @ 80

Jeremiah Johnson vinyl LP
cover: film still

photos by Styrous®

Today is Robert Redford’s 80th birthday! Can you believe it? Yep, he was born on this date in 1936 in Santa Monica, California.     

I recall the first time i saw him on an episode of The Twilight Zone in 1962, in which he played The Cop/Death who gently convinces an old woman that it is a release not to be feared that he offers; it is a beautiful ending. At the time I had no idea who he was and didn't find out his name until many years later; all I recall was thinking, "How could anybody be so handsome?"  

My next awareness of him was in the film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, with Paul Newman. I thought he was terrific in Little Fauss and Big Halsy, I found his toothbrush fixation fascinating. He reached the peak of his boy next door charm in The Way We Were, with Barbara Streisand. Since then I've had a love for any film he made.    

For me, his finest film was Jeremiah Johnson which was directed by Sydney Pollack and released on December 21, 1972. It is a brilliant portrait of a vanished world and of the making of a Rocky Mountain mountain man in the mid 1800's.   

Johnson is introduced at the opening, “His name was Jeremiah Johnson, and they say he wanted to be a mountain man." But that is almost the extent of what we know about his past. The plot kind of ambles around aimlessly much as a man exploring the vast wilderness would have done. It convincingly portrays the life of what is was to be a free, wandering man with no ties. Although, he does take a wife and has a child at one point, both are merely episodes in a life of searching for solitude. The ending is quiet, a bit sad but beautiful with its subtle implication of the end of the west as it was.       

Everything about this film is brilliant! The cinematography by Duke Callaghan is breathtaking. The music by Tim McIntire and John Rubinstein is splendid as it captures the grandeur of a pristine west. The performance by Redford is quietly bold with power and elegance. This film made me look at him in a new light; made me realize what a fine actor he is. It is splendid that years later he became an accomplished director.        

The film is based on two books, Mountain Man, by Vardis Fisher, and Crow Killer by Raymond W. Thorp and Robert Bunker. Crow Killer was based on the real-life mountain man, John "Liver-Eating" Johnson (c.1824 – January 21, 1900).         

Redford almost didn't make the film. The role of Jeremiah Johnson was originally to be played by Lee Marvin and then Clint Eastwood, with Sam Peckinpah attached to direct. However, after Peckinpah and Eastwood did not get along, Peckinpah left the project and Eastwood decided to make Dirty Harry. Warner Bros. then stepped in and set up Milius' screenplay as a vehicle for Robert Redford. With still no director attached, Redford talked Sydney Pollack into taking the helm; the two were looking for another film to collaborate on after This Property Is Condemned (1966).   

As for the cinematography, that almost didn't happen as well. Warner Bros. decided that the film had to be shot on its backlot to save costs. Redford and Pollack insisted that the film could only be shot on location in Utah and convinced the studio that production could all be done in Utah at the same cost as it would have been filming on the backlot. Art director Ted Haworth drove over 26,000 miles to find the film's locations. The film was shot in nearly 100 locations across Utah that included: Mount Timpanogos, Ashley National Forest, Leeds, Snow Canyon State Park, St. George, Sundance Resort, Uinta National Forest, Wasatch-Cache National Forest, and Zion National Park

Jeremiah Johnson had its worldwide premiere on May 7 at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, where it was screened in competition. It was the first western film to ever be accepted in the festival. The film then held its American premiere on December 2 in Boise, Idaho, with its theatrical release in the United States beginning on December 21, 1972 in New York City. The film was a box office success, becoming the seventh highest grossing film of 1972 after grossing a domestic total of $44,693,786. The following year, the film went on to earn $8,350,000 in North American rentals. The film was recognized by American Film Institute.  

The musical score to Jeremiah Johnson was composed by Tim McIntire and John Rubinstein. Both were actors and musicians. Together, the two made their film composing debuts with Jeremiah Johnson after Rubinstein met with director Sydney Pollack through his acting agent. As Pollack recalls during the film's DVD commentary, McIntire and Rubinstein were "kids that just auditioned with a tape."    

Although the film premiered in 1972, the soundtrack LP was not released until 1976 by Warner Bros. Records. On October 5, 2009, a restored and extended version of the LP was released by Film Score Monthly.      

Robert Redford Filmography                                   

Jeremiah Johnson soundtrack on YouTube              

Happy birthday, Robert, 
thanks for all the years of pleasure you've given the world!

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