Tag Archives: Bonne & Clyde

Film on TV: February 1-7

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Lawrence of Arabia, playing Monday at 11pm on TCM

This is February, which means Oscars are coming up, which means TCM has launched into their annual 31 Days of Oscar lineup, meaning every film they play in the month of February has been at least nominated for an Academy Award. Now, that could mean it was nominated for Best Costume Design in 1937, but hey. Generally it means a fairly high overall quality of programming, and a number of films they don’t play very often the rest of the year.

Monday, February 1

8:55am – Sundance – Metropolitan
If Jane Austen made a movie in 1990 and set it among entitled Manhattan socialites, this would be it. The film follows a group of such entitled teens from party to party, focusing especially on the one outsider, a boy from the blue-collar class who has to rent a tux and pretend he likes to walk to avoid letting his new friends know he has to take the bus home. Though they find out soon enough, they keep him around because his intellectual nattering amuses them. In fact, it’s quite amazing that this film is interesting at all, given the amount of pseudo-intellectual nattering that goes on, from all the characters. But from start to finish, it’s both entertaining and an incisive look at the American class structure.
1990 USA. Director: Whit Stillman. Starring: Edward Clements, Chris Eigeman, Carolyn Farina, Taylor Nichols, Dylan Hundley.
(repeats at 3:40pm and 10:30pm, and 5:45pm on the 6th)

8:00pm – TCM – Funny Girl
Barbra Streisand tied Katharine Hepburn, no less, to win an Oscar for her role as Ziegfeld comedienne Fanny Brice. I’m neither a big Brice fan nor a big Streisand fan, so I haven’t seen it, but maybe I’ll get around to it one day.
1968 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif, Kay Medford, Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon.

11:00pm – TCM – Lawrence of Arabia
Most epics are over-determined and so focused on spectacle that they end up being superficial – all big sets and sweeping music with no depth. The brilliance of Lawrence of Arabia is that it looks like an epic with all the big sets and sweeping music and widescreen vistas, but at its center is an enigmatic character study of a man who lives bigger-than-life, but is as personally conflicted as any intimate drama has ever portrayed.
1962 UK. Director: David Lean. Starring: Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Jose Ferrer.
Must See
Newly Featured!

Tuesday, February 2

5:30am – TCM – Great Expectations
David Lean’s definitive version of one of Charles Dickens’ most well-known books, about the boy Pip and his rise to fortune through the aid of a mysterious benefactor. I’ve avoided this because of my distaste for Dickens, but hey. The movie can’t have time to ramble on like Dickens does, so maybe I’d like it.
1946 UK. Director: David Lean. Starring: John Mills, Tony Wager, Valerie Hobson, Jean Simmons, Bernard Miles, Martita Hunt.
Newly Featured!

8:05am – IFC – The New World
Terrence Malick may not make many films, but the ones he does make, wow. Superficially the story of John Smith and Pocahontas, The New World is really something that transcends mere narrative – this is poetry on film. Every scene, every shot has a rhythm and an ethereal that belies the familiarity of the story we know. I expected to dislike this film when I saw it, quite honestly. It ended up moving me in ways I didn’t know cinema could.
2005 USA. Director: Terrence Malick. Starring: Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer.
Must See
(repeats at 1:35pm)

8:00pm – TCM – The Thin Man
If there’s such a genre as “sophisticated comedy-mystery,” The Thin Man is the apex of it. William Powell and Myrna Loy starred in thirteen films together, but never did their chemistry sparkle quite so much as here, in their first of six outings as husband-and-wife detectives Nick and Nora Charles. In between cocktails and marital moments, they investigate the disappearance of the titular thin man (later in the series, “thin man” erroneously became associated with Nick). There’s so much to love about this film – the great dialogue, hilarious supporting characters (only a few of which go too far over the top), and honestly, most of all, the amazing portrayal of a solid, loving marriage in the midst of so much chaos.
1934 USA. Director: W.S. Van Dyke. Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O’Sullivan.
Must See

10:00pm – TCM – The Best Years of Our Lives
One of the first films to deal with the aftermath of WWII, as servicemen return home to find both themselves and their homes changed by the long years of war. Director William Wyler and a solid ensemble cast do a great job of balancing drama and realism without delving too much into sentimentality.
1946 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, Herbert Russell, Cathy O’Donnell.
Newly Featured!

