Clyde Barrow: “You know what you done there? You told my story, you told my whole story right there, right there. One time, I told you I was gonna make you somebody. That’s what you done for me. You made me somebody they’re gonna remember.”
…And contemporary Hollywood cinema changed with “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967). It wasn’t just the violence, the sexual frankness and the anti-establishment feel, it was the whole package, the way it was put together and the acting. The French New Wave had revolutionized filmmaking with its groundbreaking techniques and approach to storytelling – and “Bonnie and Clyde” brought that sensitivity to the United States – and paved the way to the New Hollywood era – which led to Scorsese, Coppolla, Hal Ashby, Altman and a whole slew of auteurs.
I have seen this film countless times and I have studied it with my students for many semesters. Now that it recently started showing on Netflix, I decided to sit down and watch it with my own partner in crime who couldn’t remember seeing it. I sat across from him – watching his reactions and how electrifyingly it all played after 54 years. It’s a film that brims with vitality and life – and thus – when the ending comes, it still has the power to shock you and leave you breathless. The car with Bonnie and Clyde inside pulls unawares into their trap. The camera cuts to a flock of birds – and then, borrowing from Jean Luc Goddard’s editing innovations – it does these jump cut shots of Bonnie and Clyde reacting – understanding that their demise is imminent. And then the deafening barrage of bullets takes over. No matter how many times you’ve seen it – it stuns. Eventually the camera will show us the aftermath – and a point of view from inside the car looking out the window – as if it were Bonnie’s last. The vividness, the humor, the guileless sexuality and the rapidity with which their lives — which we’ve been so involved with for two hours — are cut with such abruptness.
There’s one passage that always makes me very emotional. The Barrow gang has just nearly escaped from a police ambush – and Bonnie has decided to run out into a cornfield. Clyde and the rest are in the car looking for her – and they spot her. Clyde runs after – then cinematographer Burnett Guffey pulls into a long shot of the fields – and we can spot Bonnie making her way at the top of the frame. All of a sudden, a cloud appears, hovering over the field blocking the sunlight and covering Bonnie and Clyde in darkness. Guffey – who won the Oscar for his work on the film – is able to capture something so poetic – and so profound about the two main characters and the fragility of their lives. She cries that she misses her mother and wants to see her one more time.
And this is where director Arthur Penn cuts to one of the most enigmatic passages in cinema. Bonnie visits her mother in a gravel pit – machinery in the background. They’re having a picnic. The sound is weirdly muted, and the color on the screen is washed out. Buck – Clyde’s brother – plays with a kid and they tumble down a hill in slow motion. Bonnie’s wearing a black dress. The family members that have gathered start getting up and leaving. Bonnie urges her mother to stay a little longer. “You best keep running, Clyde Barrow,” her mother says in a peculiar monotone. And the gang members are left alone. Is it a dream?
Director Penn shoots the bank robberies and subsequent chases like they’re out of Keystone Kops movie – speeding up the action – and then jarringly mixing in bloody violence. And he gets the best performances out of each of his actors. Faye Dunaway is incandescent as Bonnie. Watch the opening scene where we first get a close-up of her lips and in quick physicality – laying on her bed – her hands latching to her bed’s bars – we understand she’s bored with her life – she feels trapped and wants the fast life. Warren Beatty – so cockily confident but internally battling with sexual impotence — is magnetic. I love one of their first scenes, when he shows her his gun – a close up of it positioned near his crotch – and then her hand suggestively caresses it. Estelle Parsons won the Oscar for Best Supporting for her hysterical and shrieking Blanche. Gene Hackman and Michael J. Pollard are both impressive.
The way Bonnie and Clyde manipulate the media is an aspect of this movie that makes it more prescient than ever.
Bonnie Parker [to Clyde]: “You’re just like your brother. Ignorant, uneducated hillbilly, except the only special thing about you is your peculiar ideas about love-making, which is no love-making at all.”
Available to stream on Netflix and to rent on Microsoft, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, Amazon Prime, FandangoNOW, Redbox, Apple TV, YouTube and DIRECTV.
