Sep 29, 2010

You say you want a revolution

"Arthur Penn, the stage, television and motion picture director whose revolutionary treatment of sex and violence in the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde” transformed the American film industry, died Tuesday night at his home in Manhattan, the day after he turned 88" — Dave Kehr, New York Times
I suppose "revolutionary" and "transformed" are nice things to put in an obituary, but how exactly? It isn't just wariness of the cult of Bonnie and Clyde that prompts this thought, although it is one of those films whose reputation has always seemed to me a tad out-sized. I'm sure at the time, the violence rocked 'em back in their seats but anyone coming to the film straight from it's reputation as a classic jaw-dropper — those berets! All that agonised rolling around in slo mo at the end! are bound to some disappointment. I was, anyway. The Wild Bunch is a different matter: Peckinpah is a master framer and cutter. His bloodbaths are ecstatically rendered. The set-ups in Bonnie and Clyde seem awfully stolid and four-square by comparison. The thing I liked the most about it are the periods of downtime between the heists: the bored listlessness to the scenes with Michael J Pollard and Gene Hackman, in which the possibility of violence buzzes around like a fly. You could even argue that it was this downtime — the non-violence — that was the more "revolutionary" and "transformative".


  1. Aw, such stingy love for the late, great Mr. Penn's Bonnie & Clyde, a movie so magnificent that crabby cultural conservatives are still trying to take it down, three decades after its release. Just last year I got into a ladylike shouting match with a right-wing commenter at Glenn's place, who was all huffy about how it glorified criminals. (Well, I was ladylike; he was a pill.) This was right after a Commentary article by Stephen Hunter titled "Bonnie and Clyde Died for Nihilism." Doesn't that warm your heart?

    Even if the violence lacks sufficient ecstasy, surely the themes still work? Like financial institutions as the greater criminals--I have been liking that one even more since oh, about March 2008. Not to mention the beauteous leads, the fabulous score, the deliberate WPA-photo compositions, the control of tone shifting from Sennett to Hawks to Lang...

    But in a way I do agree about the downtime. By far the most beautiful and (for me) memorable scene in the movie is the picnic with Bonnie's mother.

  2. I do love the picnic. And Bonnie's mother. And the tonal shifts. And the score. And the leads. And the themes. But apart from such trifles, what have the Romans ever done for us?