Now that it’s been a week since Clint Eastwood spoke at the Republican National Convention, and the rest of society has moved on to the Democratic National Convention and the great speeches by Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama, I’m psychologically and spiritually prepared to comment.
Man, you can imagine how crushed I felt when a buddy told me Clint was gonna speak at the RNC. You probly felt it too. They’d been making a big deal about some “Mystery Speaker” and I was actually looking forward to finding out which clown was gonna have to go up there and try to talk up Mitt Romney. Could be funny, I thought. I never guessed the dirty motherfuckers would give the job to one of my heroes.
Did you know The Rock spoke at the RNC in 2000? That was before he was a movie star, but he was the WWE champion. He was in wrestling character so he referred to The Rock in third person ten times in a brief introduction for Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. He didn’t actually endorse George Bush or any Republican policies on stage, he just said “Voting is the patriotic duty of every American and certainly the cornerstone of our democracy.” I guess voting was something that had been very important to him for most of that week, ’cause he also said, “The Rock did an important thing this week. He registered to vote.”
Clint, I was pretty sure, wouldn’t bother to haul his ass to Tampa for some non-partisan bullshit like that. And he already endorsed Romney at some fundraiser and had made some non-specific swipes at Obama. So I spent the day worrying about what he was gonna say, and how bad it was gonna crush my spirit to hear it.
I didn’t believe he would say anything horrible. I knew I didn’t have to worry about him going anti-gay. There was that Vanity Fair article a year ago where he was quoted as saying, “These people who are making a big deal about gay marriage? I don’t give a fuck about who wants to get married to anybody else! Why not?! We’re making a big deal out of things we shouldn’t be making a deal out of … Just give everybody the chance to have the life they want.”
Obviously I knew his politics were different from mine. He was a Republican when he was mayor of Carmel. He’s often used as an example of conservatives in Hollywood. And of course the DIRTY HARRY series that I love so much is not exactly in favor of liberal values like mine.
But this isn’t so much about Democrats and Republicans, right and left, it’s not even exactly about politics. It’s about my ideal of manhood and independence going out there and stumping for a guy who can easily be imagined in a Dirty Harry movie as a douchebag district attorney or assistant mayor or somebody who gives Harry a hard time and later gets put in his place to the delight of the audience. I don’t want to see Clint supporting that guy. It’s like a kid seeing Santa Claus with his beard off.
Peoples ay that somebody like Clint should shut up and just make movies. I don’t agree with that. He’s an intelligent person and should express himself as he sees fit. They also say you should separate the artist from the person, and I can do that sometimes. But it’s not always as easy as people pretend because the person is gonna come through in the art. Clint’s personality comes through especially in the movies he directs, and that’s part of why we love him. It’s not just that he’s cool playing fictional characters in movies, it’s also that he presents a full package of cool: laid back, no bullshit attitude, soft spoken, self reliant renaissance man. Way of the Malpaso. We don’t want to be Harry, we want to be Clint.
Part of Clint’s appeal has always been his refusal to see things in binary terms. Even the Dirty Harry series was always looking for contradictions. By his words Harry is a racist and a sexist, but he learns to respect his various partners. MAGNUM FORCE very pointedly questions the values of DIRTY HARRY, pointing a gun at the audience while replaying the famous “do you feel lucky, punk?” speech, showing a circle of cops who break the rules like Harry. We trust him to do it, but do we trust everybody? In GRAN TORINO he plays a much more extreme racist who does not reform but does bond with his Hmong neighbors so much he chooses them over his own family.
This is the viewpoint that makes his recent movies as a director so great. He doesn’t use the 357 Magnum approach to directing, he’s into nuance. He doesn’t want to make generalizations, he wants to respect individual characters and situations for what they are. So while making a movie about the American soldiers who raised the flag at Iwo Jima he realized he had to make another (way better) movie about the Japanese soldiers who died there doing what they felt they had to. He made a movie where a character decided assisted suicide was the right thing to do, even though this was a huge bugaboo for the Republican party at that time. He made a movie about Mandela that could very easily be interpreted as being symbolically about his hopes for Obama, and then he didn’t give a shit when it didn’t bag a bunch of Oscars despite the subject matter.
And J. EDGAR! I know nobody likes that as much as me, but I stand by it. It’s a movie about a fuckin asshole, it shows him as a human but doesn’t hide that he’s a fuckin asshole. It shows why he was historically important but doesn’t pretend he’s not horrible. And it sneaks in a gay love story. It’s a thoughtful movie, obviously made by thoughtful people.
