It has been a rather difficult couple of days for film fans of a certain age. Tony Curtis, perhaps best known for starring alongside Jack Lemmon in Some Like it Hot, was announced dead this morning, having suffered a cardiac arrest. Yesterday it was also revealed that Oscar-nominated influential director Arthur Penn has passed away. Penn died of congestive heart failure on Tuesday in his New York home. He was 88 years old.
Arthur Penn was a pivotal figure in the New Hollywood movement (which took power away from the studios and gave it to directors). Indeed, his best-known film Bonnie and Clyde can be considered the first true New Hollywood film, and its influence is still felt today. Through Bonnie and Clyde Penn was able to affect his European influences (in particular those of the French New Wave) upon an American film for the first time. The result was a sexually explicit (from the very first shot) and morally ambiguous film. Bonnie and Clyde pulls off a feat in both glamorising its outsider anti-heroes and scolding them at the same time. Of course it caused a great deal of controversy at the time (1967), but this did not prevent it from becoming a box-office phenomenon and it ushered in a new age of cinematic violence. Without Penn one wonders what kind of work film-makers like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese would be producing today. Then there is the famous ‘spastic-ballet’ ending where the ambushed Bonnie and Clyde are riddled with bullets; this was shot with four different cameras all running at different speeds – perhaps the most famous and best edited death sequence of all time.
The tributes are still rolling in through print and across the net, and are quick to note the influence Penn had on 70′s and 80′s cinema, and that he still holds on cinema today. The last word is perhaps best left to Warren Beatty, the star of Bonnie and Clyde and a man who knew Penn rather well. He released a statement on Wednesday that stated: “I will always treasure the singularly honest, joyful, adventurous intelligence of Arthur Penn both as a collaborator and as a loving friend”.