Being There – Bonnie and Clyde – Chinatown

Back on the “great movies” trail, I watched three movies I watched way back when they were first released again: Being There, Bonnie and Clyde, and Chinatown.

Being There is a visually gorgeous film – the locations are outstanding and the cinematography is excellent. Peter Sellers is brilliant as Chance. The character is simple-minded – but the characterization is amazingly deep and realistic. Scene after scene – the character is exactly “right” every time. Shirley MacLaine looked fantastic and played her part extremely well – very funny. It is sad that Sellers’ personal life was such a mess – he was seemingly capable of extreme control of his on-screen character, but not off-screen. Perhaps without a script he never knew quite how to deal with life.

Bonnie and Clyde in my memory was an extremely violent film, but after all these years and I guess being exposed to ultra-violent movies from Disney (animated – OK) to Tarantino, the movie seemed only mildly violent. It is a movie about two not-very-smart young people (three really), the ease with which they threw themselves into evil behavior, the Great Depression, and gorgeous cinematography. There’s not a lot of plot – Bonnie and Clyde know how it’s all going to end (as do we), and it ends exactly that way. But their wild trip to hell – seemingly taken out of boredom and laziness with a bit of economic desperation thrown in – provides a vehicle for showing us a slice of Great Depression life that almost always seems very true. And Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty looked great.

Chinatown had Faye Dunaway again looking great and doing a fine job plus Jack Nicholson. I’ve always enjoyed Nicholson’s intense characterizations, and I gather he is fairly intense off-screen as well. Perhaps those roles are not a big stretch for him! Chinatown has a lot of beautiful cinematography, and the story is interesting, although I would say the story-telling is not the film’s strongest point. The final scene is amazing cinema, but somehow it seemed to miss the target by just a bit in terms of bringing all the threads of the story together into a perfect, single, revelatory, cataclysmic moment. Still, well worth watching again, as all of these were.

I’m in a different place as a person from where I was when I first saw these, and I would say like any piece of true art, these movies seemed fresh – and revealed something new – as I the viewer viewed them from a new perspective.

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