3:15am (3rd) – TCM – Sergeant York
Gary Cooper won his first Oscar for his portrayal of WWI hero Sgt. Alvin York, a pacifist who somehow decided that the fastest way to stop the killing was to join up and kill as many Germans as he could to end the war.
1941 USA. Director: Howard Hawks. Starring: Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie, George Tobias, Margaret Wycherly, Ward Bond.
Newly Featured!

Wednesday, February 3

6:00am – IFC – Garden State
First-time director Braff brings his quirky personality and taste in indie music to this story of a young man who returns to his home town for the first time in years for his mother’s funeral. While there, he meets a girl who teaches him how to feel for the first time since his father started prescribing meds to him as a child. It’s become a popular pastime to hate on Garden State and its self-conscious quirk, but I refuse. I loved it when I first saw it, and I love it now.
2004 USA. Director: Zach Braff. Starring: Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard.
(repeats at 11:15am and 4:35pm)

7:15am – TCM – The Champ
Wallace Beery earned an Oscar for his role as a has-been prizefighter, living hand to mouth with his adoring son. But then the boy has a chance to go live with his mother, long-divorced from Beery and now married to a well-to-do man. This is a great example of a high-end Warner Bros. programmer from the early 1930s – it’s very lean, nothing extra in it, but it’s got a heart that I didn’t expect.
1931 USA. Director: King Vidor. Starring: Wallace Beery, Jackie Cooper, Irene Rich, Roscoe Ates.

7:45am – IFC – Hannah and Her Sisters
Though I love Manhattan and Annie Hall to bits, I throw my vote for best Woody Allen movie ever to Hannah and Her Sisters. It has all the elements Allen is known for – neurotic characters, infidelity, a tendency to philosophize randomly, New York City, dysfunctional family dynamics, acerbic wit – and blends them together much more cogently and evenly than most of his films do.
1986 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Barbara Hershey, Mia Farrow, Carrie Fisher, Michael Caine, Dianne Wiest, Woody Allen.
Must See
(repeats at 1:00pm, and 4:35am on the 4th)

10:45am – TCM – The Public Enemy
Famous for the scene where James Cagney smashes a grapefruit into Mae Clarke’s face, this is one of the gold standards of early gangster films, along with Little Caesar and Howard Hawks’s Scarface.
1931 USA. Director: William A. Wellman. Starring: James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, Mae Clarke.

12:15pm – TCM – Yankee Doodle Dandy
James Cagney won an Oscar putting on his dancing shoes to play song-and-dance man and Broadway composer George M. Cohan in this biopic. Though it seems strange to think of gangster picture regular Cagney in a musical, he actually got his start in show business as a hoofer, and returned to musicals many times throughout his career, though this remains the most notable example.
1942 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: James Cagney, Joan Leslie.

Thursday, February 4

7:30am – IFC – Manhattan
In one of Woody Allen’s best films, he’s a neurotic intellectual New Yorker (surprise!) caught between his ex-wife Meryl Streep, his teenage mistress Mariel Hemingway, and Diane Keaton, who just might be his match. Black and white cinematography, a great script, and a Gershwin soundtrack combine to create near perfection.
1979 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Mariel Hemingway, Alan Alda.
Must See
(repeats at 11:30am and 4:30pm)

7:15am – TCM – Captain Blood
This was Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland’s first of eight films together, and it’s one of the best. Flynn is the eponymous captain, a dentist named Blood who gets captured by pirates and ends up escaping and taking over the pirate ship himself. Full of swashbuckling and derring-do.
1935 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Lionel Atwill, Basil Rathbone, Guy Kibbee.

