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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Lincoln A Solid Biopic From Start To Finish

Courtesy:  Dreamworks Studios/20th Century Fox

Courtesy: Dreamworks Studios/20th Century Fox

Much has been written of Abraham Lincoln.  Books upon books upon books have been published that center on the man and the myths surrounding his life.  Just as much has been crafted for televised documentaries.  And even more has been penned about the era in which our nation’s sixteenth President led his country.  Now courtesy of author Doris Kearns Goodwin, director Steven Spielberg and screen writer Tony Kushner, audiences have been presented with what is one of the most gripping portrayals of President Lincoln and his time in office in the simply titled, Lincoln.

Lincoln was largely met with applause from critics and audiences alike.  Though there were those that had their qualms with the near three hour long semi-biopic.  Many of the arguments against the story were centered on the fact that the movie in fact focuses on Lincoln and the battles in the halls of the nation’s government.  In the story’s defense, audiences should remind themselves that this movie is not about the war on the battlefield.  It is about the battles in Congress over the abolition of slavery and bringing a final end to the Civil War.  It is a beautifully shot and well acted story.  However, those who have mentioned its sometimes long winded nature can be agreed upon.  Sometimes, it does get rather wordy.  And the story’s slower pacing might turn off some viewers considering that the movie comes in at nearly three hours long.  But those that are true history buffs and/or civil war buffs will easily be able to overlook these issues and enjoy it for its positives, which outweigh the negatives.

For the negatives that weigh down Lincoln, its positives outweigh those negatives.  The first of the positives in Lincoln is that it doesn’t get lost in itself throughout the course of its run time.  The story is meant to focus on President Lincoln and what was the most pivotal moment in his time in office; his waning days in office before his assassination.  The new four-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack home release of the movie includes the bonus feature, “The Journey to Lincoln” on both formats.  This feature is a welcome addition as Spielberg, author Doris Kearns Goodwin—whose book was the inspiration behind this movie—and screen writer Tony Kushner all point out in this feature that the aim was meant to be on what went on in Congress during the final days of the Civil War, rather than on the frontlines.  Having this hammered home so gently by all three individuals makes the story more watchable in comparison to the likes of Public Enemies which was also based on a historical non-fiction.  That movie was a mere shadow of the far better book.  It really was a movie that never should have happened.   This movie at least attempts to stay closer to the book on which it is based.  It presents less the mythical Lincoln and more the actual man, and what he faced in what would be his final days in office.

The story and its primary associated bonus feature make up just one of the positives to the new home release of Lincoln.  The acting on the part of the star-studded cast is another positive to Lincoln.  Even though there are some portions of the movie that are more drawn out than they perhaps should have been, veterans Daniel Day Lewis (There Will Be Blood), Tommy Lee Jones (Men In Black 1-3), and Sally Field (Mrs. Doubtfire, Smoky and the Bandit), all contribute expertly, making their parts fully believable.  Making their performances even more believable are costumes that are spot on.  While the movie may not have taken the Oscar for this category, there is no denying how impressive the end result of that work was.  Speaking of which, audiences that pick up the new four-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of Lincoln get another bonus in the addition of a feature titled, “Crafting The Past” in the set’s bonus Blu-ray disc.  This feature examines not just the costumes, but also the production work and other more fine details of the movie.

The costumes and production of Lincoln are just as important as any other part of the movie that makes it successful.  There is at least one more factor to the movie that makes this the impressive work that it is.  That factor is the movie’s cinematography.  The shooting style us especially powerful in the movie’s closing scenes as the President surveys the result of a battle.  And the movie’s final scene (which will not be revealed here for the sake of those who have yet to see the movie), is a prime example of expert cinematography.  The transition into that scene and the final pullout are such powerful statements in themselves, and will leave any true history and civil war buff feeling completely satisfied after having made it through the rest of the movie’s emotional journey.  After having made that journey and having viewed the extensive bonus features included in the new four-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, those same individuals will agree that Lincoln is in fact one of the best biopics crafted in recent history, albeit only a semi-biopic.  It is available now in stores and online.

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Citizen Gangster Is One of The Year’s Best Indie Releases

Courtesy: IFC Films/MPI Media Group

Citizen Gangster is one of the best indie releases of 2012, hands down.  Some critics obviously have had their say.  But in an era when so many crime dramas are riddled with too much overt violence and sexuality, this piece strikes just enough of a balance to maintain its grip on the audience through the course of its almost two hour run.  One can’t help but feel some sympathy for lead character Edwin Boyd (Scott Speedman) as he faces his own inner trials after deciding to take on a life of crime just to be able to support his family.  The world is in a state of economic uncertainty right now.  And while this movie by no means intends to reiterate that, seeing Boyd’s struggles after returning from WWII makes him at least somewhat relatable. 

Speedman is spot on in the role of Boyd.  Rather than trying to be some sort of over the top type of gangster a la James Cagney, Speedman’s quiet inner battles show him to be a flawed, imperfect character.  It makes him that much more human.  Some would say that he is the only real light of this movie.  But one has to remember that an actor alone can only do so much.  Thanks to the work of writer/director Nathan Morlano, Speedman has given a brilliant performance.  And the story itself is emotionally powerful and gripping.  As disturbing as some moments may be, audiences won’t want to look away.  Nor will they want to look away from the wonderful cinematography, either.  That too adds its own extra element of enjoyment.

As impressive as this indie flick is, it should be noted that it is unrated.  But there is enough violence and foul language to qualify it at least for an “R” rating.  That being noted, viewer discretion is advised for those with younger children.  Speaking of that language and violence, it is nowhere at the level of say Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990) or Francis Ford Coppela’s Godfather trilogy.  It has enough of a balance even there, that any fan of the gangster genre will likely find this to be enjoyable, given the opportunity.  It’s even better than 2009’s big screen fiasco, Public Enemies, which paled in comparison to the book on which it was based.

Citizen Gangster likely won’t be seen by the number of people who have seen the Godfather Trilogy, or Goodfellas, or even Public Enemies.  But one thing can be said of it.  It is one of the year’s most underrated–and probably most underappreciated–movies in the crime drama/thriller category.  It is also without a doubt, one of the best in the indie field this year.

Citizen Gangster will be available Tuesday in stores and online.  It can be ordered online at http://www.ifcfilms.com/dvd-digital-download

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