A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1967 – Bonnie and Clyde
This was almost one of the easiest decisions I had on the list.
Because, looking at this year… it’s four films. But In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner fall off pretty quickly. The only other choice that can hold a candle to this one is The Graduate. But, honestly… no film had as big an impact on cinema as this one did. The Graduate was more a cultural reflection and a great piece of cinema that was very popular that also crossed over into popular culture. This movie changed cinema forever.
When you mark the threshold between Old Hollywood and New Hollywood, this film is that threshold. It’s the only choice for 1967.
The Paramount Case basically cripples the studio system as it was. So Hollywood resorts to spectacle to keep people in the seats. Big budget epics (mostly historical) and musicals. That’s what the 1960s were. Some were good, some represented the dying beast that was Old Hollywood. But Hollywood relied on new forms of technology (widescreen, 3-D and other gimmicks), and bigger, more expensive films to keep people in the seats. (Sound familiar?)
But they didn’t always work. And they put great financial strain on the studios. Audiences demanded new and different things, and the studios didn’t know how to give it to them. More of the audience was college-educated and into art films, and the social taboos of old were being broken. So the studios, desperate to get something going, allowed filmmakers to take risks and experiment. And the Production Code was all but forgotten at this point, as, by 1968, the MPAA and the modern ratings system came into effect.
So now, with all of this going on, new filmmakers emerged. They’d gone to film school, and were part of the culture that the older studios couldn’t understand. The studios thought they could reach younger audiences. And these filmmakers injected film with an energy that just wasn’t there previously. The 70s is one of the best decades in American film for just that reason. The movies that were made just have a different feel than anything made in any other point in history. One could argue that 1967-1976 is the greatest decade in American film. Ever. Some people do. George Clooney does.
Anyway, just as this landscape is starting to change… boom… here comes this film.
This film has a mix of graphic violence and sex… all no-nos for Old Hollywood. The breaking of the taboos, along with the romanticism of (essentially) counterculture icons (you’re basically rooting for the bad guys), and the unflinching and brutal nature of the film (one of the best shots in the film is when Gene Hackman gets killed and the camera focus on his still-twitching hand) really resonated with audiences. This was exactly what they were looking for.
It’s a really racy film for 1967. There’s that moment at the beginning where he pulls out the gun and it’s such brazen penis imagery. And it works. And the ending of the film, where they get gunned down in such a violent fashion… and then the film just ends… it makes you linger on the violence, and doesn’t allow you to escape from it. That’s really what New Hollywood did. It made you deal with the films and what you just saw. It didn’t sugar coat anything and didn’t give you the happy ending. I love that.
But yeah – this movie is iconic, and is the line that differentiates Old Hollywood from New Hollywood. (Kind of like how Heaven’s Gate is the line that differentiates the beauty that was the 70s into the reemergence of the conglomerate-run studio system we have today.)
And, because it’s such a great song, let’s end with this: