Wednesday’s Book Review: “Clint Eastwood”

1760191Clint Eastwood: A Cultural Production. By Paul Smith. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

I first read this book not long after it appeared in 1993. It is part biography and part analysis. Clint Eastwood, no one would disagree, is one of the most long-lasting movie stars in history. Only John Wayne had a similar longstanding stature. Getting a start in 1950s Hollywood as a western actor, it should come as no surprise that the Western genre provided the launching pad for his multifaceted career. After a stint as a regular on TV’s Rawhide, he made the transition to feature films as the star of a series of Sergio Leone “Man Without a Name” spaghetti westerns and three major Hollywood productions that went bust, Where Eagle’s Dare, Paint Your Wagon, and Kelly’s Heroes.

He learned something important through that apprenticeship. Having all of the money necessary to make a blockbuster does not ensure that it will be a success. Good stories, effectively told were the best means of success. So were the efforts of the production team from top to bottom. He formed his own production company, Malpaso Productions, and worked repeatedly with a reoccurring set of actors and professionals behind the camera. A remarkable string of films resulted.

Beginning with the “Dirty Harry” series of films that found an audience, Eastwood began a process of undertaking basically entertaining films that appealed to a specific demographic, interspersing them with “prestige projects” that he wanted to make but that might not find the audience of his more commercial films. Films like Bird and Bronco Billy make important statements but cannot attract the audience of The Gauntlet and Every Which Way but Loose. Much of Eastwood’s career may be analyzed in relation to this balancing act. Eastwood’s films must also be taken seriously for their examinations of specific themes and structures, notions of gender and sexuality, and expositions on modern culture, patriotism, and race relations.

These issues have become even more apparent in the period since this book appeared in 1993. With such films as Unforgiven, The Bridges of Madison County, and Flags of Our Fathers Eastwood’s body of work has entered the realm of the auteur and must be analyzed in a manner often reserved for Ingmar Bergman, John Ford, and other such path-breaking film-makers. This is an outstanding book. Still insightful after more than 20 years since it appearance.

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