Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Target #270: Bonnie and Clyde (1967, Arthur Penn)

TSPDT placing: #137
Directed by: Arthur Penn
Written by: David Newman (written by), Robert Benton (written by), Robert Towne (uncredited)
Starring: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Denver Pyle, Gene Wilder

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!! [Paragraph 3 only]

In 1967, two films ushered in a new wave of Hollywood film. Mike Nichol's The Graduate (1967) introduced casual sexuality into the mix, with young graduate Dustin Hoffman enjoying a tryst with Anne Bancroft's Mrs. Robinson, highlighting the vast generation gap between the Baby Boomers and their parents. Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967), likewise, pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable to show in film, featuring glorious set-pieces of violence that would influence the later work of Sam Peckinpah and Martin Scorsese. This new brand of authentic yet stylised brutality may have been borrowed from Spaghetti Western director Sergio Leone, whose own "Dollars" trilogy had proved successful with American audiences {his Hollywood-funded follow-up, Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), was a magnificent film, but noticeably toned down the violence}. Many reviewers were initially indifferent to Penn's picture, and Warner Brothers had little faith in its financial prospects, but the support of critics like Pauline Kael prompted a swift reevaluation, and Bonnie and Clyde was soon a box-office hit.
Despite being set in the 1930s, and, of course, based on true events, Penn's retelling of the Bonnie and Clyde story overtly reflected the revolutionary cultural times in which the film was made. The two titular fugitives symbolised the attitudes of the young people of the day – brash, impudent, dismissive of authority, and indifferent as to the consequences of their actions. Intriguingly, Bonnie and Clyde appears to suggest that something more than mere anarchistic tendencies fuelled the pair's violent escapades. Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) is portrayed as sexually impotent, and a lengthy, uncomfortable would-be sex scene emphasises the self-loathing frustration that, perhaps, fuelled his personal inadequacy and prompted him to seek other, more destructive means of alleviating his stress and exhibiting his masculinity. Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) is depicted as a young woman whose sexual repression at the hands of a well-meaning but morally-uptight mother has stifled her femininity, and only through societal rebellion does she appear to regain her sense of identity. This theme ties in nicely with the Women's Liberation of the 1960s.

Beatty and Dunaway are perfect in the two leading roles, displaying enough charisma and sex appeal to come across as likable, but also inspiring sympathy and disapproval for their clearly irresponsible and reprehensible behaviour (the film initially provoked controversy for its perceived "glorification" of criminals, but, though the audience's empathy is recruited to some extent, the destructive and inevitable consequences of the gang's actions are hardly glossed over). The famous, gruesome climax – in which Bonnie and Clyde are apathetically gunned down in a bloody police ambush – was perhaps the most intense minute of cinema American audiences had ever experienced. Of course, once the floodgates were opened, New Hollywood began to adopt his fresh, powerful frankness in its storytelling. Sam Peckinpah, no doubt inspired by Penn's efforts, decisively raised the bar with his Revisionist Western The Wild Bunch (1969). A landmark American film, Bonnie and Clyde furthered the reputations of both its director and star Warren Beatty, and successfully launched the acting careers of Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman and Gene Wilder.

Currently my #4 film of 1967:
1) Voyna i mir {War and Peace} (Sergei Bondarchuk)
2) The Graduate (Mike Nichols)
3) In the Heat of the Night (Norman Jewison)
4) Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn)
5) Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenberg)

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