Reconsidering Bonnie and Clyde 40 years later





THE story of “Bonnie and Clyde” has been told so many times that it has acquired the patina of legend. It’s the kind of historical fable that circulates to explain how the world once was and how it came to be the way it is now: a morality tale in which the wild energies of youth defeat the stale certainties of age, and freedom triumphs over repression.

I’m not talking about the adventures of the actual Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, who robbed and shot their way through Texas, Oklahoma and adjacent states in the bad old days of the Great Depression. Their exploits have been chronicled in books, ballads and motion pictures, never more famously than in the movie named after them, which first opened in New York 40 years ago this month. The notoriety of “Bonnie and Clyde,” directed by Arthur Penn from a long-gestating script by David Newman and Robert Benton and produced by Warren Beatty, who also played Clyde, has long since eclipsed that of its real-life models.

The ups and downs of the movie’s early fortunes have become a touchstone and a parable, a crucial episode in the entwined histories of Hollywood, American film criticism and postmodern popular culture. “Bonnie and Clyde” was a scandal and a sensation largely because it seemed to introduce a new kind of violence into movies. Its brutality was raw and immediate, yet at the same time its scenes of mayhem were choreographed with a formal panache that was almost gleeful.



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