Clyde boastfully, but shyly introduces them with a disarming smile, accentuating the bond they share with the country folk – while anticipating (almost as an afterthought) the course that they are committed to pursue – bank robbery:
This here’s Miss Bonnie Parker. I’m Clyde Barrow…We rob banks.
In the late 1960s, Bonnie and Clyde’s sympathetic, revolutionary characters and its social criticism appealed to anti-authority American youth who were part of the counter-cultural movement protesting the Vietnam War, the corrupt social order, and the U.S. government’s role. The restless couple’s robberies of banks, viewed somewhat sympathetically by the rural dispossessed, occurred at a time when the institutions were ‘robbing’ and ruining indebted, Dust Bowl farmers, similar to the wave of foreclosures today. The robberies of the glamorous, thrill-seeking young couple – mostly innocent and minor at the beginning of their crime spree, unfortunately escalate into more violent and murderous escapades.
Arthur Penn (1922-2010 )”I think the 1960s generation was a state of mind,” he said, “and it’s really the one I’ve been in since I was born.” He will be best remembered for Bonnie and Clyde (1967), a complex and lyrical study of violent outsiders whose lives became the stuff of myth. The film, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, and based on the exploits of the bank-robbing Barrow Gang in the 1930s, became a cause celebre. It was praised and attacked for its distortion, bad taste and glorification of violence in equal measure. In effect, it was a representation of the seemingly eternal conflict between Apollo and Dionysus that seems particularly magnified in American context. But neither, as Arthur Penn showed, seemed to hold the monopoly on pessimism and variations on tragedy as an option to quiet desperation. Neither choice was that appetizing. So the question begs to be asked: Who was that masked man?
The one that manifests is always a mask, a mask of Dionysus. The perennial outsider. To start the question with “What is. . . ?” is for Gilles Deleuze the way that metaphysics formulated the question of essence. Through the mask, a dynamic flux of Dionysian raw power carries us away even further outside, outside of the question of essence and truth. The moment of the mask god’s epiphany is the moment of intensity, of intensities. At this moment, there is nothing for us to experience. Our relation to the mask is not that of experiencing subject. Rather, it is a radical non-empirical experience, an experience of presence as outside, as ek-stasis.
This ecstatic state of experience is not subjective in origin, nor is it individual. It is fundamentally linked to the unspecified others. It is, in fact, a “theatrical” experience envisioned by Antonin Artaud, in which participants experience “a passionate overflowing, a frightful transfer of forces from body to body.This transfer cannot be reproduced twice.” This theatrical experience will definitely lose its potency if it is translated into representations, into the binary performance of the signifiers and the signifieds. On the stage, the smiling mask of Dionysus conveys nothing but contagious Dionysian laughter which is meant to evoke in us either an affirmative Nietzschean tragic experience or an indescribable ecstasy.
…His films can be seen as vividly allegorical, highlighting the traumas and conflicts of the times through which he and the nation were living. Penn openly admired the French new wave (the influence of directors such as François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard can be seen in his use of elliptical narratives and episodic structures) and Elia Kazan….The Chase (1966) was his first film in colour and, despite its problems, was rightly regarded by many as a (near) masterpiece. It perhaps most clearly enunciates Penn’s stance on violence: “America is a country where people realise their views in violent ways – we have no tradition of persuasion, idealism or legality.” In the film, Sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando) tries to protect an escaped convict, Bubber (Robert Redford), from the mob violence he has stirred up on his return to his home town.
A relatively simple “continuum of behavior” along an Apollonian- Dionysian axis provides an accessible departure point for these character analyses of culture. An alternation between obligation and recreation, responsibility and freedom, can be appreciated within larger time frames, which has become increasingly pronounced, since the Beat generation. A standard example is the common acknowledgement that a “good week” consists of the weekend s reward of Dionysian indulgence, not to say excess following the Apollonian restrictiveness of Monday thru Friday. Similarly, one endures fifty weeks of obligation to enjoy two weeks of vacation, and a near lifetime of attention to business for a few years of golden retirement.
“…The Vietnam war clearly informed Penn’s next – and greatest – film, Little Big Man (1970). Adapted from Thomas Berger’s novel, this wildly comic, profoundly ironic and epic film recounts the memoirs of the 121-year old Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman) who survived the massace of his family and was brought up by a Cheyenne tribe. His story is the vehicle by which the traditional history and myths of white men and Native Americans are completly subverted, along with the conventions of the western genre.”
Helene Deutsch provides a rationale for this eschewal of value judgments when considering these polarities. Seconding Nietzsche, she says of Dionysus: “His ability to perform miracles and to personify whatever the situation calls for, on the one hand, and his ferocity and amorality, on the other, place him outside the mortals conception of good and bad . Nevertheless, its easy to see stereotyping of the most pejorative kind in the “male–female” continuum, but Deutsch is helpful here as well; Dionysus “appears as a great social revolutionary– the first feminist in the history of mankind–in order to help enslaved women” . If anything, she continues, opprobrium attaches to Apollo for his matricide, his “hatred of Mother Earth” . On the other hand, myth does attribute to Apollo the rescue of the “ancient Greek world from the darkness of matriarchy to the light of the rule of the Sun” .
In his study of Dionysus, Walter F. Otto also urges a balanced view of what the two gods represent and an appreciation of their symbiosis: This feminine world (of Dionysus) is confronted by the radically different masculine world of Apollo. In this world not the life mystery of blood and the powers of earth but the clarity and the breath of the mind hold sway. However, the Apollonic world cannot exist without the other. This is why it has never denied it recognition.
Tragedy is the mirror of human existence. From our position amid the varied events of daily life, just as from our eyes looking out on the world, we can see much, but not our own selves. To see the events of the world, we look at the world; but to see ourselves, we need a mirror.
