Creative Writing

Bonnie and Clyde

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In this paper, I argue that that the film, Bonnie and Clyde, created a counterculture movement and in its reviews, the generation gap of the 1960s is revealed as this film struck a cord on both sides of the spectrum.
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  Amelia Clark May 4, 2012 University of Mary Washington Bonnie and Clyde The decade of the 1960s is a period of great change in the history of the United States. The children born in the wake of the Second World War are known as Baby Boomers; this generation led many of the anti-establishment movements throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Due to the sheer size of the Boomer generation, their revolutionary ideas and practices could not be ignored, though the elder generation fiercely rejected the change. This caused a generational gap that was momentous. During the late 1960s, a film revolution began that catered to the younger, rebellious generation. This film revolution sparked a new era in film known as the ÔNew HollywoodÕ era and it began with the film  Bonnie and Clyde . The film is seen  Òas a catalyst for an American film renaissance that effectively challenged the reigning Òmoral, ideological and communal valuesÓ of U.S. culture.Ó 1    Bonnie and Clyde  was more than just a movie, it began a movement and sides were chosen. 2  The reviews and critiques of the film  Bonnie and Clyde  reveal the growing generational gap defined by the anti-establishment movements of the 1960s as the film itself is an anti-establishment movement.   The Boomer generation had Ògrown up with a medium of television, learning to process the audiovisual language of film on a daily basis.Ó 3  In 1962, a communications satellite known as Telstar I allowed for news reports from around the world to be transmitted directly to a network  broadcast center, giving television unprecedented power to communicate major world events in 1  David Sterritt, "Bonnie and Clyde," Cineaste , Fall 2008: 63-64. 2  Mark Harris,  Pictures at a Revolutions: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood   (New York: Penguin Press, 2008), 370. 3  David A Cook, "Auteur Cinema and the "Film Generation" in 1970s Hollywood," in The New  American Cinema , ed. Jon Lewis, 11-37 (Duke University Press, 1998), 12.   real-time. 4  Throughout the 1960s, the Boomer generation saw the violent realities of war, racial unrest and riots on television and plastered across covers of magazines. This caused the Boomer generation to question the very fabrics of the society in which they lived. The growing swell of anti-establishment movements throughout the 1960s defined the generation gap of the time. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are notorious criminals of the early 1930s. During a time in which government establishments were mistrusted, the Barrow Gang became famous for the well-publicized crimes that mocked those very establishments. The film about the criminal couple was released in 1967 and directed by Arthur Penn. 5  The film was revolutionary and is seen as one of the first of the ÔNew HollywoodÕ era. 6  The film Òtook both critics and industry by surprise in its revolutionary mixing of genres and styles and its unprecedented violence.Ó 7  The writers of the screenplay, David Newman and Robert Benton had never written a screenplay before but idolized French New Wave director, Fran•ois Truffaut, for his innovation while American Hollywood films of the early Sixties had Òbottomed out.Ó 8  With common interests in gangsters of the Thirties, Newman and Benton decided to write a screenplay about Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. The couple seemed to be natural subjects for a film: they were  both young, had a Òhunger and flair for self-invention and self-promotionÓ in the ways they took hardened pictures and submitted poems to the newspapers. 9  The writers were influenced by a quote about the couple in a favorite book, The Dillinger Days: ÒThey were not just outlaws, they were outcasts.Ó While Benton and Newman were very 4  YankeeJim,  Influence of Music and Television in the 1960s , December 30, 2011, http://www.nowpublic.com/culture/influence-music-and-television-1960s (accessed 2012). 5  IMDb,  Bonnie and Clyde (1967) , 1990-2011, http://www.imdb.com/ (accessed 2012). 6  Geoff King,  New Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction  (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 13 7  David A Cook, "Auteur Cinema and the "Film Generation" in 1970s Hollywood," 11. 8  Mark Harris,  Pictures at a Revolutions, 9. 9  Ibid, 14.   thorough in their research and interested in historical information, they did not aim to create a realistic documentary. ÒTheir version of Bonnie and ClydeÕs story would not be a history lesson,  but a drama that entangled crime and passion, comedy and bloodshed.Ó 10  From the beginning of the writing process, the two writers created a mission statement about their film: it had to be Òabout whatÕs going on now.Ó 11  Eager to make the film relevant to the younger audiences, scenes of violence and sex were crucial to the script, though the Newman and Benton knew little about the rules on these subjects enforced by the Production Code Association. 