Eastwood’s art supports what otherwise might be a hollow image of being a rugged individualist, independent thinker type of guy. Usually when a Republican claims to lean libertarian it’s really code for “I’m a huge asshole who really, really hates the idea of my money being used to help other people and improve my community for the benefit of society as a whole.” That shit infuriates them! That’s THEIR money, they’re spending it on a god damn HOT TUB and they will COMPLAIN about the mentally ill homeless person asleep in their path, not try to improve the conditions that led to the situation, thank you very much. And the library doesn’t need to be open all year anyway. But when Clint calls himself libertarian it I believe he really just wants to be left alone and doesn’t care about the usual Republican party bullshit. In that Vanity Fair article, he explains:
“”I was an Eisenhower Republican when I started out at 21, because he promised to get us out of the Korean War. And over the years, I realized there was a Republican philosophy that I liked. And then they lost it. And libertarians had more of it. Because what I really believe is, let’s spend a little more time leaving everybody alone.”
He also mentions “the onset of global warming” as one of the things we should be worrying about, another example of not towing the party line.
So speaking at the RNC, endorsing Mitt Romney – this went against my image of Rogue Republican Clint. This implies that he either likes Romney enough or hates Obama so much that he’s willing to set his usual philosophy aside and lend his celebrity to their cause. The transvaginal ultrasound party, the party that wants a constitutional amendment to stop gay people from getting married (unless it’s to somebody of the opposite sex that they don’t love), the party that doesn’t believe global warming exists. (Romney, in his acceptance speech, got his biggest laugh by belittling Obama for wanting to stop global warming. But he left the wording non-specific enough that when he’s criticized for it later I’m sure he’ll pretend it didn’t mean what it meant.)
Well, that night I was planning to see SAMSARA. And I wasn’t gonna cancel that plan to go home and get sad. After the movie I stayed out for a couple hours, dreading going home and finding out what Clint said.
When I finally did, the first headline I saw about it was something like, “Eastwood loses it, talks to empty chair in bizarre speech.” Ah, shit.
See, while I was worrying about what Clint would say, it never occurred to me that he would be made a laughing stock. That the pain would not be as much from seeing Clint support Romney as from seeing society make fun of Clint. Young dumb fuckers who don’t understand the breadth of his contribution to cinema pointing and laughing at the funny old man. Lumping the star of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, the director of UNFORGIVEN, the producer of STRAIGHT, NO CHASER, the greatest man of all time, with Charlton Heston or fuckin Chuck Norris.
Devin Faraci wrote really nice things about me recently and plugged my Val Verde t-shirt, and I really appreciated that. But I was not as happy when I saw his post on Badass Digest making fun of Eastwood for singing in his movies. See, that’s one of the little things I love about Clint’s career. No, he’s not a great singer (also not that bad of one, if you listen to those), but he loves music and he’s putting his personal touch on his movies, sometimes by scoring them, occasionally by singing on them. How many times have I referenced that song “Beer’s To You” and how it sums up the philosophy of Fight Brotherhood that I love so much in ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN? Answer: many.
And if he wants to sing a song at the end of Gran Torino in character as an aging, growly racist, that is fucking awesome and Devin should fucking know this. Case closed on that one, I mean come on. That one’s self-evident.
But this is the part that got me, in the comments over there:
You see what you did, Republicans? You created a situation where motherfucking CLINT EASTWOOD can be disrespected in this way. The star of Badass Cinema classics including but not limited to the Man With No Name trilogy, the DIRTY HARRY series, WHERE EAGLES DARE, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, UNFORGIVEN, IN THE LINE OF FIRE… and Devin is considering him not eligible for something called “THE BADASS HALL OF FAME.” Something that Judy Blume has already been inducted into. You turned an unassailable institution into yet another punchline for the snark and irony generation, like he was Vanilla Ice or somebody. Thank you, GOP.
The fuckin Republicans are so uncool that at least for a few days they made Clint Eastwood uncool. That should be impossible. No wonder they don’t believe in science. It doesn’t work on them.
But, you know, Devin was probly overstating it to get a reaction, that’s not a big deal. What was crushing to me was seeing these clips on the news and on The Daily Show, and Clint is stumbling over his words and trying to figure out this joke for his Bob Newhart routine of talking to somebody who’s not there, and he seems completely out of it.
I worry about Clint. The guy is 82. He can’t keep going forever. But if you’re that old and you’re directed J. EDGAR then you’re still with it, so I’m greedy. I want more. Those clips made me think that he wasn’t with it anymore. That we might not be seeing anymore Clint Eastwood joints. When I actually uttered the phrase “poor Clint,” that was when I knew this was bad. Nobody wants to see Clint go out like that! He should never be a guy you feel sorry for.