Written by David Newman and Robert Benton
Directed by Arthur Penn
Starring Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons
Bringing “Bonnie and Clyde” to the Screen
Screenwriters David Newman and Robert Benton wrote the screenplay for “Bonnie and Clyde” with a nod to the New Wave filmmakers from France and initially shopped their script to director François Truffaut and later to Jean-Luc Godard. Truffaut was tied up about to make “Fahrenheit 451” at the time so he turned the writers down, but in one of those happenstance situations that only seem to happen in Hollywood, Warren Beatty was simultaneously pitching Truffaut to make a film about French songbird Edith Piaf. Truffaut also turned Beatty down but mentioned that he should check out the “Bonnie and Clyde” script he had been shown. Long story short, Beatty contacted Benton and after reading it he bought their original script for a reported $75,000 (or $500,000 in today’s dollars). Content to merely produce the film, Beatty had no intention of participating in the acting side of things. In fact, interestingly enough, his first choice to play Clyde Barrow was music legend Bob Dylan, who had no acting experience. Ultimately deciding against Dylan, Beatty says he went through a series of other ideas for the starring role before he, as he put it, “faced the music” and put himself in as one-half of the title roles. As for finding a director, Beatty was against Benton’s idea of going back to Truffaut, saying, as Benton recalls: “You’ve written a French screenplay, so you need an American director. And that was a very persuasive argument.” Beatty first went to director Arthur Penn, with whom he worked with on the 1965 crime drama, Mickey One, but Penn turned him down. Beatty estimates that he shopped it to another dozen directors who also spurned the offer, including such heavyweights as George Stevens (“Shane,” “Giant”) and William Wyler (“Ben-Hur,” “Funny Girl”). Many of the directors were pointing to the non-sympathetic lead characters and the violence within the script behind their refusals. Beatty eventually went back to Penn, who finally agreed, with the understanding that he would work with Benton and Newman on changing the script. And they did change it, “rather radically” said Penn in 2007. (warnerbros.com)
Director Arthur Penn on the Violence and Legacy of “Bonnie and Clyde”
In the climax of Arthur Penn’s 1967 classic film, Bonnie and Clyde, the bank-robbing duo’s days of crime end abruptly when they are gunned down in a shower of bullets. It’s a realistically violent scene, shot in slow motion, which has been both praised and criticized for its brutality. Penn says that the scene was influenced by media reports and images of the Vietnam War, which were broadcasts daily during the filming of the movie. “It was a time,” he says, “where, it seemed to me that if we were going to depict violence, then we would be obliged to really to depict it accurately; the kind of terrible, frightening volume that one sees when one genuinely is confronted by violence.” To achieve a measure of realism, Penn developed a system of camera settings that would lend both slow-motion and a spastic effects to the scene: “The intention there was to get this kind of spastic motion of genuine violence, and at the same time, the attenuation of time that one experiences when you see something, like a terrible automobile accident,” he explains. It’s a technique that’s become more mainstream since the release of Bonnie and Clyde, but Penn asserts that he paved the way for other directors.
About Writer David Newman
David Newman is one of today’s most accomplished creators of music for film. In his 25-year career, he has scored over 100 films, ranging from “War of the Roses,” “Matilda,” “Bowfinger” and “Heathers,” to the more recent “The Spirit,” and “Serenity,” “Behaving Badly” and “Tarzan.” Newman’s music has brought to life the critically acclaimed dramas “Brokedown Palace” and “Hoffa”; top-grossing comedies “Norbit,” “Scooby-Doo,” “Galaxy Quest,” “The Nutty Professor,” “The Flintstones,” “Throw Mama From the Train”; and award- winning animated films “Ice Age,” “The Brave Little Toaster” and “Anastasia.” The recipient of top honors from the music and motion picture industries, he holds an Academy Award® nomination for his score to the animated feature, “Anastasia,” and was the first composer to have his piece, “1001 Nights,” performed in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s FILMHARMONIC Series, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Newman is also a highly sought-after conductor and appears with leading orchestras throughout the world, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, The Boston Symphony, The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Chicago Symphony and the New York Philharmonic. He has led subscription weeks with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall and regularly conducts the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. He is currently on a mini tour performing live with orchestra the movie “West Side Story” in major orchestras in the US and abroad. He just premiered the movie “Home Alone” with the Cleveland Orchestra. Newman also conducts the annual movie night at the Hollywood Bowl. This September will be his eighth consecutive annual appearance. Also an active composer for the concert hall, his works have been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Indianapolis Symphony, Long Beach Symphony, and at the Ravinia Festival, Spoleto Festival USA, and Chicago’s Grant Park Music Festival. He also composed a violin- orchestra suite for Sarah Chang based on the songs from the Broadway hit, “West Side Story.”
