Arthur Penn has died the day after his 88th birthday. He had been ill for the last year.
He was a rarity for an American director in changing the course of cinema, notably for his “Bonnie and Clyde” in 1967. It took inspiration from the French new wave, creating the antihero, stylising violence, and ushering in what many see as Hollywood’s golden age, when the dream factories produced gritty, often bleak movies .
From the start Penn’s work challenged preconceived ideas; 1958’s “Left Handed Gun” was a dark, questioning western in an epoch of formulaic oaters featuring a young Paul Newman, even though Penn was furious at studio-imposed changes, and he returned to the genre twice in the 70s.
“Little Big Man” had Dustin Hoffman in the lead role, and identifying with the native Americans, and “The Missouri Breaks” paired Jack Nicholson with Marlon Brando. On release it was deemed a failure. Today it is seen as a minor masterpiece.
“Alice’s Restaurant” was a wry look at the hippy movement with an Arlo Guthrie soundtrack, “Night Moves” was a tight and tragic thriller with Gene Hackman and a naked and abused 14 year-old Melanie Griffith in her first role, but by the end of the 70s he was done with cinema, returning to theatre, and television.
“Bonnie and Clyde” was reviled for its violence and adored for its panache when released; Penn will be revered.