Carr then moves from the present to Bonnie and Clyde’s era, the birth of the counterculture in the 60s. Carr reminds us of the civil turmoil and transformation America as whole was undergoing. Vietnam, the civil rights movement and police brutality all excited the public’s mistrust of the state and authority as a whole. The American film industry was also undergoing a transformation of its own at the time with the demise of the studio system and the production code and the rise of influential foreign films from movements such as the French New Wave.
The 60s saw the birth of the counterculture, young adults who considered themselves on the margins of society. Many of the most influential voices of the time, such as Allan Ginsberg, were arrested for protesting the government. The government, in turn, reacted by “spying” on hundreds of thousands of citizens in an attempt to crack down on civil unrest and dissatisfaction with their government. This attempt, however, only served to solidify the defining aspect of the counterculture: their hatred of authority and control.
Carr uses these historical examples of 60s culture to place Bonnie and Clyde as the most influential film to date, and as a turning point in American cinema and consumerism. The film reflected the feelings and idealizations of the counterculture through its glorification of two criminals fight against authority and societal norms. The film was immensely popular, but received heavy criticism from film critics and public opinion groups, eventually leading to its withdrawal from theatres within the U.S. This, just like the government’s attempt to control dissent through spying, only served to bring the film to further prominence as a cult icon of sorts. The film, however, did more than just reflect the turmoil of the times and gave birth to the consumerization of the counterculture. The film helped present the counterculture, mostly young adults and teenagers, as the target audience for a new genre of film tailored directly to their desires. Bonnie and Clyde allowed the marginal, outcasts of society (as they saw themselves) to achieve consumerist prominence in America.
Steele’s follows the conversation with a critique of the two critics’ views by examining how and for what reason violence is used in the film. Steele’s main argument revolves around the difference between art and entertainment, “art is entertainment, and some entertainment may be art” (117). He believes that Schickel’s claim that films should represent society would be true should it apply to documentaries, but Arthur Penn’s film strives to be art, and not simply a truthful depiction.
Steele, while defending the use of violence to a certain extent, finds complaints with the film from an artistic viewpoint instead. Slow motion and fast paced editing in the final shootout separate the deaths of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow from every other death in the film elevating them to a heroic status, but for what purpose? He classifies the film as taking, “a tragic stance without giving us a tragedy” (119). Steele feels that Penn’s use of artistic editing and cinematic devices become “shenanigans” (120) because they are meant simply to disguise the underlying unpleasantness of a story where the two beautiful heroes die. In this sense, Penn’s stunning and artistic use of violence adds nothing to the film other than making it entertainment genius.
Parker, Emma, and Nell Barrow Cowan. Fugitives: The Story of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. Dallas, Tx: The Ranger Press, Inc, 1934
Fugitives: The Story of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker is written by Emma Parker, Bonnie Parker’s mother, and Nellie May Cowan, Clyde’s sister. The book is a family account of the turmoil that surrounded the pair as they robbed, murdered and fled across the country for two years. These relatives, however, do not try to vindicate the criminals from their crimes or sell their personalities to emote empathy, but write about them as they believed they were, “they were monsters, they were outlaws, they did unspeakable things. So said the press, so averred the law. The Law and the press were both undoubtedly right” (1).
This account from the outlaws’ family members brings an entirely different feeling to the story of Bonnie and Clyde that either the film of even Treherne’s non-fiction account did. The family members describe the turmoil they suffered between 1932 and 1934. They describe the pair as filled with ideals and yearnings just as the film portrayed them, but completely miserable in their lives as fugitives, “Never for one instant did they experience a joy or a thrill which could possibly compensate them for the living hell which made up their lives. There was never a time, after the chase began, when they would not have traded places with the poorest and humblest couple on earth if they could have had peace and ordinary happiness” (iii). This description of the torment of both the family as well as Bonnie and Clyde themselves defines the two characters in an entirely different way.
Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway became iconic because of their desire to be free, do as they wish and defy authority. Even the yokels within the film revere the two as folk-heroes of sorts. But the descriptions and accounts of family members give the truth behind the film. Bonnie and Clyde were really just sad outcasts, unable to escape from a series of mistakes.
Pauline Kael article not only represented the positive side of the debate surrounding Bonnie and Clyde, but was her most famous essay and catapulted her to journalistic relevance. Indeed, Kael made her entire career, and quite a good one at that, by covering Bonnie and Clyde. Her original positive review is what established her as the critical face of the film, but she continued to write about and defend the film for years to come, developing a relationship with both Beatty and the writers of the film, Benton and Newman.
Her review was the exact opposite of Crowther’s, extolling the virtues of youth rebellion as part of her generation. The two critics dueled over the subject of the film, which eventually led to the rise of her career and the demise of Crowther’s. The effect of the move can be seen simply by the success of the critics that covered it. Kael, representing the positive, acceptance of the film and all it represented became a prominent film critic. While Crowter rejected it and the youth counterculture it represented and was subsequently removed as the head of the New York Times film review section.
