Bird, Clint Eastwood’s thirteenth film as director, begins with a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald: “There are no second acts in American lives.” The film’s subject, jazz legend Charlie Parker, was just 34 when he died. The tragedy told by Eastwood’s film was that of Parker’s talent gone unfulfilled, a life of such promise cut woefully short.
Twenty-two years and seventeen films later, Eastwood seems to have had not just a second act, but a third and fourth as well. It’s been an extraordinary career, the scale and breadth of which is captured in Warner’s new 35/35 Collection. That’s 35 films over the course of 35 years, although the films covered range from 1968’s Where Eagles Dare to 2010’s Invictus, which is more like 42 years, but whatever.
So, how do you tell the story of those 35 films, of a career that, unlike Parker’s, has not only lived up to the promise hinted at early on, but has gone above and beyond that?
As a director, Eastwood’s most celebrated era has been this last decade. Since turning 70 in 2000, Eastwood’s nine films released in that time have garnered 22 Oscar nominations between them, a staggering achievement when you consider the recent output of Woody Allen, the only other comparably prolific and durable filmmaker.
The Eastwood Factor would seem, at first glance, an attempt to answer that question. To its credit, it isn’t. Made by long-time Eastwood biographer, Richard Shickel, who, like his subject, knows that efficiency and simplicity can be a filmmaker’s best friends, this isn’t a documentary, but rather an extended chat with Eastwood, interspersed with clips from some of the 35 movies showcased within the gargantuan collection. It’s also the closest we’ll likely have to a commentary by the man himself, who seems as reluctant to talk in depth about his films as he is indisposed to the idea of putting his feet up and taking a break.
There are no talking heads with his contemporaries, peers, or collaborators. Shickel makes the assumption that we’d much rather hear from Eastwood than from fawning fans. And he’s right. There’s nothing better than listening to Eastwood reminisce, whether about the movies that caught his attention as a teenager (anything with Cagney or Bogart) or what brought him to take up residence at Warner Bros in the early 1970s. (In typical Eastwood style, it was an exchange of no more than a few words and a nod of the head.)
So, what we get is Morgan Freeman’s narration joining the dots between bouts of Eastwood talking and showing us around the Malpaso headquarters on the Warner lot. Even at a leisurely 90 minutes, there’s barely enough time to scratch the surface of such an extraordinary career, so Shickel chooses his movies carefully.
He focuses on the obvious ones: Dirty Harry, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, but also on those that many might have ignored from the 1980s: Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man, Pale Rider. They’re linked by Shickel’s astute observations, voiced by Freeman. “Does cowardice lie at the heart of male posturing?”, he asks, while also identifying the rescue and restoration of shattered families as a common thread linking so much of his output.
Invariably, some films get short shrift. The Dollars trilogy is covered with but a sentence and a fleeting photograph, while gems such as Thunderbolt And Lightfoot and his directorial debut, Play Misty For Me, don’t even warrant a mention.
But, like any good retrospective, it makes you want to watch every one of the films again, while granting some fascinating insights, such as the revelation that T.J. Lowther, who played the young Buzz in A Perfect World, was good on the first take, but not so much after that, so Eastwood would do a silent twirl of the hand instead of calling action to get the best out of him.
You get a sense of how frank and free of posturing Eastwood is off screen (he recounts how he tried re-writing Unforgiven, but then gave up when he realised he was ruining it), and the beguiling sight of a man renowned for his stoic and impassive screen image enjoying himself, smiling and playing piano.
Those looking for an objective account of Eastwood’s life and times won’t find it here (there’s no mention of Sondra Locke or the court case that followed their split), but that’s another story for another time.
The Eastwood Factor sets itself the task of reminding you how great and versatile a filmmaker Clint Eastwood is, and it does an admirable job of that. I’ve already watched it twice and can’t wait to watch it again. Right after Bronco Billy, Tightrope, Every Which But Loose, Honkytonk Man…
Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years 35 Films is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.