When I stepped up to buy my ticket for "Hereafter," the woman in the booth (who has worked there for many years) said, "This movie's directed by Clint Eastwood." I know, I said. "He's not in it," she said. "I guess it hasn't been getting very much publicity."
I don't know if it has or hasn't, but it got me to thinking: I'm not sure I could identify a Clint Eastwood movie on sight. Is there an identifiable Eastwood directorial vision or style, apart from a certain willfully "classical" gloss applied to a professional reserve that sometimes borders on indifference? Is he like a William Wyler or a Robert Wise, a journeyman, capable of making some very good movies, whose sensibility is identifiable primarily through the combined talents of his collaborators? Who is Clint Eastwood, the director?
Eastwood hires top-of-the-line folks (after all, he can), has them do their things, and prides himself on shooting the script as written, on time and on (or under) budget. Some very good directors I know don't consider what he does to be direction so much as project management, because they don't see anything particularly distinctive in the results, film after film. Still, Eastwood can get movies made that perhaps nobody else could, based on the strength of his commercial reputation and long association with Warner Bros.
Some critics I greatly admire find his work impressive and moving. Many of those who've worked with him describe the atmosphere Eastwood fosters on the set as his greatest contribution to the picture: He creates the conditions he needs to get the movie he wants from he people he's hired -- which is, to a lesser or greater extent, what all good directors must do. (See Robert Altman for a striking example.) But, when watching a post-"Unforgiven" Eastwood picture, I frequently detect a peculiar detachment, a feeling that I'm watching something coasting along on auto-pilot without any particular human or artistic vision to guide it.¹ I respond to directors who have been accused of glacial misanthropy -- from Antonioni to Kubrick -- and that is integral to their worldview. With Eastwood, I simply sense an almost mechanical disengagement from his material. Parts of some of these movies seem to have been made by robots.
From the Grand Poobah in Toronto: It was slightly chilly and I threw on my Toronto International Film Festival jacket and hurried out of the hotel. Only an ooh and an ahh from behind me at the Elgin Theater alerted me that I was wearing my official Roots 20th anniversary jacket. Since 2010 is the festival's 35th anniversary, that's not bad, n'est-ce pas? I hope that at the theater my T-shirt wasn't peeking out.
The Grand Poobah writes: I carry a little Canon S60 digital camera so small it tucks in my jeans pocket. Sometimes, all by itself, it will take a great photograph. Here are Lena and Werner Herzog. She is the acclaimed photographer. This was taken shortly after Herzog and Errol Morris held their lively onstage conversation, which I video recorded from the front row.