Charles Thomas Samuels’ essay attempts to legitimize why some Bonnie and Clyde critics condone violence without purpose, why others lash out against the “glamorization of violence”, and why viewers identify with Bonnie and Clyde. First, he explains how some critics (like Pauline Kael of The New Yorker) see the violence as entertaining, and those who are opposed to this depiction of violence seem “out of step (90)”. On the contrary, he says the commercial success of the movie is worrisome because the film is biased in favor of the criminals and makes society seem excessively punitive. For example, in the final scene, the sheriff is wearing black and Bonnie and Clyde (and their car) are in all white, which reverses traditional archetypes and symbolism. In this sense, the criminals are the “good guys”, which is what Samuels finds problematic. Samuels says Bonnie and Clyde makes serious comments about the “sick and joyless (85)” nature of crime and therefore does not completely glamorize criminals, but instead elevates Bonnie and Clyde as rebels against tradition. He establishes why Bonnie and Clyde turn into “folk heroes”, even though they are also portrayed as brutal criminals. They are a young, in love and become sympathetic throughout the movie. The 1960s was full of violence and anarchy, and according to Samuels, Bonnie and Clyde represent a backlash against convention, which was a popular cultural theme at the time.
Because of the shifting and mixture of tones within the movie, Samuels both confirms and contradicts the idea that Bonnie and Clyde glamorizes violence. On one hand, Bonnie and Clyde are seen as sick and dysfunctional. For instance, Clyde is seen to overcome his sexual impotence by using lethal weapons as a symbol of masculinity and power. From this perspective, the movie should warn people against the dangers of crime. On the other hand, people identify with Bonnie and Clyde’s sense of rebellion and freedom, and therefore, crime is seen as an acceptable outlet, which Samuels (and the critics he supports) sees as the main problem with this film.
According to Stephen Prince, Bonnie and Clyde was a landmark film because it presented graphic violence in an unprecedented way and changed the future of cinema. Prince even calls Bonnie and Clyde’s ultimate death “ferocious” (127). While at the time the film was very controversial, it set a precedent for violence that is consistently surpassed in contemporary films. Prince identifies two important factors that made this extremely violent film possible. First, he says that the social unrest of the period and the extremely bloody Vietnam War put violence on the cultural agenda, and influenced the graphic scenes in Penn’s film. Furthermore, even though the movie is set in the 1930s, Penn wanted to metaphorically relate to the 1960s by presenting the idea of resisting the Establishment. Secondly, Hollywood institutions were changing and directors were gaining more creative freedom, especially because of changes to the Production Code. Bonnie and Clyde used new and cutting edge cinema techniques to enhance the action. For example, Penn used multi-camera filming, slow motion, and intercutting slow-and-normal speed action to heighten the effects of screen violence. He also drew inspiration from unique sources, and Prince identifies Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa as an essential inspiration. The final (and goriest) scene in the movie draws heavily from techniques used in The Seven Samurai (1954), particularly the use of intercutting and multiple cameras to capture the action.
Penn broke tradition and overturned decades of “polite violence (139)”. Prince’s argument supports the idea that Bonnie and Clyde was a watershed film in Hollywood history, and ignited intense levels of screen violence. In fact, Bonnie and Clyde would no longer even seem violent to modern viewers because of the infinitely increasing threshold for on-screen aggression, which Prince says this film sparked. Bonnie and Clyde transformed cinematic violence to an exciting, entertaining spectacle.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN2285 .N25 2003
In his novel Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s, Gerald Nachman provides a thorough review and assessment of some of the greatest comedians of the 1950s and 1960s. The book is divided into chapters dedicated solely to a specific comedian or team of comedians. These notable figures range from Mort Sahl and Tom Lehrer in the 1950s to Bob Newhart and Woody Allen in the 1960s. Nachman gives intimate accounts of how these comedians came to fame and the events and people that inspired them. Each chapter goes into painstaking detail about the comedians’ childhoods, families, and educations. The book is filled not only with evocative quotes from the comedians themselves, but also from those who had close relations with these individuals.
In the chapter entitled “Double Jeopardy,” Nachman contemplates the careers and lives of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, arguably one of the greatest comedic teams of all time. Nichols and May were a product of the Compass Players in Chicago, which has produced many of the world’s most prominent writers and comedians. They dominated the American comedic stage for four years until their sudden breakup in 1961. Despite the brevity of their four year stint, the plays that they wrote, directed, and acted in transformed American comedy. Nachman states that they are “perhaps the most ardently missed of all the satirical comedians of their era” (319). According to Nichols’ ex-agent, the breakup with May drove him into a “state of depression… he really wasn’t functioning” (351). Despite the profound psychological effects of the breakup, the two recovered and went on to develop their individual careers. While May continued to write comedies, Nichols focused on directing. Nichols’ first two films, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and The Graduate (1967) were major hits and secured him a role as one of Hollywood’s leading directors. The Graduate won Nichols an Academy Award for Best Director and a nomination for Best Picture. Though May’s career has not been as celebrated as Nichols’, the two reunited in 1996 when Nichols directed The Birdcage, which May adapted from the play La Cage aux Folles. Nachman provides a deeply personal and thorough account of the stunning and influential comedic duo of Nichols and May.