Saturday, February 28, 2009


I have never been able to assess works of art in terms of their politics. It always seems like a category error, as in 'I don't like Hamlet because I don't agree with it.' I'll make a brief exception in the case of Clint Eastwood's superb Gran Torino. It is patriotic, but in such an ambivalent way that, if they are paying attention, it will irritate the right; it is liberal but in such a politically incorrect way that, if they are paying attention, it will irritate the left. I like a nice flat, even landscape of irritation as a backdrop to my politics. I guess this doesn't win Oscars - this film won none and should have had three considering the competition this year. But I often wonder how good Eastwood the director actually is. For some reason, I can't quite tell. I mean obviously he's very good, but is he John Ford? He's as good a craftsman, but is he as great an artist? Is he too much of a craftsman? Are his films too finished and, therefore, lacking the essential open-endedness of greatness? I just don't know. Do you?


  1. In the words of Zhou Enlai, first Premier of the People's Republic of China, it is too early to say. Certainly Unforgiven delivered a kick up a genre's backside of such force as rarely happens. Clint votes Republican I believe, but not like an idiot, which is probably the best place to be in the US political spectrum.

    As for irritating both sides, yes, I understand that place. Trey Parker and Matt Stone. But I detect a strong streak of that in you, too, Appleyard. Let the expectations pile a bit, build some bridges and then burn them, burn them. Stay aloof, it's the manly way, the Clint way; be the Outlaw Jose Wales of politics.

  2. Unforgiven, what a movie. That will have to go on the rewatch list, in the todo file.

    Appaloosa is worth a watch.

  3. Even a great director needs a good script, and good scripts are very rare. Clint bought 'Unforgiven' years before he filmed it: he wanted to play the lead himself when he was old enough, and i guess he knew scripts like that don't come across every year. Check out the scene in 'Unforgiven' where Clint is waiting for his loot outside town, and the whore mentions that Ned is dead, thinking he already knows - incredibly well done.

  4. He's certainly one of the best directors working in the American mainstream today and he's not afraid to try to innovate, witness Letters From Iwo Jima.
    If by Greatness we mean works that will stand the test of time then I think The Outlaw Josey Wales and Unforgiven will be watched as long as people still watch movies.

  5. I fell asleep in Unforgiven - no that's not right I just couldn't stand it any more and left the cinema.

    Did the same with the UBER APPALLING Life is Wonderful. That made me sick in the wrong way.

    Josey Wales - excellent though.

    The Iwo Jima films were very dull.

    Clint is getting better I think: the Angelina Jolie film was pretty good, and I will see Gran Torino.

  6. I think Eastwood is a better director than usually credited because he prefers understatement, more in the tradition of Don Siegel than Sergio Leone. This means that bad scripts tend to stand out. There’s no clever camerawork to disguise them.
    ‘Unforgiven’ is all about understatement; the long drawn out sequences in which violence is downplayed before it erupts but then falls short in the darkness. The greater violence of the character is hinted towards, as though he could kill every single one of them and never once hesitate.

    Nobody mentioned ‘High Plains Drifter’ which has some great moments and I hold a soft spot for ‘Pale Rider’ (which is effectively the same film).

  7. Clints, or Crints, depending upon the profile of you mince pies, was at his mean moody and magnificent best as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide, the TV series that sent him on his way down the celluloid slipway, This series in black and white was as good as it gets, six shooter wise.
    The movies he made with Leone were at the time a breath of fresh air, tongue in cheek escapism.
    Play Misty for me was one of those "it was so naff it was brilliant" movies,
    His direction should be first class, he's been there and got the tee shirt.
    Anyone wishing to immerse themselves in the man with no name, head for Spain's mini Hollywood, out in the Sierras

  8. Clint is obviously popular at the moment, which is to say that he somehow captures the Zeitgeist of an aging and slightly disgruntled American movie-going audience. Those who grew up with him in iconic anti-hero roles like Dirty Harry are reconnecting with him in his later day movies, which capture the same feelings as his earlier films from a slightly less radical vantage.

    The question of Clint as an artist is whether these new movies, restrained from the bristling anger and energy of his early work, will keep capturing audiences. Clearly those themes of the dissenting lone wolf are eternal, but do his current films capture that, or just express yesterday's generation's quieting? Probably the best place to find that answer is in ticket sales: how well do his movies play with the 18-35 market? Find that, and you might answer your question.

  9. "Gran Torino" was a solid little film, but it wasn't brilliant. It was Eastwood being Eastwood and, as my husband said, a little too much of the snarly face every time he got mad (you could just picture the cartoon steam coming out of his ears).

    Last night we watched "Ghost Town" with Ricky Gervais (I've had him on my mind since your interview). Something went awry there. What was such a great premise sort of fizzled. A "romance" where no one ever so much as kisses is a bit worrisome. So is Gervais there with all his snark but none of his bark. He really DID seem like a crabby old dentist.

  10. I saw Gran Torino today. Eastwood's Walt Kowalski reminded me a lot of the guys I grew up with who were older than I - my brother's friends. A hell of a lot more impressive than the metrosexual dipshits who seem to be in charge these days.
    "Clint votes Republican I believe, but not like an idiot, which is probably the best place to be in the US political spectrum." It's the place I am, Brit.

  11. Film criticism as I like it best - more opinions than one person could reasonably emit, but none seems superfluous. No need to add mine :)

  12. He didn't direct but i must mention 'In the Line of Fire', what a dream-film, pitting Clint against John Malkovich's assassin. What about that dialogue where Malk is promising to kill the President:

    Malk: I have a rendezvous with death, Frank.

    Clint: You have a rendezvous with my ass, motherfucker!

    Cinema doesn't get any better. When Clint gets his killing face on you know you're in for some good times. He just gets crueller and crueller with each year.

  13. He was a great director for "Outlaw Josey Wales" and "Pale Rider". "High Plains Drifter could be regarded either as a warm-up act or the first part of a trilogy. For those films he deserves to be called great, even though none of his subsequent work except "The Unforgiven" has reached the same level.

  14. "Million Dollar Baby," Ade! That film was fantastic...Hilary Swank like a female version of Clint.