The BFI’s Geoff Andrew on the return of Cutter’s Way

The return of 1981’s Cutter’s Way to cinemas around the UK originated at London’s BFI Southbank, as part of their Jeff Bridges retrospective. Here, Geoff Andrew, Head of Film Programme at the BFI, discusses Bridges’ appeal and why he chose to introduce modern audiences to Cutter’s Way.

Stephen Elliott in Cutter's Way

Stephen Elliott in Cutter's Way

Park Circus blog: Where did the inspiration for a Jeff Bridges season at the BFI come from?

Geoff Andrew: Back in the late 80s, when I was film editor of Time Out, I suggested a Bridges season to the then programmer of the National Film Theatre, Sheila Whitaker; happily, she agreed with me that, although he hadn’t had too many box-office hits, he was an unusually interesting actor. So I put a season together for her, and then we got Jeff over to London and I interviewed him on stage; and it was when I walked into the cinema with him, and saw him get such a warm welcome from a packed house, that I realised it wasn’t just Sheila and myself who thought him so great!

Since then of course, he’s become rather better known and done quite a few more interesting movies, and when I saw his amazing performance in True Grit I just thought it was time to revisit his career.

Bridges seems to have undergone something of a renaissance in recent years, is he finally receiving the credit he’s due?

Well, he’s been great from the very start, as films like The Last Picture Show (which we recently revived in collaboration in Park Circus), Bad Company and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot show; both the movies and his performances in them stand up amazing well after all these years. And he got a lot of Oscar nominations in his early years, too, but only finally won the Best Actor award with Crazy Heart – so in that respect the recognition is a bit belated. But he’s always had plenty of fans – especially since The Big Lewbowski! The Dude really is one of the most remarkable creations in the modern American cinema.

How were the films selected?

Basically I just chose the ones in which I felt his acting was at its best – though they had to be good films overall as well, of course. Sadly, we couldn’t find room in our programme to do a retrospective big enough to do all the films I’d have liked to include – titles like The Last American Hero and Rancho Deluxe – but I think the season reflects the development of his career pretty well.

Once a film is chosen, how do you go about securing prints?

It’s a tricky process, and fortunately that’s not my job. We have a wonderful team overseen by our Head of Programme Planning, Julie Pearce – if a good print exists somewhere, however obscure, she or someone in our office will find it! – and they look into the materials available as well as the rights ownership.

They’re in touch not only with UK distributors but also with the major Hollywood studios, archives and cinematheques around the world, producers, sales companies and so on. And they make my job much easier than it might be; with the Bridges season, in the end there was only one film I wanted to include (Wild Bill, which is a fascinating predecessor to True Grit) which we were unable to play.

Why did you include Cutter’s Way?

Well, I loved the film when it came out, had seen it quite a few times when it used to be around, and had very fond memories of it. I wanted to see if there was a film we could revive to accompany the season, and to me Cutter’s Way seemed the obvious choice: it’s underrated, mainly because it hasn’t been seen much in recent years, and it has a great Bridges performance.

So I took another look at it and not only did I still love it (some of the American films of the 70s and early 80s look so good – so adult! – compared to what came afterwards!) but it struck me that it might just have been, alongside The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye, a little bit of an influence on The Big Lewbowski. No, really!

It’s set in and around LA, Bridges plays a beach-bum, he has a deranged Vietnam veteran friend, and the third person in the line-up is a nice person the other two tend to treat as a doormat and who ends up… well, I don’t want to give the game away. But these three ne’er-do-wells go up against a rich and famous Mr Big. Sound familiar?

Anyway, Lebowski matters aside, Cutter’s Way was still a magnificent film, so I suggested to Nick Varley at Park Circus that he might like to consider reviving the film, which is 30 years old this year and as fresh as the day it was made. Happily, Nick said yes.

So now it’s back there out in the world where it belongs, and already it’s had raves in The Guardian and Time Out. Hopefully it’ll end up with the recognition it always deserved.

Geoff Andrew, Head of Film Programme at BFI Southbank

Read Josh Olson’s love letter to Cutter’s Way.

To find out where Cutter’s Way is screening near you visit www.backincinemas.com

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