Rewatching ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ last night was a bit of a treat for me. It was the first film I had ever seen from the year 1967, and it carries one of those really fond memories with me. My wife and I had decided a few years back that we wanted to watch all of the Oscar Best Picture nominees, and we started with this film. Sadly, we never followed through with this (I’m working on it on my own, but my wife is just not a movie person) but that week spent with the 1967 Oscar nominees was a lot of fun.
When I first saw ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ I was rather spellbound. It was nothing that I expected, and watching the way it helped shape cinema at the time was like witnessing a special (and personally meaningful) piece of history. Watching it last night reinvigorated something in me that had lulled somewhat. While I’ve always respected this film, as the years trickled by I found myself pondering the power of the film itself. Watching it with older eyes, I can see the film’s flaws a tad clearer, but with that clarity I can also see the film’s impact, and I have to admit that the film is still as powerful as ever.
This 1967 classic tells the true story (with obvious liberties) of the notorious Bonnie and Clyde. It’s interesting to contemplate why this particular story has become so widely celebrated. I mentioned this in my review of ‘The Bling Ring’, ever so briefly (mainly because they mention it ‘ever so briefly’ in the film) but it is quite alarming that the term ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ has become a symbol of celebrated rebelliousness. In fact, it is hardly ever attached to someone with a negative connotation, because today’s youth look at the story of ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ with a sense of glamour and intrigue. It excites them, and the idea of emulating their persona (not always to the extreme) becomes something to aspire to.
This is a shame.
Truth be told, it is films like this 1967 classic that play into that idea that ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ were heroes of a jilted generation. There is no denying that this particular film is glamorized in a way that paints these two anti-heroes as individuals to become invested in (how else are you going to sell this story?) but the lack of inherent evil makes it harder to distinguish between their bad traits and their good ones. They become blurred and eventually stain these characters with falsity.
I understand that it is natural to root for the bad guy, if that bad guy is the protagonist, but when that bad guy is a thieving murderer then it can become dangerous.
But, with that particular flaw looming overhead, it is hard to fault this film for being what it is when what it is is so entertaining. The dreamy quality to the film and the way that each progression of sequence is shot is enthralling from start to finish. The ensemble, while uneven (Beatty is stiff and Parsons is obnoxious, but Dunaway is sultry perfection and Hackman is a natural charmer) make for an engaging atmosphere, and director Arthur Penn beautifully crafts a film that strikes a beautiful balance between edgy grit and relaxed subtlety.
So, I guess this makes it sound like a mixed bag, and it kind of is. As a benchmark for cinema at the time and a cypher into a more progressive way of ‘building a film’, this is an undisputed classic and one that should be treasured, and from all outward appearance (really, outside of Parson’s dreadful performance), the film is brilliantly made, but in that brilliance lies a layer of falsity, as if telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth would have made this film less appealing.
But that’s just my humble opinion.
So that is all for today. Tomorrow we're reviewing my FAVORITE Malick film, 1973's 'Badlands'!!! I hope you can play along, or at least stop by for a comment or two.