9:45am – IFC – Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
Lawrence Sterne’s 1769 proto-postmodern novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy has long been considered unfilmable. So what does director Michael Winterbottom do? He makes a film about the difficulty of filming Tristram Shandy. Winterbottom’s film is something of an experiment, but it’s a delightful one, showing the behind-the-scenes antics of production as well as highlighting the circularity and self-defeating narrative of Sterne’s novel in the film-within-the-film.
2005 UK. Director: Michael Winterbottom. Starring: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Keeley Hawes, Shirley Henderson, Jeremy Northam.
(repeats at 2:50pm)

8:00pm – TCM – The Uninvited (1944)
Not to be confused with the 2009 film The Uninvited, which is actually a remake of Korea’s A Tale of Two Sisters, this unrelated ghost story film is a lovely example of a certain style of 1940s horror – quiet, understated, atmospheric, and yet chilling and haunting.
1944 USA. Director: Lewis Allen. Starring: Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp.
Newly Featured!

10:00pm – Sundance – Adaptation.
Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s follow-up to Being John Malkovich is slightly less bizarre, but still pretty out there – just in a more subtle way. Nicolas Cage plays a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman who’s stuck in his attempt to adapt a bestseller; it doesn’t help when his successful brother (also played by Cage) shows up. The end feels like it’s going off the rails, but that’s all part of the genius.
2002 USA. Director: Spike Jonze. Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton, Chris Cooper.

12:00M – TCM – The Adventures of Robin Hood
I will state almost categorically that this is the greatest adventure film ever made. Maybe it’s a dead heat between this one and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Errol Flynn is Robin Hood, Olivia de Havilland is Maid Marion, a whole raft of fantastic character actors fill out the rest of the cast, and it’s all done in gorgeous Technicolor (it’s one of the earliest Technicolor films).
1938 USA. Directors: William Keighley & Michael Curtiz. Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone, Eugene Pallette, Alan Hale, Patric Knowles, Una O’Connor.
Must See

4:15am (5th) – TCM – Little Women (1933)
This first sound version of Little Women has a young Katharine Hepburn in the lead, along with a roll-call of great 1930s starlets and character actors. It’s a bit wooden compared to the 1994 version, but it’s got a lot of charm nonetheless.
1933 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Paul Lukas, Edna May Oliver, Jean Parker, Frances Dee.

Friday, February 5

7:45am – Sundance – Paris je t’aime
I have a huge soft spot for Paris – basically any movie set there I will like to at least some degree. So an anthology film with eighteen internationally-renowned directors giving their take on Paris with eighteen short films all mashed together? Yeah, instant love. Obviously some sections are far stronger than others – the Coens, Gus van Sant, Alexander Payne, Isabel Coixet, Tom Tykwer, and Wes Craven turn in my favorites.
2006 France. Director: various. Starring: many.
(repeats at 3:00pm)

10:45am – TCM – Gold Diggers of 1933
The story’s nothing to get excited about (and in fact, the subplot that takes over the main plot wears out its welcome fairly quickly), but the strong Depression-era songs, kaleidoscopic choreography from Busby Berkeley, and spunky supporting work from Ginger Rogers pretty much make up for it.
1933 USA. Director: Mervyn LeRoy. Starring: Joan Blondell, Warren William, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Aline MacMahon, Ginger Rogers, Guy Kibbee.

8:00pm – TCM – True Grit
John Wayne had a career full of iconic western roles before he won an Oscar for this one, as tough old U.S. Marshall “Rooster” Cogburn, recruited by a young woman to help her avenge her father’s death, a quest that takes them deep into Indian territory.
1969 USA. Director: Henry Hathaway. Starring: John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper.
Newly Featured!

2:30am (6th) – TCM – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Interracial marriage may not be quite the hot topic now that it was in 1967 (although if you check some parts of the American South, you might be surprised), but at the time, Katharine Houghton bringing home Sidney Poitier to meet her parents Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (in his last film) was the height of socially conscious filmmaking.
1967 USA. Director: Stanley Kramer. Starring: Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, Katharine Houghton, Cecil Kellaway.
Newly Featured!

