PBS’ New “AE” Episode Is A Brief But In-Depth Portrait Of Bonnie & Clyde

Courtesy:  PBS/PBS Distribution

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Distribution

Bonnie and Clyde are two of the most mythical figures in America’s war on crime. While not the only figures that led to the creation of the FBI in America’s first great crime wave, the duo is one of the most talked about and well-known from that period. Numerous books have been penned about the pair and just as many movies have been centered on them. And last month PBS added to that mix when it feature the pair in an episode of its hit historically based series American Experience. That episode, American Experience: Bonnie and Clyde, will be released Tuesday, February 16th. Regardless of viewers’ familiarity with the history of the infamous outlaw duo any viewer with any interest in real crime will find plenty to appreciate about this episode of American Experience beginning with its story. The story follows the lives of Bonnie and Clyde from their meager upbringings to their almost celebrity status as adults in Depression-era America. The interviews, pictures, and footage that are used to tell the story are collectively another important and notable element of the episode’s presentation. Last but hardly least of note of this DVD is its pacing and editing. It rounds out the program’s presentation. And together with the program’s central story all three elements together make American Experience: Bonnie and Clyde a good piece for any high school history class or above and just as good of a piece for anyone with any interest in America’s real crime history.

American Experience: Bonnie and Clyde is hardly the first ever profile of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. There is no getting around that. Yet even with all of the documentaries, books, movies, and more that have been churned out about the duo throughout the years, this piece still holds its own among that crowd. The main reason for that is its central story. The story focuses on the lives of Bonnie and Clyde and what continues to make them such polarizing figures even today, decades after they made their way across the country’s Southwest. It all begins with the couple’s own meager upbringings. It reveals that both Parker and Barrow grew up in less than outstanding settings. It affected both figures differently with Barrow going to a life of crime early on and Parker basically dreaming of being swept away by her own sort of prince charming. Of course that prince charming turned out to be Barrow. Just as interesting along the way is the revelation that Barrow actually did try to get Bonnie to leave him and his gang, telling her that the authorities were hunting him not her. This was well after she had already badly injured her leg in a car crash that was the result of another police pursuit. Audiences are also presented with the story of how Bonnie and Clyde broke out some friends from jail to make up his gang and even the story about the pair’s meeting with another infamous group of outlaws. As if all of that isn’t enough, the story notes as it reaches the pair’s death the despicable (in this critic’s own view) behavior of those that were near the final showdown between police and Bonnie and Clyde. It notes how after the pair was killed by police, people swarmed in like a bunch of hyenas and tried to take pieces of clothing from the pair, body parts–one person allegedly took Barrow’s trigger finger as a trophy according to the presented story, which is somewhat disturbing in all reality–and even Bonnie’s wedding ring. It makes one stop and ask one’s self who was worse, Bonnie and Clyde or the opportunistic people who just wanted a piece of the pair both figuratively and literally? These are just some of the highlights of the story presented in American Experience: Bonnie and Clyde. They are hardly the only notable moments presented in the program, too. There is much more for audiences to take in here. And they will be able to do so when they order the DVD for themselves.

The story at the center of American Experience: Bonnie and Clyde is in itself more than enough reason for audiences to check out this DVD. It is just one of the program’s important and notable elements. The collective interviews, pictures, and footage that are used to tell the story of the infamous outlaw duo. Throughout the course of the program’s near hour-long run time extended members of Bonnie and Clyde’s family are interviewed, as are academics an historians. The extended family members give first-hand stories that were passed down to them about the duo’s deeds. And it goes without saying that they add quite a bit of interest to the story. There are even additional pieces of the story added by relatives of the police that chased Bonnie and Clyde alongside insights offered by historians and academics on the importance of the events that unfolded in the search for Bonnie and Clyde and even the cultural impact of the pair’s actions on American culture. Author Bryan Burrough, who penned the nonfiction history of America’s first great crime wave Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, is also interviewed for the program. For those that have yet to read Burrough’s book, it is one of the most concise crime histories crafted by any author in recent memory. It is a wonderful companion to this program and vice versa. Getting back on topic, Bonnie and Clyde were almost idolized by Americans to a point because of the story of their meager beginnings and what they were doing. It’s very much along the same lines as that of Dillinger. He, too was seen as a hero of sorts by Americans. But that is a story for another time. The interviews are just one part of what is used to tell the story of Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree. Pictures of the pair are presented along the way alongside original newsreel footage recorded during the search for the duo. Watching the footage is like opening a long-closed time capsule and looking back to that era. It is something that must be seen to be fully appreciated. On a related note, one of the pictures receives a special mention. It is noted that the picture in question was one that Bonnie had not wanted published originally. Yet somehow it managed to be published regardless. And it would be the beginning of a profile of Bonnie and Clyde that ironically would help establish the pair’s reputation among Americans. It adds even more depth to the history behind the story of Bonnie and Clyde and in turn shows even more why the elements used to tell Parker and Barrow’s story are just as important to this program as the story itself. Both elements together show with great clarity just what makes this episode of American Experience such an interesting viewing experience both for history buffs and crime history buffs alike. Of course they are only two of the program’s important elements. The program’s collective editing and pacing round out the program.

The story that lies at the center of American Experience: Bonnie and Clyde, and the elements used to tell the program’s story are both key to its overall presentation in their own right. The story tells a brief but concise story of the outlaw duo’s short lives and what continues to make them such polarizing figures to this very day. The interviews, pictures, and footage that are used to tell the story give it even more depth even in its slightly less than sixty-minute run time. While both elements prove to be of equal importance in the overall presentation of this program, they are only part of the program’s whole. The program’s collective editing and pacing are just as key to the program as the previously noted items. The program’s editing seamlessly ties together the elements used to tell the story with the story itself to present a story that while brief (in the grand scheme) still paints a rich picture of Bonnie and Clyde and their importance in America’s history to this very day. By direct connection, the editing creates a pacing that will keep viewers just as engaged. No one part of the story receives more attention than another, thus keeping the story moving, but not so fast that it loses audiences at any point. Being that it doesn’t lose audiences, and keeps them interested (thanks in part to the program’s editing) viewers will be even more certain to remain engaged and in turn agree that the program’s other noted elements work with these elements to make American Experience: Bonnie and Clyde yet another episode of PBS’ hit historically based series that is just as valuable in the classroom as it is in the living room and to history buffs as it is to crime history buffs. Simply put, it is yet more proof of why PBS remains today the last bastion of truly worthwhile programming on television today.

American Experience: Bonnie and Clyde is not the first portrait of the infamous outlaw pair to ever be presented to audiences. Numerous movies and books have been crafted about the pair. Yet even with that in mind, this latest profile of the infamous criminal duo easily holds its own against those creations. While brief its story gives a concise history of Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree and influence on America. The interviews, footage, and pictures incorporated into the story add an extra level of interest to the story, making it feel even more in-depth than the story alone proves to be. The program’s collective editing and pacing round out the program’s most notable elements. They work together and with the aforementioned elements to keep viewers engaged. This is regardless of viewers’ familiarity with Bonnie and Clyde and their history. Each element noted here proves in to be hugely important to the program in its own right. Altogether they make this program one that crime history buffs and history buffs in general will each appreciate equally. Because of this, they make it yet more proof as to why PBS remains today the last bastion of truly worthwhile programming on television. It will be available February 16th and can be ordered direct via PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=85258136&cp=&kw=american+experience+bonnie+and+clyde&origkw=American+Experience+bonnie+and+clyde&sr=1 for $19.99. That is a big price break from the MSRP of $24.99. More information on this and other episodes of American Experience is available online now at:

Website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AmericanExperience

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