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E’ morto Arthur Penn. Da Bonnie and Clyde a Piccolo grande uomo. Ma anche Alice’s Restaurant

Dal New Yok Times del 29.9.2010:

Arthur Penn, Director of ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ Is Dead

Sam Falk/The New York Times
Arthur Penn, left, with the actors Warren Beatty and Alexandra Stewart, during rehearsals for the film “Mickey One” in 1964.

Arthur Penn, the stage, television and motion picture director whose revolutionary treatment of sex and violence in the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde” transformed the American film industry, died Tuesday night, the day after he turned 88. .
His death was confirmed by Evan Bell, a friend and accountant for Mr. Penn for 25 years. No other details were immediately provided.
A pioneering director of live television drama in the 1950s and a Broadway powerhouse in the 1960s, Mr. Penn developed an intimate, spontaneous and physically oriented method of directing actors that allowed their work to register across a range of mediums.
In 1957, he directed Walter Gibson’s television play “The Miracle Worker” for the CBS series “Playhouse 90” and earned Emmy nominations for himself, his writer and his star, Teresa Wright. In 1959, he restaged “The Miracle Worker” for Broadway and won Tony Awards for himself, his writer and his star, Anne Bancroft. And in 1962, he directed the film version of Gibson’s text, which won the best actress Oscar for Bancroft and the best supporting actress Oscar for her co-star, Patty Duke, as well as earning nominations for writing and directing.
Mr. Penn’s direction may also have changed the course of American history. He advised Senator John F. Kennedy during his watershed television debates with Richard M. Nixon in 1960 (and directed the broadcast of the third debate). Mr. Penn’s instructions to Kennedy — to look directly into the lens of the camera and keep his responses brief and pithy — helped give the candidate an aura of confidence and calm that created a vivid contrast to his more experienced but less telegenic Republican rival.
But it was as a film director that Mr. Penn left his mark on American culture, most indelibly with “Bonnie and Clyde.”
“Arthur Penn brought the sensibility of ‘60s European art films to American movies,” the writer-director Paul Schrader said. “He paved the way for the new generation of American directors who came out of film schools.”
Many of the now-classic films of what was branded the “New American Cinema” of the 1970s — including “Taxi Driver,” directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Mr. Schrader, and “The Godfather,” written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola — would have been unthinkable without “Bonnie and Clyde” to point the way.
Loosely based on the story of two minor gangsters of the 1930s, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, “Bonnie and Clyde” had been conceived by its two novice screenwriters, Robert Benton and David Newman, as an homage to the rebellious sensibility and disruptive style of French New Wave films like François Truffaut’s “Shoot the Piano Player” and Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless.”
In Mr. Penn’s hands, it became something even more dangerous and innovative — a sympathetic portrait of two barely articulate criminals, played by Mr. Beatty and a n
ewcomer, Faye Dunaway, that disconcertingly mixed sex, violence and hayseed comedy, set to a bouncy bluegrass score by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Not only was the film sexually explicit in ways unseen in Hollywood since the imposition of the Production Code in 1934 — when Bonnie stroked Clyde’s gun, the symbolism was unmistakable — it was violent in ways that had never been seen before. Audiences gasped when a comic bank robbery climaxed with Clyde’s shooting a bank teller in the face with a shotgun, and were stunned when this attractive outlaw couple died in a torrent of bullets, their bodies twitching orgasmically in slow motion as their clothes turned red with blood.
Reporting on the film’s premiere on the opening night of the Montreal Film Festival in 1967, Bosley Crowther, the chief film critic for The New York Times, was appalled, describing it as “callous and callow” and “slap-happy color film charade.” Worse, the public seemed to love it. “Just to show how delirious these festival audiences can be,” Mr. Crowther wrote, “it was wildly received with gales of laughter and given a terminal burst of applause.”
Similar reactions by other major critics followed when the film opened in the United States a few weeks later. The film, promoted by Warner Brothers with the memorable tag line, “They’re young. They’re in love. They kill people,” floundered at first but soon found an enthusiastic audience among younger filmgoers and won the support of a new generation of critics. “A milestone in the history of American movies,” wrote Roger Ebert in The Chicago Sun Times. Pauline Kael, writing her first review for The New Yorker, described it as an “excitingly American movie,” although she disliked Ms. Dunaway’s performance.
“Bonnie and Clyde” was nominated for 10 Oscars but won only two (for Burnett Guffey’s cinematography and Estelle Parson’s supporting performance), reflecting the Hollywood establishment’s ambivalence over a film that seemed to point the way out of the creative paralysis that had set in after the end of the studio system while betraying all the values — good taste and moral clarity — the studios held most dear.
But the breach had been opened: “Bonnie and Clyde” was followed by “Easy Rider,” “The Wild Bunch,” “The Graduate” and a host of other youth-oriented, taboo-breaking films that made mountains of money for Hollywood. Mr. Penn was perceived as a major film artist on the European model, opening the way for a group of star directors — including Robert Altman, Terrence Malick, Bob Rafelson and Hal Ashby — who were able to work with comparative artistic freedom through the next decade. The “film generation” had arrived.
Arthur Penn was born on Sept. 27, 1922 in Philadelphia to parents of Russian-Jewish heritage. His father, a watchmaker, and his mother, a nurse, divorced when he was three, and Arthur and his brother Irving (who would achieve fame as a photographer) went to live with their mother in New York and New Jersey, changing homes and schools frequently as she struggled to make a living.
Arthur returned to Philadelphia to live with his father when he was 14 and became interested in theater while attending high school. He joined the Army in 1943 and, while stationed at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, organized a theater troupe with his fellow soldiers; later, while stationed in Paris, he performed with the Soldiers Show Company.
After the war he took advantage of the G.I. Bill to attend the famously unconventional Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where his classmates included John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Buckminster Fuller. He went on to study at the Universities of Perugia and Florence in Italy, and returned to the states in 1948. Intrigued by the new, psychologically realistic school of acting that had grown out of the teachings of Konstantin Stanislavski — broadly known as “The Method” — he studied with the Actors Studio in New York and with Stanislavski’s rebellious disciple, Michael Chekhov, in Los Angeles.


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