“WITH THIS BONNIE AND CLYDE KINDA THING”
Last Friday, I got home around 6, after getting an early drink with a friend. I found myself too tired to do any writing or work, and in dire need to keep my mind off certain thoughts. I realized The Bling Ring was opening that night. I had about $20 dollars in my bank account and, after a short debate with myself, I decided to spend them on a ticket for the movie, in which a bunch of teenage girls rob the wealthy homes of Hollywood celebrities, so that I could perhaps get some inspiration on how to go about reviving my finances. I got to the theater early enough to secure a spot in the sold out show, and waited in line with flocks of twenty-something perfectly manicured toes. There was a strange sense of excitement and anticipation for the film, and we exchanged knowing smirks and slick glances, as if it was suddenly 1923 and we were about to covertly enter a speakeasy.
The ride begins with the pounding, stubbornly disobedient sound of Sleigh Bells’ notorious bass on shots of sparkling jewelry, glittery Chanel purses and lavish furs as Rebecca, the master mind behind the burglaries, turns toward us as she opens the sliding door of a victim’s closet and sighs, somewhere between sensual and bored: “Let’s go shopping”. In the assertive company of her gullible friend Mark, Rebecca walks down Lynchian LA boulevards at night, breaks into Ferraris left unlocked, and pockets wads of cash and credit cards, occasionally bags of cocaine, left by neighbors who, sleeping in their Beverly Hills mansions, didn’t care enough to secure their properties, and will hardly notice that they’re gone. The crimes escalate from small thefts into breaking into houses. At first their targets are the homes of friends away on vacation in Jamaica, then small celebrities, and finally the epicurean and self-indulgent domus of magna diva Paris Hilton. “Let’s go to Paris” hearts Rebecca to Mark, who finally feels accepted into the cruelly judgmental world of teenagers, and is joined by Nicki (Emma Watson), Sam and Chloe, who share the same obsession for high-end fashion items and self-importance. As the girls wander though Paris’ magical kingdom of sunglasses, purses and Laboutins, it’s hard not to share their excitement, as much as it’s hard to feel sorry for Paris Hilton (She never locked her house and the group robbed her multiple times). Devoid of romanticism, these girls are depicted as they are: superficial, snobby and pretentious. Yet there is a sense of glorious achievement as they walk out of the houses carrying millions of dollars zipped in Louis Vuitton bags. And they look so good doing it. In retrospect, once they inevitably get caught and it’s all over, Mark summarizes the media’s interest in the story and their almost immediate fame. To the Vanity Fair journalist, he confesses: “America has a sick fascination with this Bonnie and Clyde kinda thing”.
Outlaws have always held a special place in the landscape of American culture. When the security camera zooms in and freezes on the Rebecca’s face as the rushes out of the house, her close-up resembles a modern version of a wanted poster, which, when photography became popular back at the beginning of 1900, first established the new outlaw iconography. Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde starts with a camera reference, as a slideshow of sepia-toned pictures of the infamous couple plays, establishing the fundamental importance of the image that transcends the reality of life and transports us into the realm of imagination. Bonnie and Clyde achieved celluloid fame through their photographs and were well aware and careful of their public image. Rebecca and her entourage are seized by the same obsessive admiration for their idols, whose image is omnipresent in the media. Released in 1967, at the end of the beat era, the film was an instant success. Birthed in a moment of social and cultural rebellion, this romanticized portrait of the delinquent couple was appealing to the counterculture audience, which shared the same feelings of nonconformity and insubordination. Bonnie and Clyde became tragic countercultural heroes, shut down and brutally murdered by a draconian authority.
What is also very appealing about Bonnie and Clyde is their Robin Hood empathy for those who are poor and disadvantaged. Children of the Great Depression, they rebel against social injustice, and their actions are justified as a direct consequence of a desperate climate. When Clyde meets the poor farmer who’s lost everything to a bank, he shoots the bank sign and declares: “We rob banks”. Devoid of the grandeur of Clyde’s gesture, Niki (Emma Watson) in her Kardashian-inspired accent similarly declares to her friend, as lamenting a nuisance: “I wanna rob”. Rebecca and her friends don’t act in the name of ideals, and severely lack morals, yet in their helpless ignorance and abyssal oblivion, they are rebelling against something that might be only slightly perceived by them, and uber-consciously known by us, which is the social injustice and paradox of our society in our time. The fact that Paris Hilton owns a multi-million dollar mansion and hundreds of thousands worth in clothes and goods while the world is struggling to survive a brutal economic crisis doesn’t sit well with us. So when Rebecca and the girls trash Paris’ ostentatious clubroom, it’s hard not to nod in approval, just like we did watching Zuccotti Park on TV. In the apathy of their cocoon, the adolescents of the Bling Ring are hardly tragic heroes, and are the direct product of a cultural void, the same void that they devotedly worship. Unlike Bonnie and Clyde, they have not suffered injustice, but are rather a priori alienated from the world by their upbringing. They compulsively assault shoes and clothes with the same rampage of the crowd of spectators who snatched buttons and laces from Bonnie and Clyde’s dead corpses. . Fashion is the easiest way to identify with our heroes. Bonnie’s berets were incredibly popular in the seventies, just like 1930’s fedoras, and other forms of gangster inspired fashion. The teenagers in Bling Ring imitate their icon by dressing and acting exactly like them, and take it as far as to steal from them, somehow clinching to that identity they so desperately want to make their own.
The theater laughs at Mark’s candid dance moves and the ladies can’t help but to let out an amused cry. As the images go by, glazed by a late-nineties VHS nostalgic look, the young band swiftly moves through LA’s blue night, the shine of its golden distant lights low on the horizon. In the club the music fades as they dance and rise, smiling to each other, their movements slowed down. Against a backdrop of colored lights, stripped of their fancy clothes and glossy shades, their hair softly bouncing off their faces, they seem happy. And some of us might be able to lift our judgments for a moment, and see them as they are: just kids.
I walk out of the theater and into the night and I’m alone again. I think of that one time last summer when the two of us broke into a fancy house under construction by the shore, found a can of paint and savaged its walls, wandered through floors, and jumped through missing sections of the roof. We drank beer and smoked cigarettes in the attic. I said I wanted a garden and a fountain.
I walk to 1st avenue, and hop the turnstile of the L train. I know there is no booth there, so I won’t get caught.
Francesca Coppola is a Filmmaker & Director living in Brooklyn, NY.
She has taken classes and performed with Poetry Teachers NYC.