The Film That Made the Movies Explicitly Sexy and Violent

The 1960s represented a powerful awakening, shift, and revolution in American culture, with Hollywood being no stranger to those events. As the Hays Code's grasp on American cinema continued to erode, films that exploded into new territory emerged, with one standing at the forefront of the revolution.

Though "Bonnie and Clyde" is based on the story of the real-life oultaw couple, it's very much a microcosm of the 1960s and the complex evolution of culture that defined the generation. The 60s were of course very much about the loss of innocence and the embrace of things that were previously kept behind closed doors or simply unacknowledged and that, coupled with the death of the Hays Code, pervasive anti-establishment sentiments, and a tension between the younger and older generations and government forces created a perfect storm of which the film became a cultural vehicle, very suddenly rewriting (or simply destroying) the standards of decency and explicit expression that had previously held a tight grip on cinema. As this impressive video essay from Screen Prism shows, the film was a perfect culmination of timing, relevancy, and content, leading to its lasting impact even 50 years later.

[via No Film School]

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Thank you playing film history; you have received a grade of "Fail."

...Now go look up Breathless, the film that B&C borrowed from - probably only the film that claim to match Citizen Kane for its influence on later flicks. An influence which went waaay beyond "sex and violence." And which is usually mentioned in any reasonable article on Bonnie & Clyde. That whole period of Hollywood film making was inspired by French and Italian New Wave, with Breathless being *the* central work.

(And, no, "Movies" does not equal "American made movies".)

Alex Cooke's picture

Actually, I know "Breathless" quite well! I wrote a paper on the significance of Michel's lip-rubbing. However, that film did not have the cultural impact in America and on Hollywood that "Bonnie and Clyde" did, as this article and video focus on. You are right, however, in that "Bonnie and Clyde" was the vehicle that brought French New Wave to American audiences.

>> However, that film did not have the cultural impact in America and on Hollywood that "Bonnie and Clyde" did

Firstly, again you're confusing America with the entire world. There's a big difference between introducing an idea to film and introducing it to American film, unless you're the cinematic equivalent of Donald Trump.

Secondly, you're confusing box office figures and cultural impact. All the American New Wave directors had seen Breathless and B&C didn't have any ideas that Breathless didn't have - it was simply the first example in a trend of copying European technique. Even today, Breathless is much more widely quoted as a key influence by even American directors than B&C.

Alex Cooke's picture

With respect, no, I'm not confusing America with the entire world; I simply chose to focus on this country and culture specifically as the video above posited that "Bonnie and Clyde" was very much a microcosm of *American* culture at the time.

And yes, of course directors had all seen "Breathless." Had the public, the constituents of the mass culture of consumption, seen it? No.

William Howell's picture

Hey, Wikipedia says American Morris Engel is responsible for the French New Wave... so America... is where it's at...

Ludwig Heinrich's picture

I have to agree with David Mawson B&C and following movies in the US drew heavily on the French New Wave (and Left Bank). You need to change the title to "The Film That Made USA Movies Explicitly Sexy and Violent.

To David and Ludwig, I think you are both being awfully sensitive. You may not like the title of the article but Alex is clearly focusing on American cinema and culture in the short article.

Ludwig Heinrich's picture

I think you are right Bob. I am being oversensitive. To talk about Bonnie and Clyde and its treatment of sex and violence without mentioning that this trend had been started elsewhere is not an unusual attitude. I just really would have liked a mention of America (US) in the title so that I would have no expectations of movements in movie culture as opposed to American movie culture. Not a big deal but as a non-american it looked skewed to me.

Did your expectations disappear after reading the short article? No offense, but I think you're cherry picking.

I'm also curious, why did you feel the need to write "America (US)"?

Ludwig Heinrich's picture

Because I watched a fair few South American movies in that period. The South American directors had already been inspired by the French New Wave and explored these themes. The US movie directors took a little longer to come on board.

As for 'cherry-picking'. In the first place that seems a strange expression to use but more importantly I think the essay gives the impression that this trend started with Bonny and Clyde. He specifically says "film became a cultural vehicle, very suddenly rewriting (or simply destroying) the standards of decency and explicit expression that had previously held a tight grip on cinema" Note he says 'cinema', not 'Hollywood' which is what he probably means. This is likely to give a false impression to those who did not live through the 60s.

Kirk Darling's picture

"The 1960s represented a powerful awakening, shift, and revolution in American culture, with Hollywood being no stranger to those events." From the very first sentence I had a suspicion he was talking specifically about American culture. Interesting how language works that way.

Ludwig Heinrich's picture

That reads as a bit snide to me. The USA is not America, it is part of America. And of course the title of the piece is simply objectively wrong unless you assume that the US is the world and nothing that happens elsewhere is of any account.

Kirk Darling's picture

Ludwig, you're reaching hard to stay snarky about something that wasn't even the point of the essay. If you're going to just start griping about "United Statesians" ('cause hardly anyone in the Americas generally calls themselves "Americans" except United Statesians), there are more significant things to be snarky to United Statesians about.

Ludwig Heinrich's picture

Organization of the American States, The Pan-American Games etc etc