Saturday, February 6

12:30pm – TCM – The Magnificent Seven
Homage comes full circle as American John Sturges remakes Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai as a western – Kurosawa’s film itself was a western transposed into a Japanese setting. Sturges ain’t no Kurosawa, but the story of a group of outcast cowboys banding together to protect an oppressed village is still a good one, plus there’s a young Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in the cast.
1960 USA. Director: John Sturges. Starring: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson.

5:00pm – TCM – The Great Escape
I expected to mildly enjoy or at least get through this POW escape film. What happened was I was completely enthralled with every second of it, from failed escape attempts to planning the ultimate escape to the dangers of carrying it out. It’s like a heist film in reverse, and extremely enjoyable in pretty much every way.
1963 USA. Director: John Sturges. Starring: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance, James Coburn, James Donald.
Must See
Newly Featured!

10:00pm – Sundance – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Luis Bu˜uel made a career out of making surrealist anti-bourgeois films, and this is one of the most surreal, most anti-bourgeois, and best films he ever made, about a dinner party that just can’t quite get started due to completely absurd interruptions.
1972 France. Director: Luis Buñuel. Starring: Fernando Rey, Paul Fankeur, Delphine Seyrig, Stéphane Audran, Jean-Pierre Cassel.
(repeats at 4:00am on the 7th)

12:00M – TCM – Bonnie and Clyde
This is a perfect film. If you have not seen it, see it. If you have seen it, see it again. In either case, rather than write again how much I love it, I will just refer you here.
1967 USA. Director: Arthur Penn. Starring: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons.
Must See

2:00am – Sundance – 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
This unflinching Romanian film remains one of the most powerful things I’ve seen in the last several years. Set in the mid-1980s, it builds a thriller-like story of a woman trying to help her friend obtain a dangerous illegal abortion – yet it’s a thriller so deliberate that its very slowness and lack of movement becomes a major source of tension. When the camera does move, it has an almost physical force. I can hardly describe how blown away I am by this film…tough to watch, but incredibly worth it.
2007 Romania. Director: Cristian Mungiu. Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, Alexandru Potocean.
Must See

Sunday, February 7

1:45pm – TCM – Rebecca
Hitchcock’s first American film, based on Daphne du Maurier’s romantic novel. Rebecca is actually the previous wife of our mousy narrator’s new husband – her greatest fear is that he still loves Rebecca too much to care for her, but the truth may be more sinister than that. A lot of people really love this film, but I personally dislike the Hollywoodized ending enough that I’m not a huge fan.
1940 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson, George Sanders.

4:00pm – TCM – Wuthering Heights
William Wyler’s moody 1939 version of Emily Bronte’s moody gothic novel, with Laurence Olivier as the moody Heathcliff. It’s moody. Get it? It’s also probably the best film version of the story up till now.
1939 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon, Geraldine Fitzgerald, David Niven, Flora Robson.

6:00pm – TCM – The Pink Panther
Most people would agree that A Shot in the Dark is the best of the Pink Panther series, but the first entry is still well worth watching. Peter Sellers is perfect as bumbling detective Jacques Clouseau, trying to recover a stolen diamond for David Niven.
1963 UK/USA. Director: Blake Edwards. Starring: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Robert Wagner, Capucine.

8:00pm – TCM – 8 1/2
Federico Fellini translates his creative block in making his next film into a film about a director with a creative block – and in so doing, makes one of the most elusively brilliant and creative films of all time.
1963 Italy. Director: Federico Fellini. Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée.
Must See

10:30pm – TCM – Juliet of the Spirits
I’ve seen this Fellini film, but darned if I could tell you anything about it except Guilietta Masina has crazy weird surrealist visions. It’s gorgeous looking, at any rate, and would be worth a rewatch on my part, for sure.
1965 Italy. Director: Federico Fellini. Starring: Giulietta Masina, Sandro Milo, Mario Pisu, Valentine Cortese.
Newly Featured!

3:15am (7th) – TCM – On the Beach
After nuclear war, most of humanity is destroyed; a small outpost in Australia survives, but not for long. See David’s longer take here.
1959 USA. Director: Stanley Kramer. Starring: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire.
Newly Featured!

