BONNIE AND CLYDE ANALYSIS
One of the salient highlights of American film is the development of so-called the “Left Cycle” films. Left cycle cinemas are those films that entail not only unconventional heroes but also rebellion. As opposed to the heroes of the Right films, the subject of Left Cycle heroes are those outsiders and outlaws. One of the most prominent protagonists of this character are Bonnie and Clyde who earn a living by robbing and killing people; thus making them the epitome of the Left Cycle film. To prove this claim, this essay will reference a specific scene (final scene) from said film which depicted the tragic death of Bonnie and Clyde. Further, the essay posits the idea that the adoption of modernist techniques from European cinema was a response of filmmakers to the shortcomings of the Hollywood genre traditions of mirroring the on going societal anomalies.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967) has been described by King (2002) as the precursor of the Hollywood “Renaissance” for depicting “restlessness, edginess and a palpable sense of sexual hunger or longing (p. 12). Contrary to the consistent and motivated characters of Classical American films, Bonnie and Clyde represent an “inscrutable” character. They were not the conventional protagonist of stories who possessed a high-morale character rather they were depicted as criminals from the onset of the film. Noteworthy to discuss is the female character of Bonnie. In the film, she has been corroborating with Clyde’s criminal activities. Far from the classical depiction of a passive character of women, Bonnie has been depicted as a “revolutionized” image of a heroine. She was not the typical women who had a weak image in the film, rather, she had an equal footing with Clyde. The same can be glanced from the personality of our male protagonist, a robber from the onset of the movie. Far from the usual image of heroes on a movie, Bonnie and Clyde were not seen as the “good” people who probably saved lives or commit no wrong. In the film, the protagonists were portrayed as criminals, which probably confused the audience whether to regard them as protagonists or antagonists.
According to Ray, one of the salient characteristics of films in the beginning of the “Hollywood Renaissance” was the tendency to create an irreconcilable conflict or unhappy ending in order to allow its film viewers “to assuage its conscience about cinema’s inherent escapism” (Ray 1985, p. 297). As seen for instance in the final scene of the movie, Bonnie and Clyde were on board of their car. Clyde alighted to approach Mr. Moss without knowing that there was a trap set by police to kill them. Hence, the two “heroes” were brutally killed without the chance to defend themselves. Unlike the fairytale-like ending of most traditional films, this scene was very much tragic and suggest an innovative technique to catch the attention of its audience.
In order to make this chilling effect, the director made use of graphic violence. Again, this was an innovation that was not apparent in traditional films. As can be gleaned, Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down in a dramatic way. Upon alighting, Mr. Moss felt that an entrapment had been prepared as he saw the incoming car boarded with people who were running after the main characters. Although there was no dialogue given in this specific scene, the audience would have a grasp of what would happen in the next few seconds. The director used other methods to do this – the facial expression of Mr. Moss which was followed by the birds flying away from the nearby trees and puzzled look of Clyde, all suggested that bad things was about to happen to the characters. Then came the deafening sound of gunshots from the hiding place of the perpetrators.
To convey the mood of the film, the director used graphic violence. The holes caused by the bullets in the car were evident. It was as if suggesting that inasmuch as the bullet could deface the car, the same could happen to human bodies. Indeed, the lifeless bodies of Bonnie and Clyde were seen lying with bullets ripping all over it. To intensify the mood of the film, the director showed spewed blood and ripped clothes of the two brought by the shots. Finally, the last movement of their bodies suggested that they have succumbed to death. This scene was notable as its implication went beyond the story of its characters. This made Left Cycle films apart and different from the traditional American movies.
According to King, some of the popular films during the last years of the 1960s and 1970s resonated the theme of death. This development of Hollywood Renaissance film, such as Left Cycle films, were influenced by the extraordinary drama and upheaval in the American society. As earlier discussed, the same fate happened in the main characters of Bonnie and Clyde. This violent ending of film should be juxtaposed with the actual controversies that were prevalent during the time it was filmed. The importance of such making a relevant nexus between what was being portrayed and was the actual happening had an important implication in discussing the reason of shift of film genres from traditional to modern one.
Left Cycle films should not be regarded not a mere epoch of shift from traditional genre to Renaissance but rather a cultural movement. This cultural movement contemplates the actual context of America. For instance, in late 1960s, the Americans witnessed the assassination of prominent personalities, such as Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. King characterized this decade as “filled with currents and eddies, not all of which moved in one direction, but there was a distinct sense of escalating violence, and at times absurdity, in the latter part of the decade” (King 2002, p. 18). This was the reason why many films during the late 1960s and early 1970s resonated the themes of violence or death.
Schatz (1983) further noted that genre filmmaking during this time was motivated by political factors, such as the Depression, the World War II, and the onset of the Cold War – these are periods in the American history when they had “to pull together against a clearly defined common enemy, whether that enemy be economic, military, or geopolitical” (Schatz 1983, p. 234). As a matter of fact, the setting of the film in Bonnie and Clyde was during the Great Depression. Throughout the film, one could observe that it indirectly exposed the real condition of most Americans – far from the “American Dream” depicted by traditional films. This only suggests that the movie wanted its audience to be in the shoe of its characters.
King asserted that it was during this period that Hollywood remarkably produced a great number of new and innovative films that went beyond the conventional studio when it comes to style and content. It is more realistic and audience tend to see themselves through the characters of the movie. Thus, the “erosion” of Hollywood genre traditions was not caused by the birth of this era of film techniques per se. Rather, the failure of traditional Hollywood films to mirror the historical anomalies of the society (Ray 1985, p. 248). Although there was no absolute truth as to this assertion, one cannot disregard the fact that there is indeed a close nexus of the recurring themes of films at that time and the historical and social context. In a nutshell, Bonnie and Clyde is no doubt a perfect example of a Left Cycle film which characters were emblems of heroes who belong to different wavelength.
Ray, Robert. 1985. “The 1960s: Frontiers and Metaphors, Developing Self-Consciousness, and New Waves”, A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema 1930-1980, PrincetonUniversity Press, New Jersey, ch.8, pp.247-295.
King, Geoff. 2002. “New Hollywood, Version 1: the Hollywood Renaissance”, New Hollywood Cinema: an Introduction, I.B.Tauris, London, ch.1.
Ray, Robert. 1985. “The Left and Right Cycles”, A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema 1930-1980, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, ch.9.
Schatz, Thomas. 1983. “Modernist Strategies in the New Hollywood”. In Old Hollywood/ New Hollywood: Ritual, Art, Industry. Michigan: UMI Research Press. ch.9.