Here are a couple of articles on Clint Eastwood as Warner Brothers releases a massive box set of all things Clint. One, a loving appreciation by David Denby in The New Yorker:
Indifferently reviewed when it came out, “The Outlaw Josey Wales” received a stunning compliment six years later. Orson Welles, who had seen the movie four times, said on “The Merv Griffin Show,” “It belongs with the great Westerns. You know, the great Westerns of Ford and Hawks and people like that.”
Welles’s invocation of names from the past is a reminder of the singularity of Eastwood’s path. John Ford appeared in just a few silent films; Howard Hawks never acted in movies. Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy, James Stewart, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden, Steve McQueen, and Sean Connery never directed a feature. John Wayne directed only twice, and badly; ditto Burt Lancaster. Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Robert De Niro, and Sean Penn have directed a few movies each, with mixed commercial and artistic success. The comparison with Beatty is irresistible and telling. Both were pretty boys who emerged from television in the nineteen-sixties. Both were casual piano players, catnip to women. Both cast actresses they were involved with. Both were extremely ambitious, and engaged seriously in politics. Beatty has had a fascinating career as a producer and a hyperenergetic stimulator of persons and projects, but, along with his genuine achievements, the principal activity of his professional life for considerable stretches has been getting people excited about what he wants to do, rather than actually doing it. He holds endless meetings, fusses over details, keeps people waiting for years.
If Eastwood likes a story, he buys or commissions the script, moves rapidly into production, shoots the film on a short schedule and, until recently, on a modest budget. If he knows an actor or an actress’s work, he doesn’t ask for a reading. He casts quickly and dislikes extensive rehearsals and endless takes. If someone else is supposed to direct, then falters or becomes too slow or indecisive for his taste—as did Philip Kaufman on “Josey Wales,” and the writer Richard Tuggle on “Tightrope”—he pushes him aside and takes over. Like Bergman, Godard, and Woody Allen, he works hard and fast, an impatient man who likes calm and order, and relies on the same crew from picture to picture. As a professional code, this seems obvious enough, but, in recent years, who else in big-time American filmmaking but Eastwood, Allen, and, more lately, the Coen Brothers has practiced it?
Meanwhile, over at The Daily Beast, Allen Barra thinks Eastwood is ridiculously overrated:
Most of the films in the collection—including those Eastwood directed as well as those in which he appeared as an actor—are notable only for being mind-numbing and calculatingly risk-free. I won’t waste time discussing Eastwood as an actor, but will simply say that the man who made him a star, Sergio Leone, had it right more than four decades ago when he compared Eastwood to Robert De Niro: “They don’t even belong in the same profession. De Niro throws himself into this or that role, putting on a personality the way someone else might put on his coat… while Eastwood throws himself into a suit of armor and lowers the visor with a rusty clang.” Eastwood, said Leone, “Had only two expressions: with or without a hat.”
It might be argued that scarcely anyone but his most fawning admirers has ever taken Eastwood seriously as an actor and that it’s as a director that he has made his real statement, but what if it’s true, as David Thomson argues, “As a director he matches his own work as an actor?”—which Thomson intends as a compliment. What is one to make of the score of lead-footed clunkers he has directed over the last four decades? To name just a few (most of which are in the Warner Brothers collection), Breezy (1973), The Eiger Sanction (1975), The Gauntlet (1977), Firefox (1982), Sudden Impact (1983), Heartbreak Ridge (1986), The Rookie (1990), White Hunter, Black Heart (1990), The Bridges of Madison County (1995), Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997), Absolute Power (1997), True Crime (1999), Space Cowboys (2000), Bloodwork (2002), Flags of Our Fathers (2006), and Changeling (2008).
Really, how many of these films would you ever want to see again? How many of them did you really think were all that good the first time you saw them, if you saw them?
Next up, Matt B will leave entertaining and informative comments about why Denby nails it and Barra misses the boat completely.