Film on TV: August 17-23

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The Conversation, playing at 10pm on the 21st on TCM

Sorry about completely missing last week! I have been Tweeting reminders about the films over on Row Three’s Twitter account (Row Three being the group film blog I write for and crosspost these entries to), so if you’re on Twitter and want daily reminders about what’s coming to your TV, make sure you’re subscribed to the Row Three account.

Monday, August 17

8:30am – Sundance – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Luis Buñuel made a career out of making surrealist anti-bourgeois films, and this is one of the most surreal, most anti-bourgeois, and best films he ever made, about a dinner party that just can’t quite get started due to completely absurd interruptions.

6:25pm – IFC – Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
Laurence Sterne’s 1769 proto-postmodern novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy has long been considered unfilmable. So what does director Michael Winterbottom do? He makes a film about the difficulty of filming Tristram Shandy. Winterbottom’s film is something of an experiment, but it’s a delightful one, showing the behind-the-scenes antics of production as well as highlighting the circularity and self-defeating narrative of Sterne’s novel in the film-within-the-film.
Newly Featured!

Tuesday, August 18

10:15pm – TCM – True Grit
John Wayne won an Oscar for this film, one of his last. I haven’t seen it, so I can’t say whether it was deserved or not, but hey. There it is.
Newly Featured!

4:30am (19th) – TCM – Baby Face
This film often comes up as a prime example of a pre-Code film, as Barbara Stanwyck very explicitly (and fairly literally) sleeps her way to the top of a corporation, using her body and manipulative skills to get what she wants every step of the way. Also look for a young John Wayne as an office assistant – he looks extremely uncomfortable in his suit!
Newly Featured!

Wednesday, August 19

8:35am – IFC – I Heart Huckabees
Not too many films take philosophy as their base, but this one basically does, following a man (Jason Schwartzman) plagued by coincidence who hires a couple of existentialists to figure out what’s going on.
(repeats at 2:30pm)

9:35pm – IFC – Secretary
Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader – making sado-masochism fun since 2002! But seriously, this was Maggie’s breakout role, and it’s still probably her best, as a damaged young woman whose only outlet is pain. And despite the subject, Secretary is somehow one of the sweetest and most tender romances of recent years.
(repeats at 3:15am on the 20th)

12:00M – IFC – Raising Arizona
This relatively early Coen Brothers comedy has Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter as a childless ex-con couple who decide to rectify that situation by stealing one of a set of quintuplets. They’ll never miss him, right? Wrong. Zany complications ensue
(repeats at 5:15am and 11:15am on the 20th)

Thursday, August 20

9:45pm – TCM – Trouble in Paradise
This film and the next one, Design for Living, both date from the early 1930s, both star Miriam Hopkins, and were both directed by Ernest Lubitsch. Consequently, I cannot keep them straight in my head. I’m not even sure I’ve seen both. In any case, you can’t get much better than Lubitsch’s early ’30s comedies (the height of sophistication), so check them both out.
Newly Featured!

11:15pm – TCM – Design for Living
See above.
Newly Featured!

Friday, August 21

8:00pm – TCM – Bonnie & Clyde
This is a perfect film. If you have not seen it, see it. If you have seen it, see it again. In either case, rather than write again how much I love it, I will just refer you here.
Newly Featured!

10:00pm – TCM – The Conversation
Gene Hackman is a surveillance expert who eavesdrops on people for hire. When he overhears something that may lead to a murder, he has to decide what to do with his (possible) knowledge. I honestly prefer this Francis Ford Coppola film to The Godfather, and its exploration of the ethics of surveillance is certainly still very timely today. Must See
Newly Featured!

Saturday, August 22

8:00am – IFC – Throne of Blood
Akira Kurosawa takes on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, transposing it into feudal Japan, much as he did with King Lear in Ran. Kurosawa has a knack for getting the spirit of Shakespeare perfectly, while also staying true to his own country’s traditions.
Newly Featured!

