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A Tribute to Dede Allen April 20, 2010

Posted by Michael Rennett in Film.
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The passing of famed editor Dede Allen the other day is unfortunate news for the world of film.  Allen was one of the leading editors from the New Hollywood and helped to bring an artistry to film editing through her use of jump cuts and added emotions.  Her resume includes such luminary films as Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967), Serpico (Sidney Lumet, 1973), Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, 1975), and Reds (Warren Beatty, 1981).  Movieline.com has created their list of five iconic clips from Allen’s career, which contains perhaps her most memorable scene – the closing massacre at the end of Bonnie and Clyde.  However, my personal favorite sequence from Bonnie and Clyde occurs far earlier in the film and truly demonstrates how Allen’s editing is able to create an added subtext to the film’s themes.  This scene takes place right after Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde (Warren Beatty) meet for the first time, when Bonnie catches Clyde in the middle of stealing her mother’s car.  They take a walk on the town’s main street and Bonnie begins to show an attraction to Clyde’s darker side, such as the time he chopped off one of his toes in order to get off of work detail.  As they are talking, Clyde admits to committing armed robbery and Bonnie convinces him to rob a general store to prove that he isn’t lying.  Through Allen’s editing, the viewer can understand the film’s mixture of sexual attraction and violent acts.

The first shot in this sequence begins with a close-up of Clyde’s face.  Clyde’s mouth is dominated by phallic objects, both the Coke bottle and the match, which demonstrate his sexual experience.  It is also intriguing that Allen begins this sequence with a close-up instead of the standard wide shot in order to emphasize this aspect of Clyde’s personality.

While Clyde drinks from his bottle, Bonnie rubs her lips over the edge of her bottle and flicks her tongue in her mouth to give the scene an added sexuality akin to Freud’s oral stage.  Once again, the shot is a close-up to emphasize Bonnie’s sexual curiousity.

Allen finally cuts to a wider two-shot in the third shot of the sequence.  The audience is finally allowed to get their bearings on the physical proximity of the scene.  The frame is slightly condensed by the poles on each side of the frame, pushing the two characters closer together in the middle.  Both Bonnie and Clyde are still holding their bottles of Coke, with Clyde’s bottle erect in the air, while Bonnie is still seductively holding hers against her lips.  From this angle, she mysteriously asks him “What’s it like?”  While she could be referring to either prison (which Clyde thinks she is talking about) or armed robbery (which she is actually talking about), her very general statement could also refer to sex, especially given the number of phallic symbols in this scene and her nudity in the film’s opening.

From this angle, Bonnie clarifies her position (“No.  Armed robbery.”) to Clyde, but never removes the bottle from within an inch of her lips.  This inaction once again promulgates the sexual undertones of the scene.

Clyde looks around nervously as he thinks of what to say…

…and Bonnie takes a drink from her Coke bottle as she takes over the power in this scene.  She is now steadfast and confident in her sexuality and controls it by holding the erect bottle to her lips.

Clyde finally regains his composure as he replies to her “It ain’t like anything.”  His gaze is noticeably not only looking at her, but also looking past her into the camera lens.

She dismisses his answer by removing the Coke bottle from her lips and teasing him – “Shoot.  I knew you never robbed anyplace, you faker.”  Both of these actions, as well as her turning away from him in the next frame suggest her sexual disinterest.  If he had been able to provide a good answer regarding his violent acts, then her interest would still be piqued.  However, since he disappoints her with his answer, she stops her flirtatious actions.

In a longer shot, Bonnie both turns aways from Clyde, but then turns back toward him in order to give him another opportunity to prove his violence and thus regain her sexual favor.  Clyde responds by pulling out his gun and clandestinely showing it to her.  The wide shot allows this action to play out on screen – both her change in attitude as well as his last effort.  The wide shot also manages to obstruct the gun from the audience’s view by not showing it in close-up until later.  From this still frame, it’s even difficult to see what the object that he pulls from his pocket is exactly.

A quick close-up of Bonnie’s face presents her intrigue at seeing Clyde’s gun.

Allen finally cuts to a close-up of Clyde’s gun as he holds it at his waist and points it in her direction.  The gun blatantly stands in for his phallus and connotes his sexual interest in Bonnie.  The Coke bottles (as I previously mentioned as being representative of Freud’s oral stage) are now put away and missing from the last couple close-ups as their relationship moves onto the phallic stage.  The metaphoric genitals are the new focus of their connection.

Bonnie looks up at Clyde’s face with both shock and intrigue across her visage as he has made a strong sexual advance toward her.  She looks up at his face…

…and he is looking away from her, letting the gun-phallus speak for itself.

Allen cuts to a different two-shot as Bonnie continues her turn toward Clyde and reaches out for his gun-phallus.  This angle is particularly interesting for a couple of reasons.  First, it differs from the earlier two-shot from street level.  This one allows the viewer to see both Bonnie and Clyde’s faces as this event transpires.  Second, the high angle blocks Clyde’s gun-phallus from the camera’s view, thus placing the act in the viewer’s mind.  The gun’s visibility only in close-up also allows the viewer to ONLY see it as a phallus, since this high angle would disrupt the analogy.

Allen then cuts back to the close-up to show Bonnie tenderly touching Clyde’s gun-phallus.  This shot represents the metaphoric copulation between the couple.  The flirtations from the earlier parts of the sequence finally pay off in what is essentially “the money shot.”  Allen then emphasizes the sexuality of the scene by cutting to both Clyde and Bonnie’s euphoric faces:

This fantastic sequence shows how important editing is to the film process and how additional thematic meaning can be derived from the construction of a scene.  It is not merely the acting or the cinematography that creates these shots, but how they all work together in order to form the film as a whole.  No two editors will construct a scene in the same way, and Dede Allen was once of the best in the history of cinema.  This sequence is just one example of the great work throughout her career.