Director Arthur Penn’s 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde is widely considered the jump-start of the New Hollywood Cinema movement, in which young directors introduced the world to a sometimes dark, cynical, violent and sexual style of American film-making that shocked the cinematic consciousness after decades of Hollywood studio spectacle and razzle-dazzle.
But while the film may have helped usher in that important era (which essentially ended when Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) were released, introducing us to the blockbuster era), it doesn’t quite have the impact of later New Hollywood films.
Directors like Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, Brian De Palma, Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were thrust into the spotlight in this era, and movies like The Graduate, Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy, The Godfather, and Chinatown changed the way the world thought about American cinema.
But despite not living up to many of those movies, Bonnie and Clyde provided many important moments for film: sex and violence were not only more pervasive than ever before, but they were done with an almost wry humor, which sickened and disgusted some moviegoers and even critics at the time.
Stylistically, the film broke many American conventions as well. The story has very little build-up, and thrusts us into the action almost immediately. The action drives the story, and the editing is often choppy and illogical, a tribute to the French New Wave cinema of the 1950s and ’60s (particularly Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 film, Breathless).
Bonnie and Clyde is not the most important or best film of its era, but those interested in studying film history should dive into it because of styles and trends it helped create, many of which are still evident in most films today.