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Bicycles and Gold

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Bicycles and Gold

Apropos of nothing, here’s a wonderful passage from the introduction to William Goldman’s Four Screenplays with Essays (Applause, 1997). It’s from the introduction to his screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

“I went to Russia a few years ago with a bunch of other screenwriters, and the high point of the trip for many of us was when we’d get invited into somebody’s home, just sit around drinking vodka and talking with other screenwriters from across the world. And one night a few of us—I want to say the others were John (Patrick) Shanley and Larry Kasdan—were in a room talking with our peers and suddenly this one guy looked at me and you have to know this—they are nuts about movies in what used to be the Soviet Union. And of course, during the long terrible years they didn’t get to see our movies, only the top Communists got to see those. But this strange thing began to happen: reels of film would be snuck out in the darkness and there were these impromptu black market screenings in the middle of the night and then the next morning the film would all be smuggled back.

“This guy looked at me and he said these words. ’Goldman,’ he said. ’I see thees. I see thees weeth my eyes.’ And here he pointed to his eyes with his index finger. ’I see man trade his bicycle for teeket to ’Butch Cassidy.’

“I made some standard self-deprecating horseshit reply but inside I was reeling. I remember I told myself it wasn’t true, but the man’s face said it was. Then I decided it was probably an old bicycle. But there was no such thing there then—any bicycle in that crumbling society was gold.

“Finally I realized this: we have to be very careful what stories we tell. Because we have no idea what we might be holding in our hands.”