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The Best Online Writing About Clint Eastwood

Features
by Steve Greene
September 21, 2012 2:32 PM
2 Comments
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Clint Eastwood.
Clint Eastwood.

Whether you believe that the gravelly voice and steely glare of Clint Eastwood are past their prime or as vital as ever, there's no denying his decades-long contribution to the film world. In honor of Eastwood's latest film, "Trouble with the Curve" (or in spite of it, depending on your opinion), we've compiled a list of some of the more insightful pieces available online about Eastwood's career. Some are profiles (both literal and figurative), some are critical considerations; others tackle Eastwood's public persona. Given the nature of the Internet, these pieces understandably skew a little recent; if there's a piece from the archives that also warrants consideration, leave us a note and a link in the comments section. 

Dispensing with the fanfare, feel free to [insert reappropriated iconic Eastwood quote here]:

The Best Writing (On the Internet) About Clint Eastwood

1. Bilge Ebiri on "identity," relating to both his films and his industry reputation ("Why Clint Matters")

"Many have observed that Eastwood, particularly during his mid-to-late period films, has worked in the mold of one of those classical American directors who had to slave away within the studio system but found ways to smuggle their own themes and obsessions into assembly-line-produced films. That’s partly right, but this is a very different time, and Eastwood, at least for the past couple of decades, has had plenty of clout (and, of course, plenty of money). He didn’t need to go slumming around in pulp thrillers. I’d argue that he wanted to make these genre films, and that he wanted to do them in such a way as to downplay the genre elements. So, in a way, the onscreen identity crises of his characters seem to mirror the offscreen identity crisis of his cinema, and of his persona.  This isn’t a case of a director trying to carve out a place for himself within an unforgiving system. Eastwood has never been at odds with the studios. He’s been at odds with himself."

2. Matt Zoller Seitz on his films' recurring theme of revenge ("Kingdom of the Blind")

"Many Eastwood movies have a self-critical aspect, a sense that Eastwood (as actor, director, or both) is examining dark impulses within himself (and humankind) and finding them troubling, pathetic, repulsive. It's the sentiment of a moral, humane, internally consistent filmmaker. Eastwood is all three -- when Eastwood the icon isn't undercutting Eastwood the artist."

3. David Kehr on his filmography for PBS' American Masters series ("Eastwood Noir")

"The continuing fascination of Eastwood's work comes in part from his refusal to make a clear-cut moral choice between social commitment and personal independence. Both options are viewed as equally valid and equally fulfilling — an unusual and provocative position in a film culture where collective values are almost invariably championed over individualism. Yet it is here that Eastwood approaches one of the fundamental contradictions of American life, the conflict between democratic collectivism and capitalist egoism. If Eastwood remains impossible to pin down ideologically — despite the facile charges of 'fascism' he faced in the 1970s — it's because he has never forced these values into tidy, artificial reconciliation. The ambivalence runs deep in Eastwood's work, just as it does in American life."

4. Michael Mirasol on his imposing physique ("Clint Eastwood and His Iconic Side View Profile")

"The first true film in which Eastwood’s profile became noticeable was in Sergio Leone’s 'A Fistful of Dollars.' On casting Eastwood, Leone said, 'I looked at him and I didn’t see any character… just a physical figure.' In that sense, Eastwood might have been the perfect choice for the film. With Leone’s penchant for extreme close-ups of his characters’ faces, often exposed to the extreme heat of the desert, Eastwood's rough complexion would reflect the barrenness of his environment. His 'Hollywood' looks amongst his often less-than-handsome Italian co-stars would only further enhance his visual uniqueness."

5. David Denby on his filmography ("Out of the West")

"It began with his appearance. He stood about six feet three, as tall as [John] Wayne. He had gray-green eyes; a forehead like the rock face of Yosemite’s Half Dome; a perfect jawline. A fitness nut, he was broad-shouldered by nature and muscular from the hours spent in his workout room, but not overly muscled—not a media joke like Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger. A mass of light-brown hair piled up on his head in a pompadour and flowed back in waves; he had an animal grace, a big-cat tension as he moved. Wayne was graceful, too, but he had an unusually long torso, and he rolled slightly as he walked. As Wills pointed out, Wayne, swinging his bulk down the streets of the Old West, couldn’t imagine being challenged by anyone. Eastwood, ever wary, couldn’t imagine a world free of challenge. Wayne’s confidence, Wills says, made him especially popular in a country that had won the Second World War and shouldered the burdens of the Cold War. One could add that Eastwood’s guardedness, and his Magnum, offered reassurance to a country that was losing in Vietnam and feared chaos in the streets."

6. Scott Foundas on "Million Dollar Baby"-era Eastwood ("For a Few Million More...")

"Director and former film critic Curtis Hanson has recalled how, upon paying a visit to the production of 'Coogan's Bluff' (1968) -- the first of Eastwood’s five collaborations with director Don Siegel -- he was struck by Eastwood’s habit of remaining on the set in between setups and even during the filming of scenes he wasn’t in. Already, just two years before forming Malpaso and three before directing (at Siegel’s urging) his own debut feature, 'Play Misty For Me,' Clint was an eager student and a tireless observer. No matter a business that religiously favors the present moment, Clint seemed to be planning for the future, as though, well before employing it as the ad line for his 1988 Charlie Parker biopic, 'Bird,' he already had in mind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s epigram 'There are no second acts in American lives.' 'At that stage of life, you don’t know what old is,' Eastwood says. 'When I was starting to do 'Play Misty,' I thought, 'In a few years, when I’m 45, I’ll be old, because I’m 40 now.' I had no idea I’d still be working at this age. Great guys who I admired -- Billy Wilder, for example, nobody was hiring him in his late 60s, and here’s a man who lived to be 95! You never know, either you go out of touch with reality or people just get tired of hiring you, figure there’s some young, 25-year-old guy who can do it better. I think you’ve got to always expand on what you’re doing. You’ve got to stay open-minded.'"

