A lesson for indie artists in new film on Bonnie and Clyde

Snip from promo trailer for 'The Highwaymen' (Netflix).

When my husband asked if I wanted to watch the new film about the legendary Bonnie and Clyde, I said yes, but without much enthusiasm. By the end of the film we watched on Netflix, I was singing a different tune. The Highwaymen is well worth viewing. There’s another takeaway too, though, and there’s a lesson for indie artists.

Iconic photo of Bonnie and Clyde from US Library of Congress.
Iconic photo of Bonnie and Clyde from US Library of Congress.

For many years, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker have been viewed as benign robbers, mostly killing lawmen who came after them. The facts, however, upend that view largely spawned by the entertainment industry who romanticized the pair.

Barrow and Parker killed innocent people as well as law enforcement officers. Their favorite prey comprised small businesses, not big corporate banks as depicted in other film treatments. The couple did not equate to Robin Hood.

By the time Bonnie and Clyde died in 1934 after being fired on by a number of law enforcement officers, they’d left a great deal of heartbreak in their paths. They both died young, in their twenties, and that may have contributed to their becoming folk heroes of sorts. Both were attractive, and that always helps.

The Highwaymen, starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, recounts the story from the perspective of two former Texas Rangers. The film also attempts to set many inaccuracies straight.

Why do I think this film can inspire indie artists?

It’s a different take on an American legend, bringing to the forefront two characters we knew little about although we thought we knew a lot. There are countless stories like this, many of them tucked away at resource sites like the US Library of Congress. I’ve often wished I had the skills to make a film because there are so many stories to tell.

I enjoy reading history—archives, oral histories, academic accounts. There are numerous opportunities for indie artists right under our noses.

While The Highwaymen is a very entertaining film, it adds to the canon of information about two outlaws whose legend was definitely airbrushed by the entertainment industry. Harrelson and Costner have great presence and chemistry in the film, and the amazing Kathy Bates, despite being shown in only a few scenes, introduces many Americans to a female governor who served at a time when not very many women were in politics. Set against a backdrop of hard times in the US, when hunger was familiar to many in the underclass, the film sheds light on the culture and politics of the time without being overbearing or preachy.

Be inspired. There are so many worthy stories just waiting to be told, in song, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and film.

(Kay B. Day/April 2, 2019)


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