A Hail of Bullets and the Legend of Bonnie and Clyde

To foreigners, Bonnie and Clyde are remembered for the song, series or movies about the teenage couple – Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker – who became famous in the 1930s when they robbed banks and killed people and the newspapers sort of turned them into a sort of criminal Romeo and Juliet. In times when newspapers gave as much fame as possible, the two became national stars, before being violently killed in a police ambush.

The most famous film about the couple, which is also the theme of the musical that is playing in Brazil, is Bonnie and Clyde, directed by Arthur Penn and starring Warren Beaty and Faye Dunaway. It is considered one of the most iconic films of the 1960s because it brought realism that was still uncommon in films at the time. The musical, which features Eline Porto and Beto Sargentelli in the title roles, used this 1967 work as a basis, so it’s worth remembering one of Hollywood’s classics.

First, let’s mention facts about real criminals who were portrayed differently in the movies. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow became celebrities in the United States during the Great Depression when they formed a gang that robbed banks and small stores. Somehow they caught the attention of the American press and for three years, while being pursued by the police, they were the most talked about anti-heroes in the country. Together they killed at least 13 people, 9 of them police officers. They were betrayed by a friend who helped in the ambush where they were executed with so many shots that the bodies were unrecognizable. They were 24 and 25 years old. Their images were immortalized by a series of photographs that were found, along with some poetry written by Bonnie.

The romantic legend of the two spawned several films, but the 1967 version is considered the best, even if it greatly simplified the story. One of Warren Beatty‘s first productions, it generated a demand for a great actress because when Warren decided to play Clyde, his sister, Shirley MacLaine, was unable to play Bonnie, as originally thought. The actor wanted Natalie Wood, but she couldn’t participate. They were between Jane Fonda, Sharon Tate, and Leslie Caron before closing with Faye Dunaway.

The film was so successful that it earned over $70 million at the box office. The narrative focuses more on their torturous love story as a couple on the run, but the style was heavily influenced by the nouvelle vague of French cinema. The violence and sex scenes shocked the public at the time, even if today we ask ourselves “which ones”? but it’s true! Due to society’s repression, Clyde’s sexuality was “attenuated” and instead of being bisexual, as imagined, he became impotent.

Still, Bonnie and Clyde is one of the great classics of cinema, but it is a set of praised interpretations (which I think are mostly exaggerated), with a particularly beautiful Faye Dunaway. Her look and costumes, signed by debutant Theadora Van Runkle, became a rage in the early 1970s because she made a legendary decision. Though advised to wear chiffon, Theadora decided to bring out Bonnie’s dangerous side by mixing vintage pieces with mid-length, bias-cut skirts in crepes and tweeds. The beret that the character wore became a signature piece of the actress for many years. By the way, Faye and the stylist got along so well that they repeated the double at the Oscars, where the actress was one of the most elegant with a long black, as well as in the film The Magnificent Crown and others. I promise to talk more about her later on.

Theadora was nominated for an Academy Award and, speaking at the Academy, there were a total of 10 nominations, including Actor, Actress, Film, Director, Supporting Actor (both Gene Hackman and Michael J. Pollard) and two wins: Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actress, Estelle Parsons.

If you are in São Paulo and can see the musical, you will certainly be curious to see – or see – the film again. It is available on HBO Max.


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