Friday, July 8, 2016



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 and even somewhat 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) Essentially they're on the run from the law, in fact, they're often in the middle of just breaking the law, but they don't act like it's a big deal or anything. 

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 Parker 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 been 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 while on the run; 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”. (Well, in America, his first theatrical feature) When they become famous, Clyde’s brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and his wife Blance (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; Bonnie & Clyde's reign of terror in the 1930s this was, not that long after the Wild West had been tamed; Wyatt Earp lived to see sound in motion pictures,  but those famous bank wild west robbers of yore, 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. If they were around today, they'd probably try to document their crimes on a Youtube channel.

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 broad daytime. Yes, they did get slaughtered in the middle of the day, but it still was shocking to actually see on screen. 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 ranked it as one of the ten best films ever made at certain points in my life 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 at the moment, 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 movies 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. There aren't that many movies are as distinctive as "Bonnie and Clyde", and most every movie that is, probably stole from it. Which, for this film, is appropriate.

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