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Bonnie and Clyde

Ring a Ding Ding

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

A movie such as Bonnie and Clyde is one that makes me pause and realize that only through film could a true-life story of murderous bank robbers leave the viewer rooting for a criminal. This flick is more than a yarn of lovable villains, however,  thanks in large part to one of my favorite aspects of filmmaking: the editing.

My Faye Dunaway vocabulary is fairly limited, but (excluding Mommy Dearest) it seems the actress has a tendency to be ogled by the camera lens. A great bit of editing presents itself in Bonnie and Clyde that reminded me of a particularly memorable scene from The Thomas Crown Affair. In this case our main characters are newly acquainted and Bonnie questions Clyde’s (Warren Beatty) legitimacy as an armed robber. The latter draws a gun from his jacket and holds it at waist height. What follows is a clever bit of film assembly and expression by Dunaway as close-up shots and short takes are cut together depicting the woman’s excited gaze as she glances at what we know to be the gun but by the direction of her eyes could just as easily be Clyde’s genitals. One can draw the natural analogy between guns and male members in addition to Dunaway’s caressing of the gun barrel to conclude this short exchange has little to do with the weapon. The use of close ups never allows the viewer to see Dunaway and the gun in one shot, so one can never be sure on what her glance is fixated.

It is Dunaway’s petting of the gun that had me thinking of the famous chess scene from The Thomas Crown Affair. This much longer interaction between Dunaway, Steve McQueen and some chess pieces has the same seductive effect both on the audience and McQueen.

     Lastly, one could not discuss Bonnie and Clyde without covering the final death scene. I do not feel I’m issuing any spoilers here as most are aware the tale of the two murderous thieves ends poorly for the pair. Excellent editing and emotion again come into play for this sequence. Once the characters pull their car off the road and Clyde exits the vehicle, a number of things occur:

  1. A flock of birds flutter out of the shrubbery across the road, seemingly disturbed by something therein.
  2. A vehicle approaches from the opposite direction causing nervous glances between the car and the bushes from Ivan, the man who knows what is about to occur.
  3. Ivan dives under his tractor.

Quickly inserted between these shots is a close view of the foliage across the street from the position of our anti-heroes. The viewer knows what lies therein but Bonne and Clyde do not until we visually see them putting the previously mentioned pieces together. What next occurs are close ups of the characters faces as they realize their fate, prepare for it and convey their feelings for each other. Make note how the close up on Bonnie’s face endures slightly longer than the others as her expression softens. This clip is a bit long, so skip to about 3:30 in.

Source: The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing

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Bullitt

Ring a Ding Ding

Bullitt (1968)

     Bullitt is probably most well known for its fantastic, and rather long, car chase scene, but focus on the action sequence perhaps detracts from the merits of the plot. The film involves Steve McQueen playing a fairly stoic detective: Lt. Bullitt. He is assigned to protect a state’s witness who is brutally murdered during another detective’s watch. Even before the witness is officially dead, McQueen is out to find the murderer and potentially the reason behind the killing.  The mystery gets a bit complicated, however, when McQueen’s character discovers the man who was killed was actually a look-alike for the real witness.

     There is a scene in a hospital basement when McQueen is chasing down the hit man responsible for the shooting. Puzzlingly, however, is that McQueen is unarmed. The murderer carries an ice pick or some kind of metal shank, yet our protagonist pursues him empty handed. First this raises the question of why does a detective not carry a gun (were they forbidden in hospitals–I find that hard to fathom) but even more so, what does McQueen expect to do if he does manage to catch the villain? Perhaps the stylish sweater McQueen dons just does not have room for a gun–who knows.

     Returning to the car chase, if might interest you to know that the action was not all conducted by a stunt driver. McQueen allegedly learned to drive the Ford to be able to participate in the tire-squealing, hill-jumping fun that has become so well-known among movie lovers. The film takes place in San Francisco, so the steep inclines and declines add fuel to the excitement and add difficulty to the motorists’ maneuvers. The scene ends in a crash and considerable inferno resulting in the loss of another two individuals who might be able to tell us what the hell’s going on.

     Ultimately, neither McQueen nor the viewer fully unravels the mystery as (and perhaps this calls for a Spoiler Alert) all the characters who could reveal the meaning behind the initial murder and witness switcheroo are killed.  Despite this — and perhaps this is what prevents Bullitt from being a spectacular picture — is that I nearly did not care what the answer was. I was left with many questions but was content to let them go at the final fade-to-black. Bullitt seems to be more driven by catching a particular antagonist than revealing any sort of truth.

     Finally, I learned something about myself by watching Bullitt. The final shot of the movie is McQueen washing his hands in a bathroom sink, face down to the basin with a medicine cabinet mirror in front of him. I clearly have watched too many horror movies and thrillers, because anytime a shot is set up to show someone before a small mirror and not looking directly into said mirror, I have to assume the subject will raise his head and find a villain behind him ready to attack.

     Therefore, the ending of this film put me a bit on edge as a prepared for a shock, which is just about the opposite of the intent. The finale is supposed to convey a.) Bullitt washing “the blood” off his hands and b.) a moment of self analysis as he looks himself in the mirror and wonders if maybe his girlfriend was right–he is totally numb to the horrors of murder.

Source: Robert Osborne

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