See, the reason I’m writing this so far after the fact is because I didn’t want to watch it. You know how sometimes they do a movie of a book you love, or a remake of your favorite movie, and you decide you’re just not ever gonna watch it, because you’d rather not know? Or there’s some graphic video on the news, somebody getting shot or something, and you look away because you don’t want that image in your memories? That’s kinda how I felt. I was thinking I was never gonna watch it.
But a couple days later I decided to watch it.
I’m glad I did. It wasn’t as bad as I expected. Thank you everybody for lowering my expectations.
I’m not saying he did a good job, and I’m definitely not saying I agree with him. His main point, which is not unreasonable, was the idea that “when somebody does not do the job we gotta let them go.” I disagree with his conclusion that Obama hasn’t done the job, and even if he’d done worse I don’t see how that leads to wanting to put Romney in his place. The part that made me cringe the most was when he said “maybe it’s time for a businessman.” Not because of Clint’s aside making fun of Obama for being a lawyer, apparently forgetting that Romney is also a lawyer, but because he’s gotta remember that Bush was supposed to be the businessman, the guy that was gonna run the country like a business. You saw how that shit worked out, Clint! You’re mad at Obama for not fixing the economy well enough, but you want to repeat the thing that broke the economy in the first place?
It’s been pointed out that all of the Republicans who ran the country for the 8 years before Obama were carefully hidden away during the convention. Not like you would hide a laptop that you were leaving in your car, more like you would hide the bong when mom is visiting. They elected Bush and Cheney two times and they called us traitors for criticizing them and they hated us for disagreeing with their wars and now, well, you know what, let’s not have them speak or show them or mention that they exist.
So maybe they have buyer’s remorse, but then why are they not repudiating the Bush philosophy? They’re just saying the same shit – “maybe it’s time for a businessman.” They’re just not pretending it’s “compassionate conservatism” anymore. They dropped the compassionate.
In the speech Clint also says he doesn’t want to close Gitmo because it was expensive to build, and that the idea of trying terrorists as criminals (at least if it’s in downtown New York City) is “stupid.” He’s against wars but also against prosecuting it as a crime. But I’m not gonna argue with Dirty Harry on that one.
The whole premise of speaking to an empty chair, pretending that Obama is there and telling him to go fuck himself is too obvious of a symbol for the way they’ve been handling Obama from the beginning. They hate some guy they made up who’s a socialist and a Muslim and also an atheist and who cut work requirements for welfare and who closed an auto factory before he was in office and who’s so arrogant and looks down on them… I don’t know how they look at the actual guy and see all that, so they have to just pretend he’s sitting in a chair there.
So I’m no fan of Clint’s speech, but the good news is that he makes these points like a guy speaking his mind, not like the confused person that the clips of the worst parts made it look like. He doesn’t seem like he’s lost it. He’s just speaking off the cuff and trying to turn his political thoughts into a comedy skit, so sometimes it doesn’t come out clear. He does better than I would. There’s still hope for J. EDGAR 2.
Equally important, I don’t think his independence has been entirely compromised. He clearly was not saying whatever they thought he was gonna say, or following the GOP rule book. He’s probly not supposed to criticize Obama for not closing Gitmo, since Republicans don’t want him to close Gitmo. You’re not supposed to point out that Obama was against the unpopular war in Iraq, or if you do you’re supposed to pretend that’s an outrage and not say “that’s okay.”
If you make a “whether you are a Democrat or a Republican” comment you are NOT supposed to add “or whether you’re a Libertarian or whatever.” THERE ARE ONLY TWO PARTIES.
You’re not supposed to bring up Afghanistan – Romney didn’t in his speech. You’re not supposed to question getting into the war, since it happened when Bush was in office, and has always been supported by Republicans (and Democrats, honestly). I like that Clint wants us out of Afghanistan today (taking him back full circle to becoming a Republican to end the Korean War). I’m not sure why he thinks Romney wants to “bring them home tomorrow morning,” but he’s just being optimistic I guess.
I like that he calls it “something to be thought about.” That’s the director of J. EDGAR all right. He’s not telling us what to think. It’s just something to be thought about.
So, Clint, I’m still with ya. I mean no, I’m not with ya on this one, but you’re still the best. I hope if Obama gets another term you’ll begrudgingly learn to respect him, like you did Tyne Daly in THE ENFORCER. Beer’s to you, my amigo.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.