Bonnie and Clyde: Beginning of a New Hollywood Era
BONNIE AND CLYDE : “Beginning of the New Hollywood Era. ” Bonnie and Clyde is a 1967 American crime film about Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, the criminal version of Romeo and Juliet, the true story of the most beloved yet infamous outlaws, robbers and convicts who journeyed the Central United States during the Great Depression. The film was directed by Arthur Penn, and stars Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker, and Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow.
Bonnie and Clyde is reckoned as one of the 60s’ most talked-about, volatile, controversial crime/gangster films combining comedy, terror, love, and ferocious violence, and regarded as one of the first films of the New Hollywood era, in which it broke many taboos and was so popular amongst the younger generation. After its success, it encouraged other filmmakers to be more forward about presenting sex and violence in their films. The film was intended as a romantic and comic version of the violent gangster films of the 1930s, updated with modern filmmaking techniques.
To begin with the film opens with a lap dissolve from a golden, old-style Warner Bros shield, grainy, unglamorous, blurry, sepia-toned snapshots of the Barrow and Parker families (at the time of Bonnie and Clyde’s childhood) play on a black background, accompanied by the loud clicking sound of a camera shutter (The credit titles are interspersed with flashes of more semi-documentary, brownish-tinged pictures) to an extreme close up of Bonnie applying ruby red lipstick. The implication of the lap dissolve is that they will be linked in the film, and that love will be involved.
The sound bridge also emphasis love, as the song concludes with the words “deep in the arms of love” and further links Clyde and Bonnie. So from the start, Penn introduces the love story as central to the film, and view everything that follows from within this framework. A subsequent pan right results in a close up of Bonnie reflected in a mirror, revealing her face and her styled hair. The camera does a clever little dance insuring that Dunaway shows plenty of skin without really revealing anything, as jagged jump cuts slice away whenever her motion within the rame threatens to bring her nudity across the line of acceptability. The medium shot that follows shows the water marks in the ceiling and wall of her low-income frame house, indicating her dire financial straits. When she she flings herself down on her bed, the bars both run diagonally across the screen and cast shadows across her face indicating for us the prison she feels she feels she’s in as she repeatedly strikes the cage surrounding her. Based on how she saw herself in the mirror, she clearly thinks she deserves better.
The following close up (when she grabs the bars) and zoom into an extreme close up of her eyes reflects her torment. As the camera holds her face, we can see the resignation in her face as she turns to get dressed for work. Bonnie is trapped in a dead end life. By stressing this aspect of her life, Penn has us initially glimpse Bonnie in the best possible light. This scene also explains Bonnie’s following actions in two ways. First is that she understands exactly how Clyde must have felt in prison when they later meet, establishing an immediate bond between them.
The second is that, when Clyde tells her that he cut off two of his toes to get out of a work detail, she believes him for the man of action he portrays himself to be , (“Boy, did you really do that. ”). This compares favorably with her desire to rise above her own dull circumstance and take action within her own life. It’s understandable then when Bonnie rides off in the car stolen by a man who has robbed a grocery store, who she has only known a few minutes (but has connected with emotionally. )
The idea of a decent young woman in a dead end town working a dead end job during the Great Depression escaping with a convicted felon is made even more acceptable by the mise-en-scene and cinematography. The deep focus of the opening scene allows us to see her room humbly decorated with a small, vulgar collection of porcelain figurines and a rag doll, and a few family photographs are tacked on the drab wall. These details allow us to see Bonnie as an ordinary person. Likewise, Clyde is portrayed as a clean cut gentleman with white fedora hat, white shirt, and tie and jacket, and a bright white smile.
His jacket, a warm brown earthy brown, softens any inclinations we may have of him as a criminal after Bonnie catches him about to steal her mother’s car. The mise-en-scene on the long tracking shot down an empty Main Street (except for one elderly Negro sitting on a bench in front of the barber shop) in the small, rural, Southwest Texas town allows us to connect the hard times and limited opportunities (boarded up stores) that surround Bonnie and Clyde and then a close-up of Clyde’s face. Clyde’s mouth is dominated by objects, like the Coke bottle and the match, which demonstrate his confidence.
Perhaps, a close-up shot is used instead of the standard wide shot is to emphasize this aspect of Clyde’s personality. When Bonnie rubs the tip of the bottle of coke across her lips and flicks her tongue in her mouth as she watches Clyde gulped his and smiles, the shot is closed-up to emphasize Bonnie’s sexual curiousity. In a longer shot, Bonnie both turns aways from Clyde, but then turns back toward him in order to give him another opportunity to prove his violence, Clyde pulled out his gun and clandestinely showing it to her.
The wide shot allows this action to play out on screen – both her change in attitude as well as his last effort. The wide shot also manages to obstruct the gun from the audience’s view by not showing it in close-up until later. From this still frame, it’s even difficult to see what the object that he pulls from his pocket is exactly. Then, a quick close-up of Bonnie’s face presents her intrigue at seeing Clyde’s gun. to a close-up of Clyde’s gun as he holds it at his waist and points it in her direction.
The Coke bottles are now put away and missing from the last couple close-ups as their relationship moves onto the next stage. The establishing shot of the main street in town introduces the flat, empty, barren country all around them. After Clyde robs the grocery store and during their first escape in the stolen car, the scenes are pretty much rough cuts of Bonnie smothering Clyde with hugs and kisses as they careen down the dusty country road.
During the hurried getaway, banjo music by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs (“Foggy Mountain Breakdown”) plays on the soundtrack – theme music that accompanies their escapes. This piece of music later will be repeated in lots of scenes. In the end of the clip, We’ll be introduced to the us-against the world theme, where Bonnie and Clyde engaged in a rather serious conversation where after Clyde diverting her physical arousal, entices Bonnie into a glamorous life with his own unrealistic, ignorant and childish fantasies of freedom, wealth and fame.
He encourages her to think of him as the answer to her dreams – they could make history together. The fact is, on the whole, Bonnie and Clyde is driven by the quality of its performances, by the multiple layers and nuances these actors bring to their legendary characters. Most of the characters are portrayed as accurately as possible, however, it seems like the life of Bonnie and Clyde were simplified and exaggerated in the film, in order to keep the film exciting and also convey the emotions and ideas that scenes are trying to get across.
Like in the scene when Bonnie first realizes that Clyde isn’t much a “loverboy”, it pours out loads of bullshits about how Clyde, nevertheless, saw something special in Bonnie, which Bonnie buys it, when if you’re realistic enough considering her insecurity and desperation to escape her small town ennui, but the director seems to expect the audience to buy it as well, to see this tale as a Hollywood tragic love story. And of course in the end, this is an exceedingly shocking film, that brings tragedy full circle, all that more affecting with the disarming comedy, which always seemed to intensify the serious tone.
However, overall, Bonnie and Clyde has succeeded as one of the first films to bring a new, tougher sensibility to mainstream Hollywood filmmaking, a sensibility that would come to define the new American cinema as the 60s transitioned into the 70s. It is an openly violent and sexualized vision of the famous criminal couple, testing the boundaries of screen representation. And that’s pretty much the time when we say hello to the New Hollywood Era.