Fresh Air Remembers 'Bonnie And Clyde' Director
This interview was originally broadcast on September 29, 1989.
Arthur Penn, who directed 1967's classic Bonnie and Clyde and was subsequently described as having a "gift for violence" by film critic Pauline Kael, died on Tuesday. He was 88.
Penn's films included The Miracle Worker and Alice's Restaurant -- but his most famous film was Bonnie and Clyde, which both shocked critics and inspired generations of future filmmakers for it's realistic depiction of violence.
In a 1989 interview on Fresh Air, Penn told Terry Gross that the last bullet-filled scene in Bonnie and Clyde was influenced by both media reports and images of the Vietnam War, which were continually broadcast during the production of the film.
"It was a time," he said, "where, it seemed to me that if we were going to depict violence, then we would be obliged to really to depict it accurately; the kind of terrible, frightening volume that one sees when one genuinely is confronted by violence."
Penn explained how he used various camera settings that would both slow down and speed up the film to achieve a measure of realism, but kept the bullets flying in real time.
"I decided to do a visual expansion of time and an auditory continuum of time," he said, "for orientation. I thought if we disoriented the sound as well as we disoriented the film, then we would be clearly engaged in the movie aspect of it. And I didn't want you to be particularly aware of the medium at that point. I was hoping you would be caught totally by the nature of the action on the screen."
In addition to his films, Penn directed several Broadway hits, including An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May and All the Way Home, an adaptation of James Agee's novel A Death in the Family.</em> He also served as an executive producer on several episodes of <em>Law & Order.
Penn is survived by his wife, two children and four grandchildren. His brother, the photographer Irving Penn, died in 2009.
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