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Ralph Hitchens

"Bonnie and Clyde" was huge when it came out but seems (to me at least) to have faded from our collective consciousness, become trivial over time. Whereas "The Graduate" has a timeless quality.

hysperia

People who saw "Bonnie and Clyde" in the 60s didn't see "what they thought they saw", they saw what they saw. Just as you will. And, no doubt, a new generation will see something different but it will be an awfully big surprise if there's a homogeneous reaction. One of the problems with what we have left of that 60s reaction is that it's composed of some pretty traditional and conservative and reactive established critics alongside perhaps the most outrageous and radical members of the counterculture.

Here's another take. But spoilers I guess. Believe me, Faye Dunaway was a radical woman in the part of Bonnie Parker. She was agency personified. Sure, she joined up with Clyde Barrow because she was a bored waitress. But Clyde wasn't particularly famous or effective until he met Bonnie. There were few representations of women that showed them to be other than victims of males or pale counterparts. You can't say that about Bonnie. No accident that the movie plays on Barrow's impotence.

As well, the beginning of the movie plays up the romantic and adventurous aspects of the Parker/Barrow story and contains an implicit critique of the growing American cult of celebrity. There's a sort of "Robin Hood" aspect which, whether or not true, was appealing to people who were sick of the excesses of materialism and its militaristic consequences.

On the other hand, the movie ends very far from romance in a scene that, quite possibly, was the most violent and realistic that had been seen in a mainstream movie up to that time. Nowadays, it will likely seem tame. It wasn't so then. But it was hardly gratuitous. Whether you saw Bonnie and Clyde as stand-ins for all the victims of capitalisic oppression who were necessarily exterminated by "the system" or as humans who necessarily got what they deserved, or any one of a number of other things that resonated through theatres while those bullets ripped, the romance of Billy the Kid and Jesse James westerns was dead for ever. I'm wondering if it might not have been the first movie that allowed its audience to identify pretty strongly with the anit-heroes, only to destroy them before their eyes.

When I saw it, I thought of Vietnam when it was over. And I wept. But not for two criminals. For all of us.

Gene Schmidt

I first saw Bonnie and Clyde with my father when I was 15 or so, and it was the first---and maybe the only---time I experienced an audience left completely speechless at the end of a movie. That's what I remember most, the shocked and almost mournful procession out of the theater as the curtains (remember curtains?) closed and the lights came up. (Some years later, when I saw The Godfather in its initial release, it was the first time I heard an audience burst into spontaneous applause at the conclusion of a movie). The silence that descended upon the audience at the denouement of Bonnie and Clyde was a reaction to the film's power, and its power was simply that the movies had ever done anything like this before. No one expected that final onslaught of bullets and slow motion dance of death. Up to that point, movie bad guys tended to cooperatively (and bloodlessly) fall down dead at the first shot. But even more than that, everything leading up to that scene had induced us to identify with the two romantic and attractive anti-heroes. It wasn't so much that the movie was 'glorifying crime', as many of its critics asserted, but that there was no voice of the Official Culture to remind us, in a somber and baritone voice, that "crime does not pay'. In Bonnie and Clyde, there was no voice of the Official Culture---or rather, the Official Culture was represented by the clownish and (at least up until the end) incompetent Sheriff Frank Hamer. The audience back in those long lost days of 1967 knew without being told that they had just witnessed something truly new and revolutionary.
Whether this was a good or bad thing, I'll leave for others to decide. Now days of course all of this is old hat. Movies are violent beyond all belief, and the Sopranos have replaced the Cleavers as America's all-American family. For this reason, perhaps, Bonnie and Clyde seems to have lost most of its punch over the years. When I showed the film to my twenty-something nephew a while back, he only shrugged and thought it was silly and dull. For better or worse, Bonnie and Clyde seems to have been left behind by the revolution it itself engendered. But for those of us who were there at the time, the movie will always find us lacking for words at the end.

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