According to Nietzsche, we look into the tragic mirror, however, not only to view our full reality, but also to set at a remove its rending paradox. Part of the truth of our existence is that nothingness bounds us on all sides; we came crying hither, and we all go into the dark. Yet madness looms if we look too long at our own deaths. . . . We look into the mirror of existence, accordingly, to try to separate our real from our impermanent–to try to extricate our being from nothingness. “The only self-knowledge,” says Leibniz, “is to distinguish well between our self-being and non-being.” We seek ourselves in the mirror of existence. And nothing other than ourselves is there to be found. Tragic drama does not communicate. It teaches us no new truths. It has no message. The artifice of the mirror is to reflect; what it reveals is only what we present to it.
“The pleasure we receive from all beauty, the consolation which art affords, the enthusiasm of the artist, which enables him to forget the cares of life–the latter an advantage of the man of genius over other men, which alone repays him for the suffering that increases in proportion to the clearness of consciousness, and for the desert loneliness among men of a different race–all this rests on the fact that the in-itself of life, the will, existence itself, is . . . a constant sorrow, partly miserable, partly terrible; while, on the contrary, as idea alone, purely contemplated, or copied by art, free from pain, it presents to us a drama full of significance.” (Schopenhauer “The World as Will and Idea)
D. H. Lawrence ‘s “The Horse Dealer s Daughter” involves a near death: the Dionysian Mabel, in despair over her loss of family and home, attempts suicide, but the Apollonian Dr. Jack Fergusson pulls her from the primordial ooze of a pond to a symbolic and mutual rebirth. The two resolve to marry, drawing from each other the qualities of head or heart heretofore lacking in each to form a single balanced and harmonious personality.
Among the most anthologized poetry, Keats provides the most complex and paradoxical instances of the thinking–feeling and art–nature spectra. His “Ode to Psyche” is a paean quite unexpected in an early nineteenth century English romantic, and the elevation of art over nature in “Ode to a Nightingale,” “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “On First Looking into Chapman s Homer,” and “On Seeing the Elgin Marbles” provide exceptional opportunities for students close reading and analysis. Arnold s “Dover Beach” and Browning s “My Last Duchess,” on the other hand, represent Dionysian feeling as antidote to Victorian intellectual disputation and uncertainty, and, in the Browning, as morally superior to cultural and genealogical arrogance. Another Victorian, Tennyson, has Ulysses choose Dionysus in abandoning Apollonian responsibilities of rule, but we can be sure his new adventures are of the intellectual and scientific kind, calculated to enhance imperial pretensions. He is possibly, and successfully, Apollonian and Dionysian at the same time. ( Michael Thro )
When she flippantly tells him that she is “goin’ to work anyway,” they both talk with flirtatious tones during their sidewalk stroll (tracked by the camera with multiple stops and starts) and discover each other’s “line of work” – she’s a cheap cafe waitress and he’s an ex-con for armed robbery:
Clyde: What kind of work do ya do?
Bonnie: None of your business.
Clyde (flattering): I’ll bet you’re a movie star? A lady mechanic?
Bonnie (amused): No.
Clyde: A maid?
Bonnie: (She halts) What do you think I am?
Clyde (realistically and accurately): A waitress.
Bonnie: (Long silence when she grows sullen, and then begins walking again.) What line of work are you in, when you’re not stealin’ cars?
Clyde: Well, I’ll tell ya, uh, I’m lookin’ for suitable employment right at the moment.
Bonnie: Yeah, but what did ya do before?
Clyde: I was, uh, I was in State Prison.
Bonnie: State Prison! (She halts again)
Bonnie: Well, I guess, uh, some littl’ ol’ lady wasn’t so nice.
Clyde: (expressed as part of a tough guy act) It was armed robbery.
Bonnie: My, my. The things that turn up in the street these days.
In the small, rural, Southwest Texas town where they walk along the empty main street (except for one elderly Negro sitting on a bench in front of a barber shop), Clyde asks her about her dull life after passing the closed-down movie theatre and other mostly-deserted shops: “Whatcha all do for a good time around here – listen to the grass grow?” In a display of unconventional, daring bravado, he points down to his right foot and brags to her that he once chopped two toes off with an axe “to get off of work detail” in state prison. [His awkward limp is evident throughout the film.] She declines to look at his dirty feet when he volunteers to demonstrate, but still wonders: “Boy, did you really do that?”
With a matchstick in his mouth, Clyde guzzles from an upturned Coke bottle (shot at an upward angle as a phallic symbol) that he has bought from a run-down gas station’s soft drink chest up the street. Both of them drink from their Coke bottles in the next shot – emphasizing their growing intimacy and affinity for each other. And then she asks what “armed robbery” is like, instantly intrigued and charmed by his recklessness, but knowing that he is a liar. To prove that he isn’t a “faker,” he takes his gun out from inside his jacket in his right hand, while holding his Coke bottle in his left. Clyde shows her his large pistol pointing upwards at hip level, a second phallic symbol of his manhood, as he bounces the wooden match between his teeth. She looks down at the gun – at first repulsed, but then erotically fascinated, hypnotized and aroused by his assertive show of banditry and dangerousness. After tentatively and suggestively touching (fondling and caressing in a masturbatory way) the barrel of the gun, she goads him on to be her liberating hero by daring him with a sexually-loaded line: “But you wouldn’t have the gumption to use it.” The matchstick stands erect between Clyde’s lips. To spontaneously impress her as part of the sexual dare and to prove his courage, he lets her witness his nonchalant, impulsive robbery of Ritts Groceries in the small town (“You keep your eyes open”) – his first grocery-store robbery. In a long-shot, he strides across the vacant street – the camera remains with her as Bonnie stays outside and watches him from the middle of the street.