More Eastwood…

Posted by · 2:00 am · August 14th, 2008

These must be hard times for anyone who doesn’t like Clint Eastwood, and I realise that we at In Contention aren’t doing much to reduce the saturation. But with two pictures coming up in the space of four months, and a massive retrospective at the BFI Southbank (formerly the National Film Theatre, for those of you who haven’t been in London recently), he is – again – the man of the moment.

To tie in with the retrospective, the UK press has been awash with Eastwood coverage, but this piece in last week’s Independent was only just brought to my attention, and rather nice it is too. It’s more in line with the idolising tone of Sight and Sound’s recent profile than Alex Cox’s hastily executed contrarian view in the New Statesman (a missed opportunity, to say the least). Writer James Mottram doesn’t really have anything new to add, but in true Independent fashion, it’s considered and thorough, with a nice sprinkling of typically pithy Clint quotes. This one in particular raised a smile:

Now he is 12 years into his second marriage, to former journalist Dina Ruiz, some 35 years his junior. And with seven children by five different women, it’s no surprise that he says: “I still feel film-making is the second most fun thing to do.”

Elsewhere, it’s nice to see Mottram giving due appreciation to Eastwood’s earlier directorial feats, a phase that tends to get slighted in his career overviews. In particular, he singles out the film that I think might be the second-greatest of his career:

To dismiss his earlier work as director is to forget his diversity. While there were misfires, like the Cold War thriller Firefox, these were far outweighed by the successes, like 1976’s elegiac Western The Outlaw Josey Wales. Always delivering films under budget, he was given the freedom by Warners to surprise us, such as with his gentle road movies, Bronco Billy and Honkytonk Man.

Good catch. I must say I’ve never squared with the oft-repeated view that Eastwood keeps improving as a director (insert “fine wine” metaphor here), largely because he was pretty hot stuff to start with. I keep saying it, but “Play Misty for Me” is one hell of a debut. (Anyway, if that theory was true, that would imply that he’s made a better film than “Unforgiven” in the past sixteen years. You won’t convince me of that.)

I must say I’m puzzled by the timing of the BFI review – if they’d held off a month or two, they could have sneaked in a premiere of “Changeling,” at least. Still, why quibble – I’m off tonight to watch “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” in the comfort and beauty of London’s finest cinema. Thank God for the BFI.

→ 5 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

5 responses so far

  • 1 8-14-2008 at 7:47 am

    John Foote said...

    While reasearching my upcoming book on Eastwood, I found out something extraordinary about the man — he is an artist. Now had anyone in the seventies said to me that one day I would believe Eastwood to be an artist and a great director I would have laughed in ther face. Dirty Harry? The dude who makes movies with the ape?? C’mon!!! But Eastwood seeks challenges and likes to take risks as an actor and a director. Look at his debut Play Misty for Me which was followed by a revisionistic western, and then Breezy, a light comedy?? From there we move to Bronch Billy and Honky Tonk Man which are great advances for him as both actor and director. Sure there are failures along the way, the dreadful The Gauntlet, which Eastwood somehow saw as a screwball comedy, and The Eiger Sanction, but these films lead to Bird, which was the arrival of Eastwood as an artis in full control of his substantial gifts. My God he even got better as an actor with powerful performances in Unforgiven, The Bridges of Madison County and Million Dollar Baby. I love it when established actors and directors are possessed with the courage to step away from what they are known for, what they do well and easy and move in another direction. Not all of his films terrific, I am well aware of that, but when he is on, which is more often than not…he’s among the very best we have. Anyone succesful seems to be an easy target…could his detractors do what he has accomplished either in their own world or his? Have his attackers had the courage to step away from what they do well and take a chance on something different? That is the mark of a true artist and why I include Eastwood in the same breath as Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg.

  • 2 8-14-2008 at 8:56 am

    Neel Mehta said...

    Seven children by five different women? Dude’s the Shawn Kemp of Hollywood.

  • 3 8-14-2008 at 1:31 pm

    Henrique said...

    I agree with you: Play Misty for Me is an excellent film. It shows that Eastwood had the sense of subtlety and calmness since the beginning of his career as a filmmaker. It is one of his several underappreciated films. I think the others are The bridges of Madison County, Pale Rider and True Crime.

  • 4 8-14-2008 at 6:19 pm

    Jeff said...

    “Anyway, if that theory was true, that would imply that he’s made a better film than “Unforgiven” in the past sixteen years. You won’t convince me of that.”

    Hm, now what’s that saying about there being none so blind as those who will not see? :-) Hey, actually that could sum up all the Clint naysayers! Seriously, as a longtime Eastwood fan (over three decades now) & one who does regard Eastwood as American cinemas finest living director, I can no longer go along with the view that Unforgiven is Eastwood’s best. He has made much better films since – especially Million Dollar Baby, whose central dilemma & indeed ending is far, far tougher than anything Unforgiven has to offer (as well as featuring Eastwood’s best ever screen performance).
    Likewise his Iwo Jima diptych is a more ambitious & questioning exploration of the effects of ideology & culture on the boys sent off to fight – as well as attaining, directorially, a kind of austere poetic beauty – than anything happening in Big Whiskey.

    Unforgiven has always seemed to me to stand as the summation of what one could broadly call the first phase of Eastwood’s screen persona, the Man With No Name character which made Eastwood an international superstar & which he spent much of the first 30 years of his career spinning variations on. With Unforgiven he finally put that persona to rest & that I think is the major significance of that movie.

    Outside of that though I think Unforgiven is a smart & knowing but otherwise entirely conventional western. It is certainly not revisionist as some have claimed. There is nothing in it – narratively, thematically or stylistically – that would disturb or otherwise alienate any fan of Ford or Hawks, or indeed of any fan of the westerns of half a century earlier. For myself I would place The Outlaw Josey Wales on at least the same level of accomplishment as Unforgiven – if not a little bit higher.

    Don’t get me wrong – I do like Unforgiven, it’s a great film but I can no longer in all conscience convince myself that it is Eastwood’s best simply because I no longer believe that it is. The 16 years since his first Oscar win have indeed led to better & more accomplished work & that shouldn’t be surprising because Eastwood has kept reaching for new things & in the process – as film critic David Thomson noted in a Guardian piece a few years back – ‘ .. he has enlarged himself as an artist.’

    And consider how rare it is – in fact almost unheard of historically speaking – for any American director to do their greatest work at 70 & beyond. It has happened more often amongst European filmmakers but the quality & consistency of Eastwood’s work & the level of critical acclaim it has won is unprecedented amongst US directors. As he nears 80 it raises the intriguing question of how much longer Eastwood can go on, indeed how much longer he wants too. The new interview in S&S perhaps offers a clue as Eastwood talks admiringly of Manuel Oliveira. Portugese director Oliveira, celebrated at the recent Cannes festival, just passed his 100th birthday & guess what … is still making movies!

  • 5 8-14-2008 at 11:08 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I am by no means a Clint naysayer, Jeff – as my article makes quite clear, I am a huge fan of a lot of his work. I think he’s made some fine films since Unforgiven – A Perfect World, Mystic River and Letters From Iwo Jima in particular (though Million Dollar Baby never connected with me the way it does with most people).

    I simply think Unforgiven is the perfect summation of his storytelling abilities, technical gifts and personal concerns – I personally don’t think he’s bettered it. (Moreover, I think his two other greatest films were pre-Unforgiven: Josey Wales and Bird.)

    You’re welcome to disagree with me. But don’t brand me a hater simply because I like his recent work a little less.