Kris’sKristofferson’s Western film career started off with a definite Bang!! TWO HUGE BANGS to be exact. He first Starred in Sam Peckinpah’sPat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973).Peckinpah wasalready a controversial figure – and the story surrounding the making and dismemberment of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is legendary stuff – Sam eventually walking away from the project – the movie undergoing several edits – resulting in 3 different versions.
Kris’s second Western – Heaven’s Gate (1980) may be the most controversial movie project in Film History – bankrupting United Artist Film Studio – due to the outrageous behavior of Director Michael Cimino – equally as controversial as Peckinpah.
The parallel between Pat Garrett and Billy the Kidand Heaven’s Gateis amazing: Two controversial renegade Director’s – possible both genius’s – who made two controversial Western movies – which were both dismembered by their respective Studios – ending up in multiple versions of each – but which were ultimately manifested into what many people consider as Westerns Classics. The verdict is still out on Heaven’s Gate– but Pat Garrett and Billy the Kidis in solid. And Kris was in both of them. Amazing stuff.
In 1986 Kris made two Westerns: A remake of Stagecoach andThe Last Days of Frank and Jesse James. Stagecoach Starred Kris, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings. The Last Days of Frank and Jesse JamesStarred Kris and Johnny Cash. Willie had a bit part in that one too.
Yep … these guys eventually formed the Country Music Supergroup TheHighwaymen.
I feel it’s safe to say that at this point, that no definitive film depiction of Ned Kelly has yet been made. It would take a protracted mini-series to tell his whole story properly – as it spans many years and many events.
There have been some good documentaries, but … The question still remains: Was Ned Kelly a Hero? or a villain? I believe Kelly was a pretty rough character and certainly a law breaker. And he and his family were definitely on negative terms with the authorities/police – for quite a while – whose own behaviour seems to have been much less than honourable or praiseworthy. Wrongs and bad blood on both sides – leading to an inevitable conflict – which Kelly, and his gang, could not win. You might say however, that Kelly extracted his ‘pound of flesh’ – and made his point – before he left. His courage and bravado are admired by many in spite of what may be acknowledged as dastardly deeds. Kelly Historians and experts often simply present their evidence and leave us to decide for ourselves. _________________________________________
After 1960 a fistful of Kelly movies were made. Some are parodies/comedies which would really mean little to us over here – not being as immersed – or inundated (as it were) – in Kelly culture and lore as our friends Down Under. Therefore, I will not cover those here, but I look to 2 well known – and interesting – takes on Kelly’s tale: Ned Kelly(1970) starring Mick Jagger
and Ned Kelly (2003) with Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush …
Ned Kelly (1970)
It’s amazing how many actors and entertainers successfully jump from music to the movies. Over the years a large number of singers, pop artists, crooners, Rock Stars, County Music entertainers, etc. have all made the leap: Sinatra, Streisand, Kristofferson, Dean Martin, Timberlake … Liza Minnelli, J Lo, Bing Crosby, Elvis (gulp), … it’s actually a very long list, with some not only becoming very good actors and Stars, but winning Oscars: Sinatra, Streisand, Minnelli, Crosby, Cher (what!?) …
But it doesn’t always work that way. Right Mr. Dylan?
So here we have Mick Jagger seemingly cast out of nowhere as Ned Kelly (Albert Finney was Director Richardson’s first choice – but not available). Jagger has actually appeared in over 25 movies since 1966. He’s persistent if nothing else, but even if he did have some degree of charisma on the Big Screen, his acting is … well, bad. And though Jagger is photogenic enough in stills, this charisma does not translate when the pictures are moving.
Plain and simple: if you’re going to be the Star in a movie, you better be able to shine. Most of us would do no better – but it just wasn’t there.
Strangely, Mick did not do the soundtrack for the movie- singing only one track “The Wild Colonial Boy.” But that’s another story – with several people bailing out – the task eventually falling to a song writer named Shel Silverstein, and singing done mainly by either Waylon Jennings or Kris Kristofferson – who were not established music stars as of yet. Interesting.
Overall Ned Kelly (1970) is often viewed as a mere curiosity. And if Jagger wasn’t in it, it might never be viewed at all.
Stick to Rock & Roll Mick.
But there’s no need to have sympathy (for the devil) because Jagger surely has carved out a place in the entertainment industry amongst the greatest Rock & Roll stars of all time. And still going.
The Last Time / Stones
If only the movie was as good as the posters …
Dusters Down Under Part 5: Ned Kelly (2003) …
Just about anything and everything about Billy the Kid seems to be bizarre, surrounded by questions, lost in lies, or mired in myth.
Then there’s this:
Left-handed or right-handed?
It is very common – and confusing – to find the famous photo of Billy the Kid reversed – with the rifle on the left side – or the right. Which has caused many people to believe the ‘The Kid’ was left-handed.
But the confusion is justified:
“It was widely assumed throughout much of the 20th century that Billy the Kid was left-handed. This perception was encouraged by the above mentioned photograph of McCarty (Billy the Kid’s real name is not William H. Bonney) , in which he appears to be wearing a gun belt with a holster on his left side, but further examination revealed that as all Winchester Model 1873 rifles were made with the loading gate on the right side of the receiver, the “left-handed” photograph is in fact a mirror image. Indeed, the notion of a left-handed Billy became so entrenched that, in 1958, a film biography of “the Kid” (starring Paul Newman) was titled The Left Handed Gun.
In 1954, western historians James D. Horan and Paul Sann announced the disclosure that McCarty (The Kid) was “right-handed and carried his pistol on his right hip”. More recently, in response to a story from The Guardian that used an uncorrected McCarty ferrotype, Clyde Jeavons, a former curator of the National Film and Television Archive, cited their work and added:
You can see by the waistcoat buttons and the belt buckle. This is a common error which has continued to reinforce the myth that Billy the Kid was left-handed. He was not. He was right-handed and carried his gun on his right hip. This particular reproduction error has occurred so often in books and other publications over the years that it has led to the myth that Billy the Kid was left-handed, for which there is no evidence. On the contrary, the evidence (from viewing his photo correctly) is that he was right-handed: he wears his pistol on his right hip with the butt pointing backwards in a conventional right-handed draw position.
A second look at the ferrotype confirms what Jeavons wrote. The prong on the belt buckle points the wrong way, and the buttons on the Kid’s vest are on the left side, the side reserved for ladies’ blouses. The convention for men’s wear is that buttons go down the right side.
Wallis wrote in 2007 that McCarty was ambidextrous. This observation seems to be supported by contemporaneous newspaper accounts reporting that Billy the Kid could shoot handguns “with his left hand as accurately as he does with his right” and that “his aim with a revolver in each hand, shooting simultaneously, is unerring.”
Thus – typically for ‘the Kid’ – both photos are legitimate.
The amount of strange myths, legends and disinformation surrounding Billy the Kid would fill several books. And 23 movies.