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Play it Again, Misty

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.

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1 Mattpat11   ~  Mar 4, 2010 11:21 am

I saw Absolute Power last week, thinking there was no way it could be bad, because it was a Clint Eastwood movie.

I was wrong.

2 matt b   ~  Mar 4, 2010 11:22 am

Well, Alex has already stated my thesis. The Barra piece just reads like a premeditated hit job and he doesn't back up his points very well at all. Who in their right mind ever suggested comparing DeNiro to Eastwood as actors? They don't even set out to accomplish the same goals while on screen. Eastwood is not a dynamic actor, he's an incredibly knowing screen presence. He learned very early on how effective his image was on the big screen, and how less would equal more. Could you imagine a Method Dirty Harry? What a mess that would be.
What's funny is that I read Barra's list of some of Clint's "clunkers" that we'd never want to watch again and found a few that I like very much.
Look, the bottom line is this: how many movie personalities are icons at Eastwood's level? Given the breadth and length of the success of his career both as a movie star and as a director, he's in rarified company.

3 a.O   ~  Mar 4, 2010 11:22 am

Funny coincidence. I was in Santa Cruz this weekend and one of my dogs (the friendly one) went up to this surfer dressed in a wetsuit and holding his board. She was more excited than usual, and actually jumped up on him. I was embarrassed and I went up to him and apologized, except the words caught in my throat when I saw his face. It was friggin Clint Eastwood. He saw that I recognized him, smiled, and said, "No problem." But it was in that raspy voice he used in so many of his roles, and I got a little chil, almost like he had asked me whether I felt lucky.

4 matt b   ~  Mar 4, 2010 11:23 am

[1] Absolute Power was a failure, no doubt, but it contained a sequence in the beginning that was just fantastic. Really clever filmmaking. Unfortunately, the rest of the film just didn't live up to those opening moments. What a great cast, wasted.

5 RagingTartabull   ~  Mar 4, 2010 11:24 am

I think he's a truly gifted director, almost underrated in some corners. Barra tends to leave out Eastwood's biggest accomplishments as a director as a means to making his argument...thats misleading and more than a little hacky. That would be like me saying "Coppola isn't a good director because Rumblefish and Jack were bad movies"; what the hell kind of logic is that?

As far as an actor, he is what he is. I do not think he's a great performer by any stretch, but very specific types of roles he can easily slip into and excel (I'm thinking along the lines of "In The Line of Fire" or "Unforgiven")

6 matt b   ~  Mar 4, 2010 11:25 am

I do wonder about the vitriol of Leone's comments - seems unusual because Eastwood always speaks so warmly of Leone. I wonder if Clint had just turned Sergio down for something. If you recall, Unforgiven contains the dedications "For Sergio & Don" - Leone and Don Siegel, who Eastwood considers his directing mentors.

7 Alex Belth   ~  Mar 4, 2010 11:32 am

How was "Bird"? I've only seen snippets but never the entire thing.

8 matt b   ~  Mar 4, 2010 11:38 am

[7] I haven't seen Bird in years, but I recall liking it very much with excellent work from Whitaker and Diane Venora.

9 Mattpat11   ~  Mar 4, 2010 11:41 am

[4] How early? Before or after Clint escaped the bumbling secret service agents conducting the world's most incompetent cover up?

10 matt b   ~  Mar 4, 2010 11:46 am

[9] Very early - in short, the scene where Eastwood watches the crime being committed while burglarizing the home. It's really skillful and suggests a better movie. Man, talk about a movie I walked in expecting to love - Eastwood, Hackman, Judy Davis, Laura Linney...

11 Alex Belth   ~  Mar 4, 2010 12:02 pm

I'd also like to see "Play Misty for Me"...

12 matt b   ~  Mar 4, 2010 12:07 pm

[11] I saw Play Misty For Me a year or two ago and its a very effective thriller with some obvious flaws. It's Clint's directorial debut and it shows in a few spots - there's a dreadful romantic montage that seems pointless. However, it manages to be tense and scary at times and works for me. Also, Don Siegel plays a bartender and he and Eastwood are fun to see together.

13 The Hawk   ~  Mar 4, 2010 12:08 pm

Wait a minute ... Clint Eastwood was a pretty boy??

14 bp1   ~  Mar 4, 2010 2:37 pm

[3] Oh. My. God.

Big Eastwood fan here. On my only visit to Washington DC, I had to have my picture taken in front of "Abe" in the same spot where Eastwood was eating ice cream and watching Rene Russo walk away. It was all in fun, but my wife still kids me about it to this day.

[2] It's not as if DeNiro bats 1.000 in his movies. He's had a few phone-it-in performances over the years. "Heat" was a mindless shoot-em-up fun movie, but it wasn't much more than a vehicle to get DeNiro and Pacino sitting across a table from each other - finally sharing some screen time - seeing who can be tougher. DeNiro's "scary mean-face tough guy" isn't all that different from Eastwood's brooding characters.

Ah well. No accounting for taste. I like DeNiro, Eastwood, Pacino - all those guys. I wouldn't expect Pacino to play a cowboy any more than I would expect Eastwood to play a blind rich guy. (hoo ahh)

15 RagingTartabull   ~  Mar 4, 2010 4:26 pm

[14] ooooh I really don't know if I would call "Heat" mindless at all, "Righteous Kill" definitely but not "Heat"-

16 The Hawk   ~  Mar 4, 2010 6:45 pm

fwiw, I despise David Denby.

Eastwood is not as much of an "Actor" as DeNiro but then again DeNiro has been boring for a long, long, long time.

17 The Hawk   ~  Mar 4, 2010 6:45 pm

Also fwiw, Unforgiven pretty much saved my life.

18 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Mar 4, 2010 7:49 pm

[7][11] Huge Eastwood fan..been years since I saw "Bird" but remember liking it. Caused a lot of ruckus in the "jazz community" regarding authenticity, etc. But Clint's jazz fandom is well known (awesome Cannonball Adderley cameo in "Play Misty For Me"!)

"Unforgiven" is a classic, one of the great "American" films.."Mystic River" over-rated crap though, with over-acting Sean Penn and Tim Robbins making me want to hurl..

19 lroibal   ~  Mar 5, 2010 6:18 am

{18} I liked the Book Mystic River better than the movie, but it's interesting that Eastwood is drawn to the subject of killing told through flawed, unlikable characters.

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