Robert Redford

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Robert Redford Pencil Portrait
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In the fall of 2013, Robert Redford was once again newsworthy, garnering rave reviews for his latest film project whilst being formerly acknowledged at a $200-a-plate gala for his unstinting work on behalf of the State of Utah.

As owner of the Sundance resort and steward of the land around it, as founder of the Sundance Institute, as head of the Sundance Film Festival that draws thousands of visitors to Utah every year, and for filming some of his best-known movies there— including “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Jeremiah Johnson” and “The Electric Horseman” — he has spent half his life promoting the State.

At the age of 77, the actor remained as uncomfortable as ever with laudatories, admitting that they ‘make me shy’. An environmentally and socially conscious individual, Redford was never cut from traditional Hollywood cloth, preferring instead to make his mark on Tinseltown from afar.

Recommended viewing

The Candidate (1972)

A rather overlooked classic, despite its continuing topicality, Redford’s portrait of the US political arena serves as a suitable backdrop to his production debut, as the film charts the eventual corruption of a passionate and dedicated legal aid lawyer who is courted by the party to run against an entrenched veteran Senator in an election no one thinks he can win.

Offered the unique opportunity to say what he wants, the quintessential young idealist steps into the political machine with a vow to get his message out and a determination not to let the machinery change him along the campaign trail.

Redford’s McKay, a man focused on social welfare and racial/sexual equality, is the liberal Democrat pitched against Don Porter’s veteran Senator Jarmon, a glad-handing, big-business friendly Republican.

McKay’s photogenic looks, and his passionate belief in “A Better Way”, his campaign logo, suggest a genuinely fresh approach but one all too soon bedevilled by his campaign team’s tried and tested political methods and tired sloganeering.

Redford’s performance anchors the film. McKay’s frankness, his personability and distinct lack of polish, appeals to a public jaded by political obscurantism, and his engagement with such issues as poverty, unemployment, the environment and social equality excite young and progressive voters. Unsurprisingly, as his popularity soars, Redford is steered away from inflammatory issues like abortion and school district desegregational bussing. As McKay evolves from an unpolished media rookie into a whily political campaigner, we see him pause only briefly enough to bristle at these compromises and to indulge in some extra curricular activities with locally recruited female distractions.

The Candidate is set in the era of 16mm news cameras and one inch industrial videotapes, a time when there is no such thing as 24 hour news channels or viral Internet video. But while the tools and the news cycle have changed, the careful cultivation of message and image, the political doublespeak and opportunistic pandering is as contemporary as ever.

The climactic final scene ‘killed me’ forty plus years ago and still does. “What do we do now” asks Mckay of Peter Boyle, his campaign manager, after successfully winning his senate seat. Promising the electorate a better way is one thing but delivering remains another bag altogether. Pausing only briefly before allowing the media hordes into the hotel suite, Boyle’s nonplussed look favours ‘winging it’ as the enormity of the campaign win begins sinking in for all concerned.


The Redford Centre