Sunday, December 14, 2008

Modern Cinema and the Eastwood Effect

Howdy writers,
Today we want to talk about the current master of what I like to call the personal story. These are stories about everyday happenings that may or may not have happy endings.

To understand let's look at a definition for "everyday happenings." These are the dramatic things that happen to all of us. Looking at Eastwood we can reference "Mystic River" in which a tragedy befalls a group of men who have seen their share - of course the additional individual conflicts add a dramatic flare.

Looking at the body of his recent work behind the camera this theme is played out time and again. Starting with his first directorial effort, "Play Misty For Me" he always maintained a "human realism" wherein his characters tend to deal "extraordinarily to "ordinary" conflict.

Even the Sergio Leone movies held to this technique. "A Fistful of Dollars," High Plain Drifter, Joe Kidd, and The Outlaw Josey Wales. They were all basically the same movie with a slightly different premise.

A stranger rides into town and brings trouble.

It was around this time that Eastwood began to take on more urban stories. He maintained the "unfeeling tough guy" mentality throughout movies such as; The Gauntlet, and The Dirty Harry series. He even expanded the tough guy role to comedies such as "Every Which Way..." and "Any which way..."

As he got older he seemed to become more thoughtful and his movies began to show this. The first of which has to be the Unforgiven, the award-winning story about the "beast who was tamed by beauty and lived to tell about it." Analyzing it you can see that there isn't much excitement, just very "soul-revealing" lines.

From the start there's a violent crime against a woman and an intractably "sexist" sheriff. Then we see Munny on his farm, dealing with life with pigs and children. It's an excellent twist on "refusal of the call" since it's not from a person in danger but from one who wants to make some money.

His motivation is as simple "getting a better life for them youngsters." He justifies his actions as a man of the old west: "he deserves it for cutting up a woman."

Again we see character studies with the relationship between Little Bill, English Bob and the biographer. Of course he throws in a vicious beating to maintain the tone of indiscriminate violence. This see saw pace of "character reveal-conflict" continues throughout all of his movies.

Unforgiven started a "franchise" for him with this type of human examination story and it continued in movies like "A Perfect World" - one of Costner's best performances showed Eastwood's resistance to interference in his role as the "always get his man tough Texas Ranger." It examined the relationship between a man at the end of his rope and a boy with no rope to speak of. As always he plays the tough, competent man's man.

Next up was "Madison County?" a woman's movie about an illicit affair that bore only a letter. It worked with the isolation and yearning of a housewife who meets a world-traveler with a slight demeanor. Mushy but effective.

Eastwood then did "Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil," a twisted tale about a gay man who murders his low-life lover. A very good Cusack role and for Spacey as well. He had no role but it was an interesting movie.

He then followed up with True Crime, a story of redemption; Space Cowboys, a group of irascible old guys save the world; and Blood Work, a strange tale about "having what it takes."

Then he hit with Mystic River, an adaptation that was admittedly long on moments but short on substantive relationships and closure. Still the high concept of a murdered daughter and an excellent cast led to boffo-land.

Next up was Million Dollar Baby, Haggis' second Oscar winner in a row. A touching story about determination and loss. Eastwood showed not a tough guy that would keep the faith but a tired man who couldn't see the things he'd seen anymore.

A few war films which cause a brouhaha with Spike Lee were next and though I saw neither even now, I'm sure there was not a conscious effort to remove black units from the fighting scenes. And hey, I wouldn't want to be rushing artillery anyway, so you white guys can take Spike with you and God speed.

Moving into the now we have this year's Changeling, called a hodgepodge by critics, though admittedly Angelina's range may have affected it and Gran Torino a new entry this week that has the per-screen record as it's likely Eastwood at his intractably gruff best.

All in all, Eastwood has been a ptolific film maker who has the distinction of playing the same character over and over in different settings and still being "fresh."

I think he has proven my theory that people don't care abotu twists or clever stories, but respond best to extraordinary people reacting and overreacting to situations which could hinder their path to the McGuffin, whether it be a mindset (Neo), a trinket (Indy), a job (Tess - Working Girl), or anything else.

Ordering elements that perfunctorily enable triumph through tragedy will entertain by equating memories to images. It again speaks to what I call "juxtaposed banality" which is consistent with the differences in characters' everyday lives as they pursue their life goals based on their life view. There will never be anything new at this point just a retelling, which may explain the prevalence of "reimagining" older films.

I can admit that I don't really watch a lot of old movies, though I have seen large parts of classics like The Seven Samurai, Breathless, Birth of a Nation, and most Hitchcock. I moreso like to abstractly examine these films from the philosophical point of view of people like Deleuze. His Movement and Time Image texts are a must read and can encapsulate the techniques of all the greats new and old.

Well, that's all for now. So

Make My Day

and Keep Writing as Writing is the Revealing of the Soul.

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