Berstein, Matthew. "Perfecting the New Gangster: Writing "Bonnie and Clyde"." Film Quarterly 53(2000): 16-31
Mathew Bernstein’s article in a 2000 publication of Film Quarterly entitled The New Gangster revolves around the writing and meaning of Bonnie and Clyde. The article covers the famed screenwriters, Robert Benton and David Newman and their obsession with French New Wave cinema and how it influenced the writers’ treatment and final draft of Bonnie and Clyde.
The article cites the two Esquire writers essay, The New Sentimentality, as their inspiration and foundation for their Bonnie and Clyde project. Bonnie and Clyde represented everything their essay stood for, “Bonnie and Clyde is about style and people who have style. It is about people whose style set them apart from their time and place so that they seemed odd and aberrant to the general run of society” (19).
The article then covers the gradual progression of the script from being a purely New Wave, irregular narrative, to a more classical, Hollywood narrative and back again. Oddly enough Bernstein claims that Francois Truffaut, while he was involved with the project, did more to Americanize the script than anything else. It was Arthur Penn that finally realized the film’s potential to break down barriers between American films and European art cinema.
The most interesting part of the progression of the film’s script comes from the racy sexuality that was originally part of the film. The first treatment of the script contained an active and well functioning sex life for the two protagonists, which of course was later switched to Clyde’s asexuality. The original script even contained strong hints of a threesome between Bonnie, Clyde and their partner C.W. Moss. However W.D. Jones, the actor originally cast for the role of Moss, was an entirely different actor, “he was an air-head, blond stud” (20). The final script shows a scene where Bonnie shrugs when Clyde turns her down, clearly sexually frustrated, but, “by contrast, in the first script draft, Bonnie casually walks to the door of the room and yells for Jones to come in to help them get going, as if she was calling him in for dinner” (21).
The clear toning down of the sexuality in Bonnie and Clyde can be seen as a compromise to allow the excessive violence to exist untouched. The many re-workings of the script saw a dramatic change from Benton and Newman’s original vision, but Penn and Beatty were able find the happy medium between overly New Wave and overly Hollywood.
The books focus on Bonnie and Clyde begins with Robert Benton and David Newman slow and gradual formation of the Bonnie and Clyde Treatment in 1963. Their positions at Esquire Magazine afforded them sufficient time to leave work and visit the museum of Modern Art where they incessantly watched Hitchcock films in the museums retrospective. The two wrote the treatment with every intention that it would break down the norms of current cinema in the U.S. and establish a more European, art oriented style. The two writers were heavily influenced by the French new wave, and modeled their treatment and script after that style, targeting Francois Truffaut as their ideal director and almost part of the very script.
Truffaut however had his eyes set on Fahrenheit 451 as his first American project and turned it down, but recommended it to Jon Luc Godard, another one of Benton and Newman’s New Wave idols. Godard, however, had an entirely different vision for the project and was subsequently removed from the project, both of his own will and the production team’s. After Godard’s disappointing departure, Benton and Newman seemed to lose hope in their project and started to write Broadway musicals together.
The book then switched to following Warren Beatty after 1965 when he bought the option for the Bonnie and Clyde screenplay for $75,000. After trying to get Truffaut and Godard to direct the film failed yet again for Beatty, he finally convinced Arthur Penn to agree to the project in 1966, after the director had previously turned it down three times already.
The book provides valuable insight into the birth and assembly of Bonnie and Clyde and shows the inner workings of the films production. From Benton and Newman’s American French New Wave dream, to Beatty and Penn’s reworking of the script and groundbreaking final project that eventually led to the Oscar Nomination in 1967 and years of influence.
Crowther, Bosley. "Run, Bonnie and Clyde." The New York Times 03 sep 1967
Immediately following the release of Bonnie and Clyde on August 4th of 1967, the film began to receive both praise and chastisement from critics. No one was more vehemently against Bonnie and Clyde and all it stood for than Bosley Crowther. Crowther was a film critic for the New York Times from the 1940s until the 1960s, when he reviewed the film in 1967. Critics across the nation were torn by the revolutionary use of violence and glorification of criminality, but Crowther achieved prominence among them as the chief advocate that the film was mere fodder.
Crowther acknowledged the social and political context that the film was meant to play on, but states, “Bonnie and Clyde does not impress me as a contribution to the thinking of our times or as wholesome entertainment”. Crowther’s main complaint seems to be the films departure from historical accuracy. Arthur Penn’s use of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to portray the two criminals transforms them from ugly, murderous scoundrels into beautiful, exciting heroes, which upsets Crowther. “The performance that Beatty gives of a light-hearted, show offish fellow with a talent for stealing cars and holding up banks at gunpoint is mannered playacting of a hick that bears no more resemblance to Barrow than it does to Jesse James”. Crowther believes that by straying from historical accuracy, Penn is “cheating” and “spitting noise and sparks without much truth”.
