Monday, January 8, 2007

Go Ahead Punk, Make My Cake Clint Eastwood Birthday Bash 05.15.00

The great thing about our Birthday Bash is that it takes little effort on the part of the reader to properly celebrate. Unlike traditional methods like scanning the mall for that elusive perfect gift, our Birthday Bashes work the other way around. Here it’s the honoree who’s done all the hard work. You just sit back and enjoy the presents.

Clint Eastwood is the silent, nameless anti-hero of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad & The Ugly. He is also the heat-packing arbiter of justice, Det. Harry Callahan in the Dirty Harry movies (Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact and The Dead Pool). But Clint Eastwood is a whole lot more.

Eastwood got his start as a contract player in B-movies for Universal in the mid-Fifties. After appearing in a dozen or so films of varying quality, Eastwood rose to popularity on the TV Western Rawhide which launched a successful career for Eastwood as a Western star (including the musical, Paint Your Wagon). In the Seventies and Eighties, he spread his wings to become an action star, a country singer, a romantic lead, the Mayor of Carmel, California and, most importantly, a director (Unforgiven) and producer (Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser).

On his 70th birthday, we salute the actor-director-producer-jazz-aficionado with a quintet of his under-appreciated oeuvre.

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
After his family is brutally slaughtered by Union soldier Terrill, Rebel soldier Josey Wales patently refuses to surrender and, in fact, wages a bloody one-man war on the regiment. Hounded by the US Calvary, Wales lights off for a new life in the West, but tranquility is soon shattered by the arrival of a vengeful Terrill. Although stylistically borrowing heavily from the Sergio Leone Dollars trilogy in which he starred, Eastwood tries to break from tradition by giving The Man with No Name a name -- Josey Wales -- and even a conscience. The Outlaw Josey Wales is equal to, if not better than Unforgiven, the AFI be damned.

Every Which Way But Loose (1978)
Bare-knuckle boxing, Juliette Lewis’ dad and orangutans. This will be the movie for which Clint Eastwood will be fondly remembered after he is long gone.

Tightrope (1984)
This forgotten gem of a police thriller features Clint in the Eastwood subgenre rarely mentioned: the film in which he portrays a psychologically-damaged law enforcement officer with more in common with the psycho nutcase he seeks than he’d like to admit. In this case, Eastwood is a New Orleans cop on the trail of an S&M serial killer; the cop himself is into S&M and the serial killer’s taste is women is startlingly similar to his own. To exacerbate things, the cop’s shrink -- played by Genevieve Bujold, no stranger to being tied up -- is falling for him. Tightrope is the movie Sea of Love wanted to be.

Pale Rider (1985)
Eastwood’s most underrated Western (as both director and star), Eastwood again reprises The Man with No Name role he played in the spaghetti Westerns (he’ll do it yet again with Unforgiven). This time, the avenging outlaw is known as The Preacher, who may or may not be a man of the cloth, but who most assuredly has a sordid, wicked past. Preacher battles greedy corporate strip miners who are trying to push out the impoverished yet hard-working gold miners, but at the heart of this story is the romantic overtures, at first innocent but increasingly sexual, of an enamored teenager whom Preacher ultimately spurns. Eastwood’s return to the Western genre after a nine-year hiatus proves that he truly understands the intricacies and archetypes of the genre.

Bird (1988)
With much love for the music and the man, Eastwood directed this requiem for tormented saxophonist Charlie Parker. Forest Whitaker portrays the jazz great as a genius frustrated with trying to keep it real in the face of mainstream success and an addict nearly ruined time and again by binges with drink and junk. This beautiful elegy for both Bird and cool jazz is Clint Eastwood’s best directorial effort, bar none.

As he enters the September of his years, Eastwood does not seem to be slowing. In fact, his output over the last few seasons has increased. And the quality of his work continues to impress: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a fantastic crime drama; Absolute Power and True Crime are two solid thrillers. Perhaps when he turns 80, we’ll need to celebrate with yet another five-pack of masterworks.

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