Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde,” written by this year’s Maine International Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award winner Robert Benton with writer David Newman and with Robert Towne (“Chinatown”), begins in silence and dark screen, followed by a series of sepia tone snapshots that seem to have been taken from a Barrow family album.

Slowly, creeping up from the darkness, we hear Rudy Vallee singing Charles Henderson’s 1930 song “Deep Night.” Now we’re seduced. That’s Penn’s magic.

We move on to the young, gorgeous Faye Dunaway on a hot summer afternoon, looking like no hayseed waitress who ever walked the Earth, getting dressed, looking out the window and seeing Warren Beatty trying to steal her mother’s car: the Depression-era version of “meeting cute.”

So begins one of the ’70s’ greatest films, and that’s in a decade that gave us our guest Benton’s “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Jaws,” “The Godfather” and “Star Wars.” It’s safe to say that the stars fell on the ’70s.

Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker made crime history. Beatty and Dunaway made movie history bringing them to life. Even watching it today, we can see that Beatty brought the fire, Dunaway the smoke.

When “Bonnie and Clyde” was released in 1967, film critic Roger Ebert called it “The best American film of the year, a milestone in the history of American movies, a work of truth and brilliance. Years from now, it is quite possible that it will be seen as the definitive film of the 1970s.”

Here we are almost 50 years later. Its stars, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons and even the delightful Michael J. Pollard seem to have faded away and are barely found on today’s screens.

But for all time, their roles in the movie still glow on the screen everywhere it’s shown, painfully on small television screens, and gloriously at film festivals, as it is here this week at the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville.

Directed by Arthur Penn, from a brilliant script by what then were a couple of new boys on the street: David Newman and Robert Benton, and produced by star Warren Beatty, “Bonnie and Clyde” will always remain on the top shelf of great, truly American films; and it was only the beginning for Benton, who went on to give us Maine writer Richard Russo’s “Nobody’s Fool,” “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Late Show.” All of which fill the screen in this year’s 19th annual Maine International Film Festival

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.

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