I had to cut a lot, but it is probably just as well. I wanted to mention, for instance, my suspicion that Beatty’s appearance in the last scene especially was a nod to Zbigniew Cybulski, and not just Belmondo in Breathless.
Thanks to everyone on Facebook who tried to help with research!
In patented boomer fashion, Beatty, his colleagues, and his admirers—when defending the picture—adopted a moralistic tone about an immoral subject; that now-familiar voice they’d so far reserved for their sex-and-drugs propaganda was now put to use normalizing violence.
Naive Americans, you see, needed to see what mayhem really looked like. No more mortally wounded big-screen cowboys clutching their bloodless chests heart-attack-style! Why, in-your-face screen slaughter—like porn and weed —was grown-up, even weirdly good for you, man, like wheat germ.
Besides the fact that tens of thousands of Americans, from emergency-room nurses to armed-forces vets, already knew what real violence looked like better than two guys from Esquire and a pussy-hound matinee idol, a moment’s reflection reveals—you’ll never guess!—that Beatty & Co.’s “authenticity” relied just as heavily as any corny “old-fashioned” movie on artifice. Sometimes even more so if you consider the unprecedented use of hidden squibs to pull off the notorious “dance of death” finale—which, note, is shot in ultra-natural, hyperrealistic, er, slow motion.
(The filmmakers also ordered special effects to ensure that a chunk of Clyde’s scalp would visibly blow off during that sequence. Why? To reference the Kennedy assassination. Wow, deep, man—except…what does that even mean? That their slain liberal president hero was really an impotent, two-bit bank robber? Has anyone else even asked them that during the past fifty years?)