Friday, January 7, 2011
Bonnie and Clyde
I'm not feeling so well today, I feel like I'm fighting off a cold, which is a possibility. My boyfriend is sickly, so I blame him. Or maybe I just had a bit too much fun last night - my friend and I watched Furry Vengeance followed by The Human Centipede, which explains what sort of mood we were in. Either way, with a hot mug of throat coat tea (surprisingly delicious) next me to me, I want to keep this a little short and easy, so I can get back to relaxing.
Today I watched Bonnie and Clyde, directed by Arthur Penn in 1967. It was, if I remember anything from college, the first film from the "New Hollywood" movement. This was an American film movement that includes movies like The Graduate, Easy Rider, Taxi Driver, Chinatown, and Midnight Cowboy. These movies were unlike anything that had existed in Hollywood previously. Audiences were growing bored of historical epics and musicals, and younger people were watching more foreign movies to quench their thirsts. It was shocking when Bonnie and Clyde came out - it got a lot of negative critical reviews. But younger audiences loved it. It spoke to them - they liked the shocking violence and disaffected characters that they could relate to.
In Ebert's essay, he remembers how he was the only critic to like this movie when it came out, writing, "... it opened and quickly closed in the autumn of 1967, panned by the critics, receiving only one ecstatic opening-day newspaper review. (Modesty be damned: It was my own, calling it "a milestone in the history of American movies, a work of truth and brilliance'' and predicting "years from now it is quite possible that `Bonnie and Clyde' will be seen as the definitive film of the 1960s.'')" (The Great Movies, 86). Ebert hadn't been a film critic for very long, and saw the excitement and promise of this new generation of films.
Most critics were disturbed by the violence in this film. Even today, Bonnie and Clyde's gruesome demise is still shocking and unsettling to watch. The scene is bloody, and their unarmed, defenseless bodies shake as they are riddled with bullets. I've seen this movie numerous times, and even knowing what to expect going into it, I still gasp at the end. What makes this movie so disturbing is it's tone. It uses really interesting editing that juxtaposes scenes of humor with scenes of violence. The first thing that comes to my mind is when C.W. parallel parks the getaway car, and then they must struggle to escape not only the police but the parking space. The situation is funny, but the tone shifts suddenly as they pull out of the parking space and shoot an employee of the bank directly in the face. The jarring cuts make it more shocking, because it pulls you out of one emotion and forces you into a totally different one. This sort of editing is what makes the film feel less dated today, but was really shocking and upsetting when it was first viewed by critics.
Ebert also points out another interesting facet of this movie, writing that "Beatty's willingness to play a violent character with sexual dysfunction was unusual for a traditional 1960s leading man" (The Great Movies, 86-87). Clyde is impotent, and he can't give Bonnie any kind of sexual pleasure. It seems like she has to turn to objects to express her sexuality - suggestively stroking his gun when he shows it to her, taking pleasure in feeling a coke bottle near her mouth, eating a pear with a bit too much delight. She loves Clyde, but I get the sense that she is frustrated by him as well. I'm glad that Ebert pointed out how risky it was for Beatty to take such a role, it made me think a bit more about the how much of a gamble it was for Beatty to produce this movie. It also made me think a little bit more about the interactions between Bonnie and Clyde. I always hear that New Hollywood is sometimes called American New Wave, which makes sense. Is sexual dysfunction glamorous? Not at all, but it is very real.
I really love this movie, and I was delighted to watch it again. I loved Ebert's essay, and I was laughing, thinking of him writing the only good review of the movie when it came out. It was so endearing! Even if you have seen this already, it's always worth a re-watch, it's so great.
Have any of you seen Bonnie and Clyde? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie essay on Bonnie and Clyde
Wikipedia page on New Hollywood
This movie is currently streaming on Netflix, or you can rent it on Amazon for $2.99. If you haven't seen it, you must! It's a great movie.