Monday, June 7, 2010

Commentary: One quick thing about "Bonnie and Clyde"

I had actually seen Bonnie and Clyde before my most recent viewing, so I’m not filing it in the “backfilling” category; I just had a hankering to watch it again after reading Mark Harris’s extraordinary Pictures at a Revolution, which covers the film’s production and reaction in significant detail. But there’s not much of anything I can write about Arthur Penn’s remarkable film that hasn’t already been said (most notably in Pauline Kael’s justifiably famous review, excerpted here; A.O. Scott’s recent piece here is also an awfully good read); few pictures are as particularly timeless, inasmuch as it somehow feels simultaneously of the 1930s in which it took place, the 1960s in which it was originally released, and as fresh and original as any new release.

What struck me with the greatest force in this viewing was the film’s blunt, bold eroticism—and it’s right there in those opening shots of Faye Dunaway (has she ever been sexier? Has anyone on film?), naked as a jaybird, coiled like a snake in her West Texas bedroom, peering through the jail-like bars of her headboard (above), waiting, waiting, waiting. Poor Clyde doesn’t know what he’s walking into when he tries to lift her mama’s car. And in the scenes that follow, Penn (and screenwriters David Newman and Robert Benton) are clearly enjoying the giddy, dirty thrill of their phallic symbolism—the way Bonnie all but fellates that Coke bottle, how he responds by showing her his gun, the loaded way she touches it (“You wouldn’t have the gumption to use it”). There’s all kinds of interesting subtext in Bonnie and Clyde—that’s why it’s such a rich, textured film—but it is fascinating to note how much of the film is fueled by her character’s sultry restlessness, and Clyde’s need to keep her satisfied and excited in the ways that he cannot in their bed.

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