Newman has spent considerable time unearthing and restoring film music classics for the concert hall, and headed the Sundance Institute’s music preservation program in the late 1980s. During his tenure at Sundance he wrote an original score and conducted the Utah Symphony for the classic silent motion picture, Sunrise, which opened the Sundance Film Festival in 1989. As a tribute to his work in film music preservation, he was elected President of the Film Music Society in 2007, a nonprofit organization formed by entertainment industry professionals to preserve and restore motion picture and television music. Passionate about nurturing the next generation of musicians, Newman serves on the Board of the American Youth Symphony, a 55-year-old pre-professional orchestra based in Los Angeles, where in 2008 he launched the three-year “Jerry Goldsmith Project.” This exploration of film music in a symphonic setting developed into the annual Hollywood Project, which has featured the music of Danny Elfman, John Williams, James Horner, and others in live-to-picture concerts. In 2007 Newman wrote the children’s melodrama Yoko and the Tooth Fairy for Crossroads School in Santa Monica, California, and in 2010 he served on the faculty of the Aspen Music Festival in the Film Scoring Program. Newman is also on the Board of Governors of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. When his schedule permits, he visits Los Angeles area high schools and universities to speak about film scoring and mentor young composers. The son of nine-time Oscar-winning composer Alfred Newman, David Newman was born in Los Angeles in 1954. He trained in violin and piano from an early age and earned degrees in orchestral conducting and violin from the University of Southern California. From 1977–1982 he worked extensively in the motion picture and television industry as a violinist, playing on such films as “E.T., Twilight Zone – The Movie,” and the original “Star Trek” film. He is married to wife Krystyna, and is the father of two girls, Diana and stepdaughter, Brianne. He and Krystyna divide their time between Los Angeles, Carmel-by-the-Sea and New York. (davidlouisnewman.com)
About Writer Robert Benton
Born near Dallas in 1932, Benton as a child suffered from severe dyslexia that prevented him from reading or writing very well. Only movies seemed to hold his attention, and, fortunately, his father took him to see them about three times a week. After graduating from college — the first in his family to do so — Benton relocated to New York City, where he landed a job as the art director at Esquire magazine. While living in New York, he began attending screenings at various art houses, including many films of the French New Wave. Eventually, Benton and his friend and fellow Esquire staffer David Newman (who died in 2003) decided to write an “American New Wave” film. Their script, as well as additional contributions by Robert Towne and star-producer Warren Beatty, resulted in “Bonnie and Clyde,” an alternately humorous and violent film that put the nail in the coffin of the Hays Code that had censored movie content for decades, made mega-stars out of Beatty and Faye Dunaway, won a best supporting actress Oscar for “Estelle Parsons,” helped to launch the careers of Gene Hackman and Gene Wilder and made Hollywood players out of Benton and Newman, who were nominated for the best original screenplay Oscar. Five years later, Benton and Newman wrote the script for Peter Bogdanovich’s “What’s Up, Doc?” (1972) and Benton directed his first film, the Western “Bad Company” (1972), which he also independently wrote. He also penned and directed his next film, “The Late Show” (1977), which brought him a second Oscar nom, for best original screenplay.
Benton’s career reached its apex, however, with the release of “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979), a heartbreaking drama about divorce and single-parenthood that came out when America was confronting a massive rise in those areas. The film was a critical and commercial smash hit and won the Oscars for best picture, actor (Dustin Hoffman) and supporting actress (Meryl Streep), plus best director and best original screenplay for Benton. Three years passed before Benton, a notoriously slow worker, churned out another film, “Still of the Night” (1982), which generated mixed reactions. But his next film after that one, “Places in the Heart” (1984), showed him to be in tip-top form and garnered best director and best original screenplay Oscar noms for him (he won the latter) and a best actress Oscar win for star Sally Field. In the 1990s, Benton collaborated on two occasions with the writer Richard Russo and the actor Paul Newman (who died in 2009), “Nobody’s Fool” (1994), for which Benton received a fifth best original screenplay Oscar nom and for which Newman received his last of his eight best (lead) actor Oscar noms, and “Twilight” (1998), a less successful picture…Benton and Russo co-wrote “The Ice Harvest” (2005), and Benton directed two films that he had no part in writing, “The Human Stain” (2003) and “Feast of Love” (2007). Benton emphasizes that he has not retired and continues to write. (hollywoodreporter.com)
About Director Arthur Penn
Arthur Penn was born in Philadelphia on September 22 1922, the son of a watch repairer. His parents divorced when he was three and he lived with his mother in New Jersey and New York City, returning to Philadelphia at the age of 14 to help run his father’s business. At Olney High School in Philadelphia, he became closely involved in theatre production, responding at once to the challenge of direction. He likened it to a child playing with new toys: “It’s that impulse to record reality,” he said. “If FAO Schwartz made a director’s kit, it would be the greatest toy in the world.” When his father died in 1943, Penn was conscripted into the Army. During training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, he met Fred Coe, who was then running a local community theatre and who was eventually to produce much of Penn’s work in theatre and television. During the war, Penn was posted to Paris, where he helped to manage Joshua Logan’s Army shows, staying on after his discharge to direct plays for the occupation forces. Between 1947 and 1950, funded by the GI Bill, he completed his further education, initially at Black Mountain College, North Carolina, where he read Psychology, Philosophy and Literature, and then at the Universities of Perugia and Florence. After studying acting with Michael Chekhov in Hollywood, he entered television in 1951 as a floor manager with NBC, rising to assistant director on “The Colgate Comedy Hour.” In 1953, thanks to Fred Coe, who had also joined NBC and remembered him from military service 10 years before, he was able to direct his first live drama series, “First Person.” Joining Coe’s staff, he went on to direct plays regularly for the Philco Television Playhouse and Playhouse 90 series, including “The Miracle Worker,” which he was later to stage and film. During the 1950s, Arthur Penn earned a golden reputation on Broadway with a stream of smash hits. Though the first play he directed, “The Lovers,” closed after only four nights, “Two for the Seesaw,” with Henry Fonda and Anne Bancroft, which opened in January 1958, ran for 750 performances and successfully transferred to London’s West End. Four more triumphs followed: “The Miracle Worker,” “An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May,” “Toys in the Attic,” and “All the Way Home,” of which the last two won the Drama Critics’ Circle Award in successive seasons (1959-60 and 1960-61).
