Friday, July 8, 2016

CANON OF FILM: "BONNIE AND CLYDE"

BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967)

Director: Arthur Penn
Screenplay: David Newman & Robert Benton



See, told you I would be talking about "Bonnie and Clyde" pretty soon. 

It's actually kinda strange watching "Bonnie and Clyde" and seeing how kinetic and insouciant the film is. The movie moves quickly usually, and for much of the movie, very freely, calmly. Hell, at one point, the Barrow gang seemed to go through a drive-thru and got burgers for everybody, including the person they've kidnapped for the day, a lowly, scared undertaker (Gene Wilder in his first movie role) 

Originally, "Bonnie and Clyde" was panned almost unanimously by critics upon original release but it slowly grew in momentum through the popularity of it's soundtrack and even the fashions, and after a re-release to theaters, “Bonnie and Clyde,” would receive 10 Oscar nomination, winning two, and is now considered by many the greatest film of the 1960s, and now considered a quintessential metaphor of the decade, and some critics have called it "The First Modern American Movie", whatever that means, but if you want to say, separate the time when the old classic style of Hollywood filmmaking gave way to the more modern Film School generation of wunderkind style of independent filmmaking, then, yeah, you can make an argument that this is the seminal film in that change, or one of them at least, and you can damn sure make an argument that it's the best film representing that change. 

Originally supposed to be directed by Francois Truffaut, Arthur Penn’s masterpiece could very easily be considered an American New Wave Film, if you want to pretend there is such a thing, shot mostly on location, breaking the traditions of and then completely reimagining the gangster genre. Bonnie could easily be compared to the Jeanne Moreau character in “Jules and Jim”. The movie starts abruptly, with Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) seeing Clyde (Warren Beatty) apparently trying to steal her mother’s car. They quickly hit it off, and hit off a local store, and quickly hit the road, with music playing in the background. To look at the film closely, it’s easy to tell why the movie was hated originally. We’re only given brief introductions to our main characters before we’re suddenly thrust into a world that’s only in location and detail resembles the 1930s, it's easy to see how an untrained audience would simply feel like they've captured by the Barrow Gang and are simply along for a ride with a bunch of criminals. 

The analysis to the sixties is correct, especially in the era of anti-establishment movement colliding head-on with the peace and love Age of Aquarius, these two constructs are pretty firmly colliding here; and you can easily get the sense that these characters maybe were born in the wrong time period. There's one famous scene I love, where Clyde is almost killed during a robbery, and after a getaway car, he wonders aloud, why would they kill him? I've got nothing against him, I'm just taking the money?, making a clear distinction between him robbing other people and him robbing the bank, even though such a distinction is actually quite faulty, but whatever. The film suggests that if Bonnie & Clyde weren’t bank robbers, they probably would’ve been hippies similar to the ones in “Hair”. They were well-known bank robbers, and celebrities to a certain extent. Bonnie Parker wrote poetry and submitted it to newspapers and magazines, they had a camera and took photos of themselves and others. The movie itself is partially responsible for creating a subgenre of celebrity criminal films, about how the public and the press become fascinated by outlaws, such as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Network,” and even Steven Speilberg’s first film “The Sugarland Express”. When they become famous, Clyde’s brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and his wife (Oscar-winner Estelle Parsons) join the gang along with C.W. (Michael J. Pollard) a mechanic they picked up at a bust. It's actually kinda strange when you think about it, but this was, right after the Wild West had been tamed, but those famous bank robbers of before, they didn't exactly rob banks for fame and fortune, or to have themselves exploited by the press. Hell, they usually tried to get away and shy away from it, but not "Bonnie and Clyde", they embraced it. 

The brutally violent ending almost plays comical now, but was considered shocking originally, not just for the shear amount of violence, but just for the fact that most of it occurred in daytime. Yes, they did get slaughtered in the middle of the day, but it still was shocking. Actually, the accuracy of the real Barrow gang and characters greatly differ from the actual film, although some of the more absurd aspects in the film were more accurate than you’d imagine. Bonnie and Clyde certainly didn’t look like Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, but they became living legends anyway, and became more infamous dead legends. I have personally rank it as one of the ten best films ever made at certain points and it's still up there pretty high in my thinking. Double-checking my 100 Greatest Films list I did a couple years, I had it number 12, which, yeah, that seems about right to me, especially in terms of importance; I don't think this can be underestimated. Hell, it's hard to even remember that hardly anybody associated with the film was even that famous before the film. Beatty was in some great movies beforehand, probably most famous, his theatrical film debut in Elia Kazan's underrated masterpiece, "Splendor in the Grass" but was generally considered by the public to be nothing more than an actor known more for his looks than his talent. Faye Dunaway beforehand had barely done anything at all, and they were the veterans compares to names like Hackman, Wilder, Parsons, even Michael J. Pollard legendary status as one of Hollywood's greatest character actors started basically with this film. (Michael J. Fox's actual middle name is Andrew, he took "Michael J." as a stage name in honor of Pollard) 

It’s a seminal film that redefines what an American movie can show, and how a story can be told. Arguably it's importance in film might overshadow just how good the film is, but let's not forget how great a masterpiece it is. For movies are as distinctive as "Bonnie and Clyde", and most every movie that is, probably stole from it. 
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