The Los Angeles Times article interviews Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn to provide unique insight into the production and impact of Bonnie and Clyde. Boucher describes Bonnie and Clyde as a “jarring film” full of bloody realism, thrills, and anti-establishment themes. While some critics and older viewers saw the film as a sign of amoral society, the film really resonated with young audiences because it was new and different. Penn called the film “part Texas, part Paris”, which signifies the integration of American themes and French New Wave cinema. Additionally, Beatty recalls how Jack Warner consistently reminded him of “who’s name was on the water tower” to assert his power. Regardless, Penn and Beatty agreed not to change the script or the graphic depiction of violence; defying a studio head was a groundbreaking move. Furthermore, instead of filming on the Warner lot, Penn moved production to small towns throughout Texas to enhance the realism of the film and depict the desperation of the rural countryside. Both Beatty and Warner recall how they were unaware of how influential the film would be.
These interviews lend unique, first-hand support to the idea that Bonnie and Clyde changed Hollywood institutions and set new standards. Penn and Beatty both acknowledge that they did things their own way, and not necessarily how things had been done in the past, which contributed to the immense success of this film. They inspired a new generation of filmmakers who had a personal vision, and attracted younger audiences by breaking tradition.
Film Quarterly 53.4 (2000). JSTOR . 26 Mar. 2008
Bernstein’s article analyzes the continual script revision of Bonnie and Clyde to demonstrate how the film integrated characteristics of French New Wave cinema with conventions of Hollywood. Screenwriters David Newman and Robert Benton were great admirers of French New Wave Cinema. In fact, Francois Truffaut even helped edit their script after turning down the position as director. According to Bernstein’s analysis of the script, the French New Wave influenced the original concept, storyline, narrative structure, and character development. Newman and Benton were focused on developing Bonnie and Clyde as endearing bad guys. Similarly, the writers tried to create a mixture of tones through juxtaposition of opposites, such as the combination of comic relief with gory violence. The original script was actually even more European in style, but revisions create a more coherent and Hollywood style by making Bonnie and Clyde more conventionally romantic and strengthening the linear narrative by focusing mainly on Bonnie and Clyde’s perspective. This article also demonstrates how Arthur Penn and his team broke tradition and started a new era in Hollywood. For example, despite offending studio-head Jack Warner, Newman, Benton, and Penn were determined to include gory action sequences and charged language.
This article demonstrates how Newman and Benton used the stylization of French New Wave to create a new American gangster, mainly through a mixture of tones and juxtaposition of opposites (such as love and crime, or comedy and violence). Additionally, the writers knowingly and purposefully broke social conventions of Hollywood. For the first time, brutal criminals were likable, and horrific scenes were integrated with comic undertones. As a result of Bonnie and Clyde, directors earned more power and took greater stylistic risks. Films, therefore, were developed according to new institutional standards with significantly less studio influence.
Arthur Penn began two very important trends in Hollywood filmmaking with Bonnie and Clyde, specifically introducing a new type of gangster film and creating a signature director’s style. First, audiences were attracted to Bonnie and Clyde, even though they were the gangsters. He describes Bonnie and Clyde as folk-heroes “who live from their spontaneous impulses, not from any codified morality (80).” He identifies several scenes in the film, such as the reunion with Bonnie’s mother, that humanize the gangsters and portrays conventional society as abnormal. Secondly, the French New Wave inspired Penn’s use of slow motion, special photographic textures, and free intercutting to create a sense of tension, excitement, and escalating violence. But, Cameron argues the “released” his artistic signature and desire for a distinguishable style. Penn really applied his own "mark" to his films through editing.
Cameron’s analysis explains that despite the unequivocal evidence that crime does not pay, the film is still very likely to encourage spectators to like Bonnie and Clyde because these outlaws are attractive, spontaneous, and even seem fun. Cameron believes people do not identify with their criminal nature, but rather their carefree sense of independence. This essay supports the notion that Penn glamorizes the perpetrators of violence by creating endearing characters. From Cameron's perspective, there are sociological and cultural implications that the audiences identify so intensely with outlaws, which up until this film was nonexistent.
Bosley Crowther’s original New York Times review condemns Bonnie and Clyde, most famously declaring, “This blending of farce with brutal killings is as pointless as it is lacking in taste.” His review criticizes both the lead actors and director for combining slapstick comedy with gory violence, which he finds neither entertaining nor purposeful. This review clearly demonstrates how appalled Crowther was with the level of violence and “ridiculous” portrayal of crime. Not only does he find the combination of comedy and violence horrific, but says the film is not at all representative of the real story of the Barrow Gang. Lastly, Crowther attacks the portrayal of a “sleazy, moronic pair” as fun-loving, carefree, and sympathetic characters.
This review lends unique insight into the immediate and controversial reception of the film. Crowther clearly represents those critics who belive this movie was too graphic and insensitive in its glamorization of crime. It is significant to note that despite such scathing reviews, the film was a huge success, which demonstrates Bonnie and Clyde’s ability to speak to and attract audiences.
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.
Katie Mills’ book describes the roots and defining features of New Hollywood. The term “New Hollywood” distinguishes the time periods of the old studio system and the director-driven projects of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Inspired by the French New Wave, American filmmakers were dedicated to auteurism, which emphasized signature styles of individual directors. During this new era, American directors combined the European avant-garde with relevant cultural themes like social revolutions, rebellions, the mystique of the open road, and powerful female characters. In fact, Mills praises Bonnie and Clyde for its groundbreaking portrayal of gender. Bonnie was a sexual and powerful female, which represented the growing influence of the women’s movement.
According to Mills, Bonnie and Clyde mixed French New Wave art film rebelliousness with the American themes of outlaws, rural heartlands, and romance of the open road. Arthur Penn helped inspire the auteur rebellion against Old Hollywood and invited New Hollywood institutions, practices, and themes by breaking tradition. Most importantly, Bonnie and Clyde proved the commercial success of trying something new, in this case French New Wave style, which contributed to the rise of New Hollywood. Penn’s film had a huge impact on the style and narrative of auteurist films and the road genre.