‘BONNIE AND CLYDE’ celebrates its 50th anniversary at the Dallas International Film Festival

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Preston Barta // Editor

2017 will see many significant pop culture anniversaries. From the releases of STAR WARS and 12 ANGRY MEN to the formation of the Spice Girls and departure of THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON, there’s a noble list of anniversaries this year designed to make us go, “I cannot believe it’s been that long!” Even for a ’90s child like myself, the thought of TITANIC turning 20 makes a few of my hairs turn gray.

Thursday night saw the commencement of the 11th edition of the Dallas International Film Festival (running through April 9), and it’s apparent the programmers also recognized just how special this year is for film, and it shows in their film lineup.

During his introductions for the opening night gala, James Faust, the artistic director for the Dallas Film Society, said “[The idea of honoring these films] came to me through a conversation with a good friend of mine. We thought there were too many great movies [in 1967], and we need to figure out how to celebrate them. So we did.”

Not only did the Dallas Film Society decide to open their festival with the 50th anniversary screening of BONNIE AND CLYDE, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, but also it added such classics as GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, COOL HAND LUKE and THE JUNGLE BOOK, among others.

These tribute screenings show just how much of a gift a film festival can be: It grants the opportunity for festivalgoers to see new movies and also the ones that inspired them.

BONNIE AND CLYDE is, without a doubt, an essential piece of filmmaking, especially for Denton, Texas — considering how the film was partially shot in the area and how the infamous couple Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow used secluded areas in and around the county as hideouts between their crime sprees in the 1930s. So to have the festival open with BONNIE AND CLYDE, and with Dunaway and co-screenwriter Robert Benton (KRAMER VS. KRAMER) in attendance, it was an exclusive engagement to remember.

After five decades, it’s astonishing how well time has treated BONNIE AND CLYDE. It’s charming cast, well-timed jokes and gripping shoot-outs still manage to light up the screen and leave you in awe.

The story’s themes sure made an impact on Dunaway.

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in BONNIE AND CLYDE. Courtesy of Warner Home Video.

“I remember filming it and preparing for it. It’s the most important film I’ve done,” Dunaway said when we spoke on the red carpet before the screening. “The two scenes that I will always remember are the motel sequence and the tracking shot in the cornfield.”

In the motel sequence, everyone in the gang (including Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons) is cooped up for the night in Iowa. After a heated discussion, the tension rises even higher, causing Bonnie to snap. Her sense of doom is clouding over her promising thoughts, leaving her devastated about the future of their situation.

While alone with Clyde, Bonnie tells him how blue she feels, adding, “When [they] started out, [she] thought [they] were really going somewhere,” and all they’re doing is going, without an overarching goal. They merely live from one bank to the next and dream about settling down when the hard times of the Great Depression era are in the rear view.

“That particular scene was the whole story of what was happening to them: They weren’t movie stars and they weren’t going anywhere,” Dunaway said.

Director Arthur Penn (LITTLE BIG MAN) knew how to balance his film tonally. At times it is fun to watch the shoot-outs in BONNIE AND CLYDE, and at other times the film is not shy to allow reality flood in on its characters.

“In the cornfield when Clyde is chasing after Bonnie, she says, ‘I want to see my mom.’ My favorite scene is the following scene with her mother,” Dunaway recalled. “[Penn] used this smoky filter that caused everyone to appear very dim. You can’t quite see the characters or feel them anymore. It foreshadows the future to come for Bonnie and the rest of the gang.”

BONNIE AND CLYDE is a landmark for the history of American cinema. It ushered in the ideas that criminals can be lovable and that violence can be seen as art. So it’s fitting that a film about rebellion is equally as rebellious.

For more information on DIFF’s retro screenings and ticket information, visit diff2017.dallasfilm.org.

Feature Photo: Actress Faye Dunaway on the red carpet for Dallas International Film Festival’s 50th anniversary screening of BONNIE AND CLYDE. The event was at the Dallas City Performance Hall. Photo by Preston Barta.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.