Several…okay, a few critics are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Warren Beatty, Arthur Penn, David Newman and Robert Benton‘s Bonnie and Clyde. Except the real 50th anniversary was four months ago. This landmark, culture-changing film opened twice — half-heartedly on 4.14.67 (which resulted in Bosley Crowther‘s N.Y. Times pan) and then was re-released on 8.13.67. Remember also that Pauline Kael‘s legendary New Yorker praise piece appeared two months later, in an issue dated 10.21.67. Things sure moved a lot slower back then.
I’ve seen Bonnie and Clyde at least 10 or 12 times. I own the WHV Bluray, of course. Moments and images (the first motel shootout, half of Gene Hackman‘s head blown off, Michael J. Pollard weeping after screwing up the escape from the first bank job, the look on Gene Wilder‘s face when his fiance reveals her actual age) have been in my blood since my 20s. “Don’t sell that cow!”
I’ve always regarded the final machine-gun slaughter scene as not just an all-time shocker but (this is going to sound a little weird) strangely sexual. Yes, I still hate Estelle Parsons‘ performance as Blanche Barrow. (That awful scream, I mean. The real Blanche hated it too.) I chuckle every time Denver Pyle sneaks up behind a heavily-bandaged Parsons, leans down and says “Blanche Barrow!”
Remember how A.O. Scott claimed on the 40th anniversary of Bonnie and Clyde that Crowther was half-right in his condemnation?
“Bonnie and Clyde‘s hero and heroine are not fighting injustice so much as they are having fun, enjoying the prerogatives of outlaw fame. They exist in a kind of anarchic utopia where the pursuit of kicks is imagined to be inherently political. In this universe the usual ethical justifications of violent action are stripped away, but the aura of righteousness somehow remains.”
The two best graphs from Owen Gleiberman’s Variety tribute piece:
“Bonnie and Clyde didn’t want to kill people. They were desperate, stuck in the doldrums of the Depression, trapped in their own sensual hunger. Robbing banks was their ticket, their salvation, their high.
“Yet from the moment during their first crack at robbery when an innocent teller gets shot through the eye, the film forced the audience to confront the collateral damage of its heroes’ actions. The astonishing audacity of “Bonnie and Clyde” is that it revels in the forbidden sexiness of living beyond the law, of doing whatever you want from moment to moment, yet it never lets Bonnie and Clyde off the hook. Hitched to the jostling thrill of its getaway-ride sequences, the movie is a tragicomedy about what it looks and feels like to want to live too fast.
“[The slaughter scene] changed movies because it’s one of the greatest sequences in film history. You feel, in every moment of it, the sting of death. Yet the part of it that has always haunted me the most comes just before the bullets fly. Birds rise up out of the bushes, giving Bonnie and Clyde a moment of warning that someone is hiding there.
“And then, in the space of a split second that lasts forever, the two gaze at each other, the film cutting back and forth between them, and what their eyes say in that endless instant is the most eloquent of visual sonnets: ‘Oh God this is it! Just like we knew it would happen. But we dreamed that it wouldn’t. And we don’t even have time to say goodbye. And I love you.’ It’s one of the most stunning feats of direction, acting, and editing (by Dede Allen) ever done, and it seals Bonnie and Clyde as a romance in which love transcends death.”