12  The Production Code Association, or PCA, was developed by the Motion Picture Association of America in 1930 to prevent offensive material from appearing on screen. 13  The PCA, which had barely changed in thirty years, would prevent serious-minded filmmakers who took on real, adult subjects; after an artistic film passed through the Production Code, it would Òend up stripped of meaning and sense.Ó 14  Because Newman and Benton wanted to make Òa gangster filmÉthat was about all the things they didnÕt show you in a gangster film,Ó the Production Code very well could have stood in their way. The PCA had restrictions on language and behavior, particularly sex and crime, it  prohibited nudity, forbade the use of illegal drugs and banned dozens of offensive words and  phrases. 15  The following are a few of the many codes set forth by the unchanging PCA: ÒCrimes against the lawÉshould never be presented in such a way as to throw sympathy with the crimeÓ that Òtheft, robberyÉetc. should not be detailed in methodÓ and that Òthroughout, the audience feels sure that evil is wrong and good is right.Ó The code also maintained that 10  Ibid, 14. 11  Ibid, 252 12  Ibid, 14. 13  PBS,  Hollywood Censored: The Production Code , 2000, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/cultureshock/beyond/hollywood.html (accessed 2012). 14  Mark Harris,  Pictures at a Revolutions , 9. 15  Ibid.   ÒseductionÉshould never be more than suggested, and then only when essentialÓ and that ÒsuggestiveÉpostures are not to be shown.Ó 16  In 1967, the film industry in Hollywood was filled with old men sharing old stories of their successes long ago. Nothing new had come until  Bonnie and Clyde ; newer filmmakers were itching for a film such as Benton and NewmanÕs. Producers loved the screenplay as it represented a welcome departure for, as publicist Richard Lederer said, Òa very conservative studio that put out one terrible movie after another. Nobody seemed to realize that the audience was changing and weÕd better change too.Ó 17  Resistance to the PCA had begun and after director, Arthur Penn accepted the task, the filming began. By 1966, the PCA made attempts to loosen its grips by revising the code but movies still pushed the envelope and enforcement became near impossible. By 1968, the PCA was disbanded and the Motion Picture Association of America implemented a ratings system in its place. 18  The breakdown and eventual replacement of the Production Code would play a significant part in the establishment of the New Hollywood era, also known as the Hollywood Renaissance. Bonnie and Clyde could not have existed Òwithin the confines of the regime  policed by the PCA.Ó 19  Neither the sexual liberation of the 1960s nor the explicit violence in the film would have been approved by the PCA. ÒThe violence in a film such as Bonnie and Clyde could have been toned down, made more implicit, but that would have changed fundamentally the nature of the film. Much of its impact lies in its sudden mood swings between explicit violence, lyricism, comedy and drama.Ó 20   Its combination of sex and violence with social 16  Mark Harris,  Pictures at a Revolution , 15. 17  Ibid, 194. 18  FilmBug,  MPAA Ratings , 2012, http://www.filmbug.com/dictionary/mpaa-ratings.php (accessed 2012). 19  Geoff King,  New Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction , 32. 20  Ibid, 32.    relevance, a traditional Hollywood genre, and an appeal to hip young audiences set the pace for many American movies to come. Along with visionary directors, revolutionary writers and the  breakdown of the Production Code, the Hollywood Renaissance could begin .  Throughout the film, lines are crossed as Penn attempted to include as much contemporary and political resonance as the movie could handle. In contemporary aspects of the film, Penn Òmade the psychodrama of ClydeÕs struggle with impotence as vivid as  possibleÉusing everything from suggestive cuts to crotch-level camera placement to imply that he was a man who wasnÕt in control of his gun.Ó 21  Political aspects of the film were in response to the summer riots and the war in Vietnam, Òwhich in the two months of filming had become the subject of increasing pessimism in the nationÕs press and of major public protest.Ó 22  The final scene of  Bonnie and Clyde  would be critical to the filmÕs contemporary and  political significance. As Richard Gilman put it in The New Republic , an ambush in the final scene mounts Òup to an image of absolute blind violence on the part of organized society, a violence for surpassing that which it is supposed to be putting down.Ó 23  A scene in which the Barrow gang traps Frank Hamer, a lawman, Bonnie kisses him for a  picture to send in to the press. Penn wanted his Bonnie and Clyde to not just seem Òlike a group of criminals tormenting a Texas Ranger, but like a band of antiauthority counterculture kids flipping off the establishment.Ó 24  This depiction of the criminals was widely received by the younger generation while offensive to the older generation. The critic reviews of Bonnie and Clyde are fairly mixed between appreciation and offense. Offended by the mixture of violence and comedy, which could be mistaken as a 21  Mark Harris,  Pictures at a Revolutions , 252. 22  Ibid, 256. 23  Ibid, 256. 24  Ibid, 252.
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