The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
Return to Table of Contents
Return to Table of Contents June 2008 Return to Table of Contents
Crystal Skull
Filmmakers Forum
DVD Playback
Bonnie and Clyde
The Draughtsmans Co
Postwar Kurosawa
ASC Close-Up
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Blu-ray Edition
1.85:1 (High-Definition 1080p)
Dolby Digital Monaural
Warner Bros. Entertainment, $34.99

When bored waitress Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) looks out her window and sees a well-dressed drifter poking around her mother’s car, she is instantly drawn to him. The drifter is Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty), who proceeds to walk her into town and admits that he’s an ex-convict, a hold-up man. Bonnie’s reaction is intrigue rather than disgust, and when she says she doesn’t believe him, he opens his coat to reveal a gun. She breathlessly touches the weapon before he slips across the street, walks into a mercantile and emerges with a handful of cash. Excited, Bonnie follows Clyde as he brazenly steals a car and fires bullets in their wake.

So begins Bonnie and Clyde, the mythic film dramatization of one of America’s most notorious crime sprees. The reckless couple and their posse (played by Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons and Michael J. Pollard) became the Depression era’s most topical criminals as they claimed to stand for the poor and working class by stealing money from banks.

Screenwriters Robert Benton and David Newman believed their script to be European in tone and initially approached French filmmaker François Truffaut to direct it. He was supportive but too busy and in turn recommended the project to actor Beatty, who loved the script and understood the writers’ belief that a traditional American director might botch the story’s gritty mix of violence, dysfunctional love and dark humor. Beatty convinced Warner Bros. to let him produce and star in the film, and he brought director Arthur Penn to the project.

Penn tried to create a new style of American film by allowing naturalism and irony to come forth rather than playing it safe in what many felt was becoming a stale Hollywood style. One of the most important members of Penn’s production team was cinematographer Burnett Guffey, ASC (From Here to Eternity, In a Lonely Place), who had been working in Hollywood since the 1920s. When Penn explained that he and Beatty wanted a boldly unsaturated look, one that relied heavily on source lighting, Guffey balked, arguing that the stars’ faces should be lit carefully at all times so they would be visible on drive-in theater screens (a popular mode of exhibition at the time). In spite of this and other differences of opinion, Guffey “really came through,” Penn says in an interview on this disc, and devised numerous creative ways to get some of the film’s unique shots. Guffey’s efforts gave Bonnie and Clyde a distinct visual tone that managed to capture the 1930s while seeming contemporary at the same time, and the cinematographer won his second Academy Award for his work on the picture.

Warner Bros. recently released Bonnie and Clyde in the high-definition Blu-ray format. Rendered from newly restored source materials, the film has never looked better on home screens, as the 1080p picture transfer has been done with obvious care. Compared to the 1997 standard-definition DVD, the colors are more accurate, vivid and smooth. The contrast is also far better, with the occasionally noticeable grain present in the film stock itself. The picture has been seamlessly translated for the digital age, making excellent use of high-def’s potential and bringing Guffey’s work into full bloom. The soundtrack is a relatively flat affair, however. Although it’s free of noise, the one-channel mono soundtrack is still occasionally disappointing. (According to Warner’s press release, the original sound elements were unavailable for surround remastering.)

Packaged as a compact hardcover book, the disc is tucked within 36 pages of historical information and production stills. There are several supplements, including producer Laurent Bouzereau’s new making-of segments, which total 64 minutes and feature all the principal actors and most of the production team. In addition to two theatrical trailers, two deleted scenes and Beatty’s filmed costume tests, there is also a solid 43-minute documentary titled “Love and Death: The Story of Bonnie and Clyde,” courtesy of The History Channel. The supplements are presented in standard-definition 480p.

This edition of Bonnie and Clyde is an excellent addition to the Blu-ray catalog, and the title is also available in two standard-definition DVDs. This trailblazing film, which many believe helped usher in the New Hollywood period of the 1970s, remains an experience of remarkable power. It memorably and violently paints a moment in both American crime and film history when everything was changing.

<< previous || next >>