BONNIE AND CLYDE: A MOST IMPORTANT AMERICAN MOVIE

We are so excited to welcome Paul J Bradley to our Classic Movie Recall team! Enjoy his very first piece for us on the film that is the subject of our latest podcast. Thank you, Paul, for writing for us!

Bonnie and Clyde (1967) is an important film. The fact that its stars, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, were asked to hand out the Best Picture Oscar in 2017 on the fiftieth anniversary of the film, proves just how much esteem it still has within the Academy. Yet, in their AFI list, Bonnie and Clyde ranks at only 27 and in the prestigious Sight and Sound list, the movie does not rank anywhere at all.

These lists need to be amended. For starters, Bonnie and Clyde is universally regarded as the first film of the New Hollywood era because it boldly shattered conventions, brought a new level of sex and violence to the screens and has been enormously influential.

It is indeed considered to be a landmark film. Its success, especially with young audiences, paved the way for filmmakers to be more open in their portrayals of sex and violence on the big screen.

Set in the Great Depression in the United States, the film is based on the true story of two legendary outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Parker who received national notoriety because of their spate of robbing and killings in the American South-West and Mid-West during what became known as the “Public Enemy Era” of the early thirties.

Bonnie and Clyde has also been a very controversial film. Some critics had initially attacked the movie for glorifying murderers. The two lead characters, played by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, are morally ambiguous and the violence is bloody and shocking, especially during the legendary climax.

Although toned down from the original conception, Bonnie and Clyde is forthright in its display of sexuality. Clyde is clearly impotent despite displaying his heterosexuality and manhood through his provocative display of his gun to Bonnie whilst she suggestively strokes the weapon.

The script, as in the finished film, is heavily influenced by the French New Wave movement of the period. The New Wave movement had abandoned traditional styles, used different techniques and radical experimentation. Bonnie and Clyde adopted some of those techniques.

The earliest version of the script was submitted in the early 1960s to David Newman and Robert Benton, and then to Arthur Penn. Penn was busy with the 1966 film The Chase and therefore the script was passed on to French New Wave director François Truffaut. Truffaut made some contributions but then suggested that the script be sent to his colleague, the New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard who eventually turned it down due to artistic differences. Following many attempts, Arthur Penn was eventually persuaded to direct the film.

The result is impressive. Starting with the opening credits with period photographs and camera clicks, the film is full of striking visuals which successfully blends traditional Hollywood filmmaking influences, such as Scarface (1932) and Gun Crazy (1949), with the New Wave techniques, such as experimenting with cinematic devices, using windows, glass and mirrors as recurring visual motifs and framing. The scenes which intercut from the comic to the brutal violence are startingly effective.

Despite being banned in various countries and being heavily criticized for its violence, Bonnie and Clyde still made money with over 23 million box office receipts in the US alone. However, its legacy is even more impressive because for the next decade, the talented auteurs had taken control.

It is time to remember why Hollywood changed. The success of Bonnie and Clyde helped finally break down the Production Code by breaking the rules of cinema and enabling such classics as The Wild Bunch (1969), Easy Rider (1969) and The Godfather (1972) to be made, all which are very heavily influenced by Bonnie and Clyde.

Bonnie and Clyde is an important movie. That is not in dispute. But it should really rank alongside Citizen Kane and The Godfather as arguably America’s greatest film. It is too influential and groundbreaking to be ignored.

 

About Paul J Bradley

My name is Paul and I am a classic film enthusiast. I have always been passionate about classic films ever since I was very young. I still fondly remember those trips to the Scala Cinema in Letterkenny in County Donegal, Ireland, back in the early seventies. And I certainly enjoyed watching all those old classics on television every weekend.

I am a writer now, but I am also a fully qualified teacher. I have worked in education for many years, teaching English, History and Film Studies.

I really do love writing about classic film as much as I love talking about it. I have even written a couple of screenplays which I submitted to various film competitions. Despite positive feedback, especially for my second screenplay, I did not win. But I will try again.

My own favourite films include: Ben-Hur (1959), Roman Holiday (1953), King Kong (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Casablanca (1942) – and many more!

I would name Robert Riskin, Ernest Lehman, Billy Wilder and Francis Ford Coppola as possibly my favourite screenwriters of all time.

My biggest claim to fame is meeting Audrey Hepburn at the UNICEF Children’s Day in Dublin back in 1988. Audrey was genuinely lovely.

I live in Birmingham in England with my sweetheart. We met in London back in 1994 and she has made me the happiest man in the world.

I feel enormously proud to be a member of the Classic Recall team, who are all intelligent, generous and passionate about film. Their regular podcasts are witty, informative and very entertaining.

My contributions will mostly relate to the films from the Golden Age of Hollywood, which lasted from the silent era in the 20s to the 60s, but I will write about any classic film.

My simple wish is that everybody could be as passionate about classic film as I am.

 

 

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