7. Christopher Orr on the political perceptions of his films ("Dirty Harry or p.c. wimp?")

"Why is 'Magnum Force,' with its explicit rebuke of vigilantism, so rarely cited as a film in which Eastwood began the deconstruction of his vigilante icon? One reason is that in subsequent films (including the remaining 'Dirty Harry' sequels) Eastwood reverted to his vengeful, outside-the-law persona with little obvious alteration. But another likely factor is the feel of 'Magnum Force.' In art as in politics — and certainly where the two intersect — our responses are often more attitudinal than philosophical. We respond to the tone and then interpret the underlying facts in a way that will be consistent with that initial reaction. And while the moral of 'Magnum Force' may have been in clear and deliberate opposition to that of 'Dirty Harry,' the atmospherics weren’t all that different. Once again, Clint is alone in the department. (No matter that this time it’s because his boss and fellow officers are fanatical vigilantes rather than criminal-coddling bureaucrats.) Once again, it ultimately comes down to him, the Good Man against the Bad Men, with no time for mercy or cowardice or playing by the rules."

8. Lillian Ross' profile, which focuses, in part, on his directing style ("Nothing Fancy")

"During the seven-week 'Mystic River' shoot, Eastwood regularly spent an hour, after a day’s filming, in the hotel’s gym, where, among other routines, he bench-pressed two hundred pounds. As soon as he arrived in Boston, he went to a whole-foods market and stocked up on health foods. He installed a blender and a refrigerator in his hotel suite, and made smoothies every morning… When Eastwood is directing, instead of peering with the cinematographer through the lens, he uses a digital, battery-operated handheld monitor; it has a seven-inch screen, which is linked to the steadicam lens. In Boston, he didn’t follow the usual routine of watching video playbacks on the set or having the actors watch or worry about their performances."

9. Deborah Allison on the various stylistic aspects of his directorial efforts

"Perhaps more than anything the tone of his films is characterised by the tempo of the editing. If elements of his shooting style, such as the rapid cutting of action sequences, owe a great deal to Don Siegel, the dominant pace tends towards all the lazy grace of the characters for which Eastwood is best known as an actor. It is rare for Eastwood to bring in a film under two hours long, with 'Bird' stretching to 161 minutes and 'Midnight in the Garden' not far behind. Eastwood characterises his style as 'a combination of pace and an eye for composition', although in recent years many critics have expressed concern that pace is exactly what Eastwood’s films now lack. Certainly his more recent thrillers, such as 'True Crime' and 'Blood Work,' proceed with a more languorous gait than did earlier films such as 'The Gauntlet,' or even the critically panned 'Firefox' (1982). Interpreted by several reviewers as a throwback to a far older style of filmmaking, 'Blood Work' inspired critic Kenneth Turan to muse, 'You don’t know whether to admire the film’s stately nature and call it classicism or be exasperated by a noticeable lack of pace'."

10. Paul Nelson in conversation with Eastwood (from Kevin Avery's "Conversations with Clint: Paul Nelson's Lost Interviews with Clint Eastwood: 1979-1983")

"PAUL: The money wasn't so good, I guess, if you were a contract player for the studio back then.

CLINT: When I was a contract player at Universal, I made seventy-five dollars a week. I was there a year and a half. When I left there I was maybe making a hundred or something like that, but even then that wasn't a hundred because you got forty weeks a year, then you were on layoff for the rest of the time...You'd come in to play a pilot and they'd throw the mask on you, a helmet, the goggles, and so-and-so and such-and-such, and you're a body wig. There's no impression - and you don't fool yourself by thinking there's an impression. You do the job, you're glad to have the credit, and you're glad to be just working, even for the fun of being in on the action. You know you're not going to set the world on fire."

And, of course, be sure to check out our very own Matt Singer's look at Eastwood's 1971 directorial debut, "Play Misty for Me." Again, if we missed anything else, let us know below.

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2 Comments

  • Tristan J | September 26, 2012 3:53 AMReply

    http://ferretbrain.com/articles/article-595
    This article on Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Rider and Unforgiven is pretty cool.

    "It's tempting to see The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Rider, and Unforgiven, when viewed all together as a set, as forming a counterpoint to Sergio Leone's original Man With No Name trilogy, to the extent that each of them is a reaction to them. The Outlaw Josey Wales questions whether the Man With No Name can really act as independently as he does in Leone's films; Pale Rider speculates about what place the Man would have in society, if he chose to join it for a time, and Unforgiven asks why we as an audience like the Man With No Name in the first place, and why the people who call on his help feel that they need him."

  • Jon Abrams | September 24, 2012 9:13 AMReply

    With respect to all of these terrific writers listed, I'd like to (quite humbly) throw my own hat, poncho, & cheroot in the ring, as I've written extensively about Clint on my own site:

    http://demonsresume.wordpress.com/category/clint/

    Let me know if you get a chance to check it out!

    JA.

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