I can't believe I let his birthday go by earlier this week without paying tribute to one of my all-time favorite actors, filmmakers and icons Clint Eastwood. Aside from being officially the Coolest Guy On The Planet (since his only serious competition, Miles Davis and Warren Oates, are no longer with us), Eastwood has always been an inspiration as that rarest of Hollywood creatures, the person who makes exactly the movies he wants to make, exactly the way he wants them. As an actor, he's always been underrated. As a director--man, I don't even know where to start: Play Misty For Me, High Plains Drifter, Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man, Bird, A Perfect World, Mystic River--all flawed, perhaps, but all very good, with moments of greatness. Plus, Unforgiven, an absolutely magnificent piece of work, and The Outlaw Josey Wales, which is one of the few movies I know that is sheer perfection.
But lately what's been intruiging me about Eastwood are his politics. Or more accurately, how those politics relate to his work.
Clearly, my politics skew far to the left. But in this country, at least, it seems to be nearly impossible to make a left-wing narrative film that isn't 1), hopelessly phony, 2) preaching to the converted, or, most commonly, 3), both.
Take a movie like North Country, the recent Charlize Theron-battles-sexism-in-the-mines epic. The point here is that abusive behavior towards women is bad. Yeah, fine...but who would disagree with that? But aside from the fact that it does nothing to challenge the audience's already-held beliefs, everything about North Country feels wrong, which is to say it feels like a group of well-paid Hollywood types trying their best to pretend like they care about working-class types. It feels patronizing.
That's why two of the Eastwood pictures I find most interesting these days are his stupid redneck comedies, Every Which Way But Loose and its follow-up, Any Which Way You Can. Artistically, these are largely indefensible: they're not funny, and Eastwood's famously fast shooting style betrays him here, since they just look cheap.
Still, the blue collar world these pictures depict--Eastwood plays a truck driver, and he's surrounded by bikers, would-be country singers and a whole lotta drinkin' buddies--is shown without even a hint of condescension. Clearly Eastwood likes all these people, and he shows them warts and all, but he lets them be people, not types. And he uses wonderful actors like Geoffrey Lewis, Bill McKinney and Hank Worden, who look like guys you'd meet in dives.
His politics have shifted somewhat since then, but at the time he made these, Eastwood was a hardcore Republican. There's nothing overtly political in the films themselves (though the bad guys in Any Which Way You Can are rich East coasters), but they have a generosity of spirit thay says, whatever you are, that's okay. These two picture, along with Josey Wales and Bronco Billy, all from the same period, have a kind of utopian feel, almost like they were made by...hippies or something.
So what am I saying? That the left should be more like the right?
Maybe. Or maybe the left just needs to find somebody as cool as Clint Eastwood.