423 Down, 1 to Go: Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde

(the 423rd of the 424 Best Actress nominees!)

FAYE DUNAWAY IN BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967)

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The competition (Cliff: 5 for 5!)

Katharine Hepburn in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Anne Bancroft in The Graduate

Edith Evans in The Whisperers

Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark

What is there to say about an American classic that hasn’t been said already?  I absolutely agree with the praise.  What I saw was a cinematic Rhapsody in Blue, an ebullient American classic: chaotic and free-formed in appearance and yet meticulously masterful in every detail.  This is a masterpiece on every level, and I’m crushed that I had to miss it at TCM (I was trying out for an Academy Awards-themed trivia game show, which I consider a justifiable excuse), but thrilled to have finally added this landmark to my movie experience.  I guess the best thing for me to focus on is how the film lived up to its gargantuan reputation.  In addition to the French New Wave-inspired, kinetic energy that Arthur Penn breathed into American filmmaking for the next decade, and the fraught glorification of outlaw violence underlying the entire film, there were many discoveries that diverged from the movie I was led to expect.

There are things in classic films that nobody really pays attention to (I remember, when I caught up with Taxi Driver, how surprised I was that the political campaign takes up such a huge chunk of the narrative).  Here, I was surprised by the sexual difficulties between the two characters; his reluctance toward her advances being a storyline that I had not known of beforehand, and a layer to the characters that added such a complex twist to their charisma onscreen.  I was struck by the intricacies of the story (the duo car running a truck piled with high with furniture off the road during their first getaway, a truck just like the one belonging to the evicted farmers who inspired them to start robbing banks), and in the filmmaking (the in-a-blink game played with the audience when a police officer reaches for a weapon and the retaliatory gunshot that precedes the cut to Warren Beatty firing his gun by several seconds), and the confidence that issues from every choice, from the insistent photo montage in the opening credits to the boldly abrupt end to the final shot.

However, the biggest surprise to me, fittingly enough, revolved around Faye’s astonishing character.  I had always perceived Bonnie and Clyde as essentially a buddy picture, an equal duet between two iconic American figures that could only be perceived as a single unit.  I was unprepared for how much the film takes on Faye’s perspective as the small-town girl swept up and transformed into an outlaw heroine.  The film begins with Faye’s own gaze, regarding herself in the mirror and then watching Clyde unseen, as he attempts to lift her family’s car.  It gives her a narrative voice, in her composition and recitation of “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde.”  And it subtly privileges details of her performance, such as the sound mix accentuating her gasp of delight when she first sees & hears a gunshot, or the camerawork barely catching the tops of her knees, pressed up against her chest as she tries to watch The Gold Diggers of 1933.  And of course, Faye imbues the character with rough-hewn energy: a vulnerable, girlish (almost still-innocent) dissatisfaction wrapped up in boisterous gangster bravado, dynamically balancing the woman with the myth.  With such a rich character, beautifully through Faye’s magnetic performance, I guess I have no choice but to give her my vote, over stiff competition from Anne Bancroft and Edith Evans, for Best Actress of 1967.  An unparalleled performance for the penultimate film on the quest!

It’s hard to believe that the next time I get up from watching a movie, I will be at the end of this wonderful, ridiculous, and surreal film-watching saga.  It’s a bittersweet moment to be sure, and the perfect opportunity for a few extraneous reflections on the whole journey.  Stay tuned!

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