R.I.P. Arthur Penn

Well, the rule of three held true this week, as the film community received its third blow in as many days. Following Gloria Stuart’s passing at the ripe old age of 100 and Sally Menke’s untimely death yesterday morning, pioneering director Arthur Penn died of heart failure today in his Manhattan home, a day after his 88th birthday.

As I mentioned yesterday in my Western piece, Penn was one of the filmmakers who helped Hollywood break out of the repression of the classical studio era when he directed the controversial gangster flick “Bonnie and Clyde.” The film’s revolutionary treatment of sex and violence transformed the way Hollywood worked, bringing the candor and experimental methods of the French New Wave to America. If you want to read a thoroughly informative and entertaining account of Penn’s work on the film (and on Hollywood’s transitionary years in the late 1960’s in general), I highly recommend Mark Harris’ “Pictures at a Revolution.”

Besides “Bonnie and Clyde,” Penn provided us with a number of highly underrated gems, including “Little Big Man,” “Mickey One” and “Alice’s Restaurant.” He also possibly helped shift the course of American politics: during the 1960 presidential debates (the third of which Penn directed for the TV broadcast), Penn offered candidate John F. Kennedy advice on how to appear confident and assured on camera.

The In Memoriam montages will be too crowded this year.

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