AFI Visual Review: Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde is on the American Film Institute’s list of top ten greatest films in the “Gangster” genre.  It also won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. The movie focuses on the a couple, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, that recruits a group of people, the Barrow Gang, who robs banks. The Barrow gang is led by Clyde, but also consists of Bonnie, C. W. Moss, a garage mechanic, Buck, Clyde’s brother, and Buck’s wife, Blanche. The gang becomes the target of statewide manhunts because of their robbery and murder crimes, and the gang become fascinated by their legendary reputation. There was an underlying romantic and sexual relationship between Bonnie and Clyde portrayed throughout the film as well. Bonnie and Clyde portrays crime as alluring and intertwined with sex. Throughout the film, the gang has a few incredible escapes and hide outs in various places, but eventually loses two members to a police ambush. Eventually Bonnie and Clyde are taken down and killed in a trap created when C. W.’s father cooperates with the police to decrease his son’s sentence.

The movie was released in 1967, and is considered to be a movie of firsts. It was one of the first movies in the New Hollywood generation. It was one of the first films to feature squibs, small explosives mounted with bags of stage blood, that are detonated inside an actor’s clothes to simulate bullet shots. Before Bonnie and Clyde, shootings were depicted as bloodless, but the Bonnie and Clyde death scene was one of the first in mainstream American cinema to be depicted with graphic realism. Gabriel Byrne described the film as being different because, “It was the first major gangster picture in technicolor,” and “the violence was exaggerated and almost balletic.” He described the violence as a dance of death. This violence is combined with a comedic tone. The film was intended to be a romantic and comic version of the violent gangster films of the 1930s, and used modern filmmaking techniques to portray this. The film uses rapid shifts of tone and in its choppy editing to convey this juxtaposition of violence and comedy.

In the movie, the editing is very choppy and quick during the violent and intense scenes. When the police ambushed the Barrow Gang the first time in a rented apartment in Joplin, Missouri (43:17- 44:30), the cuts were very quick. The editing quickly mashes up three main shots with different angles for the shots. One of the main shots is the the police shooting at the house from the point of view of the house through the window, switching between close-ups:


And wide shots:


Another main shot is the Barrow gang shooting through the window from the point of view of the police, switching between close-ups:


And wide shots:


The final type of shot they use is the shot of the Barrow Gang shooting from the side:



These quick cuts from shot to shot are combined with the quick camera movement. There are quick panning left and right, quick trucking left and right, and quick tracking to follow the Barrow Gang as well as the police running around to avoid gunshots.

This quick panning and trucking, and the quick cuts of different shots and angles were used in every police ambush. The second police ambush (1:16:10-1:18:41) uses the same shots from the first ambush: the the police shooting at the hotel from the point of view of the hotel through windows (switching between close-ups and wide shots), the Barrow gang shooting through the window from the point of view of the police (switching between close-ups and wide shots), and the Barrow Gang shooting from the side. The second ambush adds four shots to the mix. Two of the shots are an over the shoulder shot of the Barrow Gang shooting and an over the shoulder shot of the police shooting:

Another one of the shots is an angled shot of the police shooting:



The last shot they add is an overall side shot of the hotel and the police cars facing each other:


This scene also adds the element of switching quickly between the shot of Buck’s room in the hotel and Clyde’s room in the hotel.

The third ambush use these same shots, but in a car instead of a house (1:21:10-1:22:07). The third ambush also adds the visual element of chaos by having a shaky camera to portray to chaos, movement, and craziness of being in a car trying to dodge gunshots from the police. When the camera tries to portray the point of view of someone in the Barrow Crew, they often use a shaky camera movement to make the chaos look realisitic. There are two camera shots that use this shaky movement: the driver point of view shot:


And the direct shot on Clyde driving the car:



The final police ambush is seen as one of the bloodiest and most violent scenes during this time of filmmaking.


This scene features quick cuts of shots as well. The scene starts with some visual elements portraying a car seen frequently throughout the movie because a large portion of the movie takes place inside a car. The actor and/or the camera shakes up and down to make it looks like the bumping and shaking that occurs when one rides in a car. There is also a green screen behind the windows of the car that make it appear as if it the background is truly moving, but the moving image is added later in editing. It also uses the camera movement of push forward from the perspective of the driver in the car to create a realistic view of what the driver would be seeing.

When the actual ambush is signaled and begins, the quick cuts begin. The shot of the car approaching from a distance, to C.W.’s father, to the bushes, to Clyde’s face, to Bonnie’s face, to a close-up of Clyde’s face looking at Bonnie, to a close-up of Bonnie’s face looking at Clyde, to the police in the bushes, to the Clyde’s body, to Bonnie’s body, and then to an wide shot of the car and their dead bodies. These quick cuts mirror the scene itself and the death of Bonnie and Clyde where it all happens so fast. An added element of this scene is the slow-motion effect of their bodies literally following to add dramatic effect.

These shots use various elements of photography to make them visually appealing. Throughout the movie framing and leading lines are created by the windows of their hideaways, and the windows of the cars they steal. This framing is meant to place or maintain focus on that character and the action of that character.


The rule of thirds is also, as it is used in everything, to make the picture visually appealing.

A special dutch angle is used when the Barrow Gang falls out of the driver as they were trying to escape the police.


The color scheme and lighting of the film is also very significant. The color scheme of the entire movie is overall very dark and dull. The scenes have tan and brown tones.


In my opinion two color stick out in the entire movie, the blood and the pink dress that Bonnie wears. The blood signifies someone dying or hurt.

The pick dress signifies Bonnie and Clyde thinking everyone is going to be okay, and they will live happily ever after.


The lighting in this film is also important because it shows scenes during the day and during the night. The daytime is obviously portrayed by everything being well-lit, bright, and clearly blue sky.


The nighttime very starkly contrasts with this brightness, and is portrayed through poor lighting, lack of light, shadows, and black tones in the pictures.

The darkness is also shown in the brightness of the car lights contrasting with the darkness of the rest of the scene.

There is also a scene, the scene in which Bonnie sees her mother later in the film, which has a special color scheme and lighting. There is a golden hue over the entire, and there is a slight haze and blurriness in the lighting of the scene.

The point of this grainy, blurry, sandy, golden scene is to show the glory and holiness in this scene between Bonnie and her mother. This entire scene is very innocent and sweet, which contrast with the rest of the violent and passionate scenes in the film. This scene stands out from those scenes because of its unusual lighting, blurriness, and color scheme.

Finally, the bluegrass/banjo music in the background also matches with the action and visuals on the screen. After every successful bank robbery, the bluegrass music plays while the Barrow Gang drives away from the scene of the crime.

Overall, the visuals really reflect the violence, and the quick cutting, panning, trucking, and tracking is very effective in creating a sense of passion, chaos, and violence. I personally really like the use of windows for framing because they are very visually appealing and place the focus on the characters that are involved in the action. However, I do not like the lighting of the night scenes. The poor lighting and lack of light does not work well because it is difficult to see which characters are performing which actions. Despite the lighting, Bonnie and Clyde has incredible visuals, especially for the 1960s, which is probably why they won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.




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