At this time Penn also began to work in the cinema, though at first with mixed results. His first film, “The Left-Handed Gun,” was cut and re-edited by Warner Bros against his wishes. Though praised in Europe, it was a commercial flop and almost persuaded Penn to wash his hands of Hollywood. Returning to the theatre, he avoided the cinema for four years. His second film, made in 1962, was the screen version of “The Miracle Worker,” which won a fistful of awards but left Penn dissatisfied. “By then,” he said, “I had pretty much exhausted whatever degree of invention I had towards the material. It’s half-stage and half-film. It could have been liberated in one instant from the stage, but I didn’t dare.” Meanwhile, on Broadway, his winning streak came to an end. In the early Sixties, only “Golden Boy” (1964-65), a musical version of the Clifford Odets play, did well. His film career, too, took several wrong turnings. “Mickey One” (1965) was a Kafka-esque art-house picture starring Warren Beatty as a nightclub comic menaced by the Mob. It was the first film over which Penn had full control…His next film, “The Chase” (1966), was almost as bad – a star-studded Texas melodrama written by Lillian Hellman from a novel by Horton Foote. An overweight Marlon Brando played the sheriff of a small town that erupts in violence when an escaped convict (Robert Redford) makes his way home…It, too, was cut and re-edited by the producer, Sam Spiegel. As a film-maker Penn badly needed a hit and found it in “Bonnie and Clyde.” Initially slated for bad taste and glorifying violence, it eventually saw off its detractors and won three Oscars in 1967 for best screenplay, best photography and best supporting actress. It marked the beginning of the most creative phase in his career and a shift away from well-structured plots to a more episodic approach. This was strongly reflected in “Alice’s Restaurant” (1969). Its starting point was a mock heroic blues ballad by Arlo Guthrie called “The Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” which recorded how he was rejected for the Vietnam draft on account of a littering offence. In the movie Guthrie played himself, as did Officer William Obanheim, the cop who had arrested him. This scene provided a comic centrepiece to a film in which the main focus was on Ray and Alice Brock, who ran a commune for hippies in a deconsecrated church in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, close to where Penn lived.
“Little Big Man” (1971), based on the novel by Thomas Berger, was Penn’s third critical and commercial hit in a row…After this film Penn suffered a psychological crisis that prevented him from working for four years, except for a short contribution on pole vaulting to “Visions of Eight,” the official film of the 1972 Munich Olympics. He staged a comeback with “Night Moves” in 1975. But many found this film noir, with Gene Hackman as a private eye hired to trace an actress’s missing daughter, a pointless exercise in pastiche. “The Missouri Breaks” (1976) was an offbeat Western with a charismatic cast – Jack Nicholson as an outlaw, Marlon Brando as the “Regulator” engaged to track him down…Both “Night Moves” and “The Missouri Breaks” lost money and for five years Penn made no more films, returning instead to Broadway, where “Sly Fox,” his adaptation of Ben Jonson’s Volpone and the musical “Golda” were well received… “Target” (1985), with Gene Hackman as a retired CIA agent establishing a rapport with the son (Matt Dillon) who has written him off as a has-been, was judged too trivial to support its underlying psychological theme. “Dead of Winter” (1987) was an inconsequential remake of a Forties thriller, while “Penn and Teller Get Killed” (1989) was a barely released feature spun round two TV magicians. “Inside” (1996) harked back to the South African apartheid years and afforded meaty parts for Eric Stoltz, Nigel Hawthorne and Louis Gossett Jr. Politically, however, it was passé and would have seemed more relevant 10 years earlier. Near his home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Penn formed the Berkshire Theatre company with the playwright William Gibson and actress Viveca Lindfors. It was renowned for maintaining high standards of theatrical innovation. Arthur Penn married the former actress Peggy Maurer in 1955. They had two children – a son and a daughter. (telegraph.co.uk)