10:05am – IFC – Mon Oncle
Jacques Tati’s Chaplin-esque character, Mr. Hulot, this time takes on modern life in the form of his sister’s house that has been mechanized with all the most modern electronic aids – think Disney’s 1950s House of Tomorrow. Of course, everything goes wrong. Must See
(repeats at 3:30pm)

12:30pm – TCM – Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Trust Stanley Kubrick to find the funny side of the Cold War. Peter Sellers plays multiple parts, including the President, an insane general who wants to nuke Russia, and the limb-control-impaired doctor of the title. It’s zany, it’s over-the-top, it’s bitingly satirical, and it remains one of Kubrick’s best films in a career full of amazing work. Must See

8:00pm – TCM – The Asphalt Jungle
The Asphalt Jungle was really MGM’s first foray into noirish crime films. Being MGM, it’s more polished and, to me, less interesting than the crime dramas that Warner Bros. and the smaller studios were putting out, but hey. It’s still pretty good. And has a really young Marilyn Monroe.

12:00M – Sundance – Talk to Her
Talk to Her is one of Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s finest and most moving works, drawing heavily on the passion of bullfighting and dancing. Marco and Benigno develop a friendship as they care two women in comas – Marco’s girlfriend Lydia, a bullfighter gored in the ring, and nurse Benigno’s patient Alicia, whom he has fallen in love with. There’s a touch of the bizarre, as there always is in Almodóvar, but the film is richly rewarding in mood and vision. Must See

Sunday, August 23

1:00pm – TCM – The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
The original 1962 version, not the pale comparison of a 2004 remake. Former soldier Frank Sinatra starts having nightmares about his war experience, then finds that he and his unit were part of a brainwashing experiment – the result of which was to turn his colleague Laurence Harvey into a sleeper agent assassin. A classic of the Cold War era, full of well-honed suspense and paranoia. Must See

Bonnie & Clyde: Cinematic Perfection

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[Rating:5/5]

cross-posted from Row Three

“I‘m Clyde Barrow. And this is Bonnie Parker. We rob banks.” This line comes early in Bonnie & Clyde, and though short, though obvious, it has a surprising amount to say about the film. Bonnie, impressed by Clyde’s impromptu hold-up of a general store, has agreed to accompany Clyde wherever he decides to go, and they’ve just spent the night in an abandoned farmhouse. The farm’s owner and his family have been foreclosed on, and they drive by to take a last look at the place. Clyde’s statement “we rob banks” is a direct response to the farmer’s frustration at losing his home to the bank. It’s technically untrue (they haven’t yet robbed any banks), and thus its placement becomes an attempt to tie the couple’s illegal activities to some larger purpose – a Robin Hood-type stealing from the rich (though, tellingly, without giving to the poor). That idea pops up again briefly when Clyde, mid-robbery, tells an ordinary man to keep his money, they’re only there for the bank’s money.

The line secondarily functions as part of Bonnie and Clyde’s sense of theatricality – throughout their career they constantly brag about their exploits, take breaks for photo-ops (including with law enforcement personnel), make sure everyone knows who they are, and enjoy the press they receive. The Robin Hood guise is really only part of that – it’s difficult to argue that Bonnie and Clyde truly care about anyone outside their gang and immediate family. They’re in it for fame mostly, fortune some, each other a fair amount, and very little else. Yet we’re drawn closely into their relationship and we care what happens to them, despite our knowledge that they are not good people.

