In my mind, Bonnie and Clyde was always known more for the cinematic landscape that followed it, rather than the film itself. Basically after Bonnie and Clyde was released, the subject matter in a film released by a major studio helped open up the floodgates to other creative visionaries to hold clout over the studios also, and that's usually a good thing. At the time, it was no secret that Hollywood was more and more enamored with the French New Wave of directors; Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard were reportedly approached to take on some part of the film. Nevertheless, Warren Beatty, who was the producer and star of the film, hired Arthur Penn (The Miracle Worker) and cast a young Faye Dunaway (Network) as his Bonnie to Beatty's Clyde and the rest is history.
Having said that, getting the film made in the first place wasn't without a lack of trying. According to Peter Biskind, from his book "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls," Beatty was rumored to have crawled on his hands and knees in Warner offices looking for money to finance the film, a story that Beatty has since rejected as false. He asked for a pittance to make the film, receiving $200,000 to make it work. So Beatty and Penn went out into the Midwest and shot the film, with the intention that its subject matter remain as intact as possible, and its violence, previously unknown in a film of this material, was designed to shock the viewer. You were going to see the gun fire and the bullet hit the body, because that's what happened in real life, so it should be occurring here. And while the initial critical reaction was mixed, popular reaction was white-hot, and as the film was released to a wider audience, the crowds did not diminish. With the $200,000 that Beatty asked for, he wanted 40 percent of the gross. Bonnie and Clyde has made more than $50 million based on that money, so you could say it was quite the moneymaker for him.
Bonnie and Clyde was written by David Newman and Robert Benton, with an uncredited assist by Beatty collaborator Robert Towne (Without Limits), who served as a "Special Consultant" on the film. The film chronicles the lives of Mr. Barrow and Ms. Parker, along with their running buddies C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard, Dick Tracy), Clyde's brother Buck (Gene Hackman, The French Connection) and his wife Blanche, played by Estelle Parsons (Roseanne). While the film chronicles how Bonnie first met Clyde in approximately 1930 and follows them until they are killed by authorities four years later, this is by no means a factual account of their activities. It does however, manage to capture much of the frame of mind of the disaffected youth of the era, who wish to rebel against the old guard establishment, and shake things up. Through Dunaway's eyes, Clyde is less of a hardened criminal and more of a "Robin Hood" character of sorts. Taking money from those who have too much and enjoying it on their own was better than being part of the perceived problem in America at the time. Besides, it is, after all, what Benton said he wanted to do in the story, as indicated in Biskind's book. It was that brand of overt counter-culture feel that perhaps robbed them of even more critical acclaim than they received. The film received eight Oscar nominations, including Acting nominations for all five performers, and won only two, one for Parsons and one for the cinematography. But hey, when the legacy outshines the immediate appeal, then you know you've made a gem.
And while the film might not be dedicated to the factual events as much as possible (for instance, Moss is a combination of several people in Barrow's life), what the story tries to get us involved in is how much of a thrill it was to do the things that Bonnie and Clyde were doing. I was particularly having a lot of fun watching as the film goes on, that Clyde's sense of mortality, while not on the surface, was something that you could see pop up from time to time. Because you didn't see it when you were around him, you could see why Bonnie was swaying under his charm, and even more so how much that Blanche fell in love with what it was that Clyde and Buck were doing. Even though Clyde's reputation spoke for itself, and you see in the beginning with the introductory card, but Beatty portrays him in such a way that you don't mind his demeanor.
The HD DVD:
Much like the Blu-ray version that was released before it, Bonnie and Clyde receives a VC-1 encoded transfer on this 1.85:1 widescreen presentation. Because of the creators of the film got their influence from the French New Wave film movement, the camera moves quite a bit, and there's not a lot of wide shots to enjoy the Depression-era Midwest. But the film looks good in the small things, like the facial blemishes and hair, and some of the larger shots by Burnett Guffey look great (like when Clyde chases Bonnie through a cornfield with clouds going by) and sport more depth than I was expecting. There's also a little bit more film grain in the image than I was ready for, but it was hardly a distraction after the first few minutes. As the high definition treatment sweeps through the old classics, Warner has done well by Bonnie and Clyde.
While it's a bummer that the center-channel is the only thing that's used in Bonnie and Clyde, the Dolby Digital Plus 1.0 replicates the dialogue with adequacy, and in the shootouts between the gang and the police, the gunfire is slightly jarring and crackles over that one lonely speaker. Bass is fairly nonexistent also, but what little is present is without any distortion as well. Unfortunately the source sound material has long gone missing, no a surround track is unable to be replicated. But as far as soundtracks go, Bonnie and Clyde is serviceable.
As Adam Tyner indicated in his review of the Blu-ray disc, Bonnie and Clyde is released in a book-style presentation, with a hardcover that opens to a thirty page book of interviews and rare pictures, and it's really nice aesthetically. And while Beatty is averse to doing commentaries for his films, his supplemental material is usually decent. For Bonnie and Clyde, DVD producer Laurent Bouzereau put together "Revolution! The Making of Bonnie and Clyde" (1h 5m), a look back at the film with those most intimate with it. Benton recalls what influenced him to write the film, while Beatty talks about the struggle to get it made, along with the scripts original idea that suggested Barrow was bisexual. Others whom you wouldn't expect to be involved with the film talk about their roles in it, such as Director Curtis Hanson (who photographed Dunaway for pictures that helped her secure the part) and Morgan Fairchild (who was Dunaway's double). The cast talk about their thoughts on the script, and the production aspects of the film are covered as well, namely the costume and production design. The violence is talked about without being doted upon, and some of the specific scenes are recalled by pertinent cast members, including the final shootout. The film's legacy and its impact on the individuals is recalled to wrap up the feature, which is very good. The History Channel provides the real-world aspect of the duo's crimes in "Love and Death: The Story of Bonnie and Clyde" (43m 12s). Featuring a mix of stills, audio recitation and video re-enactment, there is a lot of detail that, for the relative Bonnie and Clyde newcomer, one would not be aware of. There are also interviews with historians and surviving family members which sheds like on what type of people Bonnie and Clyde were. The piece seems to portray Barrow as more of a figure who was captured by the stigma of a rehabilitated criminal who desired to work legitimately, before busting loose and wreaking havoc across the South, so it's an interesting perspective to witness. Some of the scenes in the film are talked about with the historical context as well, and this supporting piece is also good. Two deleted scenes (5m 27s) follow, and although they are without audio, they are interesting viewing, as the dynamic between Bonnie, Clyde and C.W. is given more weight, and even in these scenes, one could note a possibility of relationship between the three at various points. From there, some wardrobe test footage on Beatty is next (7m 41s), set to period music and interesting for a moment or two, but that's it. The film's teaser and trailer complete the disc.
Any way you slice it, Bonnie and Clyde represents a turning point in American cinema and one of the most important films over the last half century. The technical presentations are at or above par and the supplemental materials are excellent, and Warner continues to do tremendous justice to their catalog of classics. I would presume that the HD DVD version of this is cheaper than the Blu-ray version and is virtually closing out as soon as it's released, so if you have an HD DVD player, go right ahead and pick this puppy up.