Crowther admits the technical and cinematic success of the film, but fails to see its social or artistic importance. This review, and the following writings and statements of Crowther came to headline the critics that disliked the 1967 classic. While many other critics agreed with Crowther in the recent months following the film’s release, opinions started to change, and the film slowly climbed down from the fence and settled on the positive side as a masterpiece and social icon. Crowther’s contemporary, Richard Schickel of Time magazine agreed with Crowther at first, but eventually reversed his opinion and admitted that the film was both important and brilliant. Crowther, however, never came around to agreeing with the film and was subsequently fired from The New York Times because of the public criticism he faced because of his criticism of the film.
The chapter begins with Ted Hinton and Bob Alcorn’s efforts’ to catch Bonnie and Clyde. He and a number of other policemen had tracked the couple to Gibsland, Louisiana, the hometown of their then partner in crime, Henry Methvin. Hinton and the others following the group had began to think of a way they could trap the sneaky crooks, “the hunters of Bonnie and Clyde had discovered early of their quarries’ most vulnerable trait: the strong psychological dependence on their families” (195). After the lawmen learned of Methvin, they tracked his family to Gibsland and preceded to arrange an Ambush that would finally put an end to the pair’s spree. Methvin had been separated from Bonnie and Clyde, and Hinton and Alcorn suspected that they would try and rendevue with him at his fathers house in Gibsland. The officers, 4 from Texas and 3 from Louisiana, hid in bushes along the side of a road just south of Gibsland. After two days of tiresome waiting, they finally captured Irvin Methvin, Henry’s father and used his car as decoy for Bonnie and Clyde. However, the arrest of Irivin Methvin was entirely illegal, along with their seizure of his vehicle for the ambush. The officers were almost ready to quit on the ambush when Bonnie and Clyde came rolling down the road. The rest reads just like the movie, with the two being riddled by bullets while they sat in the car, with no time to fire a single shot.
Treherne’s book recounts the actual death of Bonnie and Clyde as described by the officers hunting them and gives truth to the final scene of the Penn’s film. The book, however, is from the policemen’s vantage point and creates an entirely different imagery of the final shootout. Methvin and his father had no intention or previous knowledge of a setup like C.W. Moss and his father did in the movie. The blood soaked shootout in the film, however, seems faithful to its original story, and the scene that set critics aflame was possibly the most loyal to the real account.
The essay states, “violence is the key to the rule of power” (708) and shows how mostly men and white characters use violence to capture their dominance. The research in the essay shows that heavy television viewing results in a fear of violence along with a misjudgment of the amount of violence around us. The essay concludes by saying that violence has become the easiest way for television creators to create drama due to censorship laws.
Although this essay has nothing to do with Bonnie and Clyde, the study on the consequences of violence through 1960s television is important in understanding the films plentiful use of violence. There was no doubt that violence was prominent in the 1960s with images of the Vietnam War and civil rights movements dominating the screens of the American people. Bonnie and Clyde took advantage of the American obsession with visual violence, but did so in a way that justified and glamorized violence. Although the effects that the essay claims appear from watching excessive television, Bonnie and Clyde appealed to an audience that was already overwhelmed with violence, and was eager to welcome the camp portrayal of murder and death. And the essay’s assertion that power arises from violence, Bonnie and Clyde is the supreme example because of the overwhelming pop culture influence that the original pair and film had on the cinema as a whole as well as the public’s expectations of violence and censorship.
Benton, Robert, and David Newman. "The New Sentimentality." Esquire Jul 1964: 25-31
Robert Brenton and David Newman’s article entitled The New Sentimentality was published in July 1964 as the cover story. The article defined the old sentimentality as comprised of, “‘values” that everyone could see, bywords that meant the same to all: Patriotism, Love, Religion, Mom, The Girl” (25). The new mentality represented a shift in these values, a shift that everyone was taking part in, but no one noticed. The new sentimentality is comprised of values that, “differ slightly from man to man, because one of the definitions of New Sentimentality is that it has to do with you, not what you were told or taught, but what goes on in your head, really, and in your heart, really” (25). Instead of groveling at the foot of a higher authority telling you what to respect, what to believe or what to buy, people were starting to strive for unique self-representation, in any and all forms. Later in the article, its authors break down numerous categories into both new and old sentimentality, including politics, sports, love, sex and so on. One section they break down is “life patterns” with “common sense, loyalty, and selling out” categorized as old and “wounding and being wounded, vulnerability, change and inherent flaws” as the new. The article tries to convey the culture shift occurring in the 60s and how it can be represented through pop culture, politics and just about everything else.
The article by Benton and Newman in 1964 was written as they were beginning to flush out their treatment of Bonnie and Clyde. The two authors wanted to write a script that embodied everything they had written about in this article, and the story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow turned out to be just what they were looking for. The pair separated themselves from society and its norms well before the counterculture of the 60s and took America on a daring and troublesome ride. Benton and Newman wrote everything aspect of their New Sentimentality into their script. The two were looking for something to define their theory in the New Sentimentality and success of their film that exemplified that very theory proved the authenticity behind their claims.