10/23/12 - clint eastwood directs

In today's selection -- Clint Eastwood has become one of the most successful directors in Hollywood history. After gaining clout as a feature film star, especially from his role as Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry, Eastwood began a thirty-five years stint directing movies at Warner Bros. This is the longest-standing actor-director relationship with a single studio in the history of the movies, and one that encompasses one-third of the history of the medium itself:

"Harry Callahan had been the negative take on [Eastwood's] basic family-friendly spirit, a radical loner since the death of his wife, a workaholic with maybe a beer and a slice of stale pizza waiting in the fridge when he returns, late at night, to his soulless apartment. It was that aspect of his character, more than his views on the Miranda Decision (and other court cases that expanded the rights of criminals at the expense of their victims), that Clint insists drew him to the character. In a sense, he was every convenience-store clerk with no life outside his paltry job. Except, of course, Harry's job was not paltry. It has its plodding moments, but it was also intermittently exciting, and in his relationship with San Francisco's municipal bureaucracy, it gave him plenty of "take this job and shove it" moments, in which he enacted the most deeply satisfying fantasy of his stuck-in-grade audience.

"I take Dirty Harry -- superbly directed by Don Siegel, Clint's go-to director and always warmly acknowledged mentor in those days -- and its second sequel -- The Enforcer -- the movie in which he briefly finds love with the chunky, earnest, and entirely adorable Tyne Daly -- to be completely serious and rewarding movies in the best populist tradition, blending painfully human issues with a completely satisfying action format. 'I probably made one or two more of those than I should have,' Clint later admitted, but the films were always profitable and making them was a way of maintaining his comfortable relationship with his Warner Bros. bosses.

"As we all know, that's a handshake deal -- with each project set up on its own terms, though typically Clint foregoes substantial front money in return for heavy and immediate backend participation in the grosses. A recent unauthorized biography describes Clint in its title as an 'American Rebel,' which is essentially nonsensical. Like many great movie careers (think Alfred Hitchcock or Howard Hawks), his is based on maintaining non-rebellious relationships with his studio.

"He works so fast and frugally that it's almost impossible for the studio to lose money on his films. Nonetheless, he always tells the executives, as he puts it, 'I can't guarantee you big-selling movie. The only thing I can do is try to make a movie you'll be proud to have your shield on at the beginning of the picture.'

"That, though, is not quite the end of the matter. 'If somebody is putting up money for you to make a movie, there is no reason to get disrespectful about it. You want to do the best you can for the scenes. That doesn't mean you cut out scenes just because they're too expensive,' he muses. 'But at least you don't waste stuff. You don't shoot a lot of stuff you're not going to use, or re-shoot the scenes because you did them wrong in the first place.' In other words, know what you want to do, do it efficiently, and move on confidently.

"This is a truly radical statement. Think back on the reams of reportage you've read over the decades, in which directors and studios have publicly fought over the production and presentation of films, the numbers of movies that have been ripped from their auteur hands and re-cut by the studio. Think, too, about all legendary, career-ending cost overruns on pictures ranging from Cleopatra to Heaven's Gate. Think also about a guy who has brought all his pictures in ahead of schedule and under budget. Then think about Clint's thirty-five years at Warner Bros. -- the longest-standing actor-director relationship with a single studio in the history of the movies, one that encompasses one-third of the history of the medium itself -- and you are truly thinking outside any of the narrow historical boxes into which we attempt to cram our understanding of the movie past."


Richard Schickel


Clint -- A Retrospective




Copyright 2011 by Richard Schickel


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