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That strange-yet-effective combination of emotional investment and distance is a direct inheritance from European film movements of the early 1960s, especially as exemplified by Cahiers du cinema critics/New Wave filmmakers like François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, and Italian modernist Michelangelo Antonioni. These filmmakers were interested, to one degree or another, in a) bringing genre stories and art styles together, b) bringing their insatiable love of film itself front and center through quotation and pastiche, and c) exploring sexual and social tensions from a sympathetic but uninvolved distance. Actor/producer Warren Beatty and director Arthur Penn had attempted to bring New Wave sensibilities to an earlier film, 1965’s Mickey One, but though interesting, that film was ultimately unsuccessful at combining European emotional distance with American brashness.

vlcsnap-538845.pngIt’s a fascinating juxtaposition, since the New Wave itself was based on bringing the freshness and vitality that the critics of Cahiers du cinema admired in American films into a distinctly French sensibility (and marrying it with the European art style pioneered by Italian neo-realism). With Bonnie & Clyde and the New Hollywood films that followed it in the 1970s, American filmmakers brought it full circle, combining quintessentially American stories with European art style and the expansive love of cinema inherited (directly or indirectly) from French cinephiles. Though many equate the beginning of New Hollywood with the devil-may-care, open-ended rebelliousness of Easy Rider and the raw vitality of the 1970s generation of filmmakers, I’d argue that Bonnie & Clyde is at least as worthy of the honor.

With the story of Bonnie and Clyde, Penn and Beatty are tapping into a uniquely American story, a legend of Depression-era larger-than-life bank robbers. In the tradition of gangster films both American and French, there’s a nobility to characters like these, a sense that they have the courage to do what most of us don’t in standing against restrictive society and corrupt institutions and making their own rules to live by. There’s a romanticism around them that Penn plays up by shooting Faye Dunaway in luminous closeup, her blonde hair and beret marking her as an American Brigitte Bardot (though her accent is pure rural southern – an initially jarring yet perfect combination). Their status as folk heroes is substantiated by the helpful treatment they receive from dust bowl farmers after getting ambushed by the law.

vlcsnap-543096.pngBut these are also characters who fight constantly, who can’t resolve their sexual hangups for most of the film (it’s no accident that Clyde is only able to consummate their relationship after Bonnie immortalizes him with a poem, ensuring his lasting fame), and who can’t ever get anywhere because they’re always running away. They’re pursuing a twisted version of the American dream – getting out of the backwoods, leaving dead-end jobs, making something of themselves, but through criminal activity that ultimately is only destructive. We can’t write off or explain away the bad things they do, though, the way we can with Paul Muni’s I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang; there’s no indication that the Depression economy has done anything specific to hurt Bonnie or Clyde. It’s more of an excuse for essentially amoral people to indulge their criminal tendencies and create themselves as folk heroes while doing it. It’s almost a game for them until right at the end, just as the theft in Godard’s Band à part is a game, until it isn’t.

And yet, and yet. We DO care about Bonnie and Clyde, and when the inevitable ending comes, it’s like a few dozen punches to the gut. Bonnie & Clyde is one of the very few films that I consider to be essentially perfect, and a large part of it is the way that Penn maintains both our emotional connection to Bonnie and Clyde as well as our emotional distance from what they do. It would’ve been much easier to either make them unlikable villains or give us some reason that explains their actions – abusive childhoods or mistreatment at the hands of societal institutions – but Bonnie & Clyde doesn’t let us off so easily. We must face the fact that we feel sympathy for characters who don’t deserve our sympathy, and live with the tension created by our simultaneous desire for them to escape and knowledge that they shouldn’t.

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Penn also perfectly balances our knowledge of what must happen (the unavoidable end of Bonnie and Clyde due to both the historical reality and the narrative needs) with our shock when it does. Everything is perfectly done in this film: the conscious use of cinematic space, using extreme close-ups, mid-shots and long shots carefully and intentionally; the repetition and alteration of the Dueling Banjos chase music so that it’s joyous during the gang’s devil-may-care early successes and limping along in a minor key when they start losing shootouts with the cops; the scene with Gene Wilder and his girlfriend that shows how sinister the Barrow gang is when juxtaposed with normality; the lovely picnic near the end that shows what might have been and yet what never could have been; the evocation of cinematic history from the quoted screening of Gold Diggers of 1933 to the more subtle echoes of Bande à part, Contempt and The Seven Samurai; the ending that stops right where it should, no denouement or lesson or follow-up. There’s never been another American film that succeeds so spectacularly on every level of cinema, and every time I rewatch it, that opinion is reinforced 100-fold.