Recently a Facebook post depicted a cartoon which showed an elderly man telling a friend, “My son’s going to a Rolling Stones concert. It’s a family tradition going back five generations.” To anyone familiar with Western popular music, he would immediately understand the joke: the British band Rolling Stones first performed in 1962 and they are still around while other groups that came around at the same time — like the Beatles — wrapped up by the end of the ’60s while few others continued to play till the ’70s and ’80s.
The iconic Clint Eastwood is one such actor-director who made his television debut in the late ’50s with a series called Rawhide, achieved stardom with the Dollars Trilogy of films in the mid-60s and is still active at the age of 88 – as a director. For a generation born in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Clint Eastwood was already an established star along with the likes of Robert Redford and Paul Newman and so many others. Generations grew up on his action films, emulating his style and while many of them have crossed 70, the millennials who were born in this century are as awed by Eastwood as their fathers and grandfathers.
Clint Eastwood is like old wine who continues to charm successive generations with the same impact that he wielded when he first appeared on screen with A Fistful of Dollars in 1964, followed by For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966), all westerns, directed by the legendary Italian director Sergio Leone and shot in Spain. In this trilogy Eastwood was instrumental in creating the character — The Man with No Name — with his distinctive understated style that became his hallmark.
It took a little time to endear himself to American critics who did not like the Dollars Trilogy despite their phenomenal popularity; and offers soon came pouring in. His next tryst with stardom came with the Dirty Harry series — a set of five films in which he played a homicide inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan who specialised in carrying out his personal brand of ruthless vigilante justice. The films, despite their popularity, came in for a lot of criticism for being what critics called — ‘fascistic’.
All this while, the director in him was waiting to be stoked. In 1967 he formed his own company — the famous Malpaso Productions and soon ventured into direction with Play Misty for Me in 1971. It was a turning point in his career. Unlike other stars of his era who ventured into filmmaking with mixed commercial and artistic success — like Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Robert De Niro, Robert Redford — Clint Eastwood turned out to be an extraordinary director with phenomenal output.
Till date, he has made more than 30 feature films, including Westerns, action films and dramas — most of which have been both commercial and critical successes and a few went on to fetch the Academy Awards: In 1992 his seminal western Unforgiven fetched the Best Picture and Best Director Awards, a feat which was repeated in 2004 with his Million Dollar Baby. His other films which were nominated for the Academy Awards are Mystic River (2003), Letter from Iwo Jima (2006) and American Sniper in 2014.
The Bridges of Madison County (1995), Flags of Our Fathers (2006), Gran Torino (2008), Changeling (2008), Invictus (2009) and Hereafter (2010) are some of his other directorial ventures which will remained forever etched in the firmament of great cinema.
Eastwood is known for his quick and economic approach to filmmaking; he avoids rehearsals and most often cans his shots in the very first take. When Steven Spielberg insisted on a big budget for American Sniper which Warner Brothers was reluctant to provide, the project was offered to Eastwood who completed the film in his usual economic style.
While most of us are trying to come to terms with our advanced age, Eastwood who celebrated his 88th birthday on May 31, continues to direct and inspire. The 15:17 to Paris based on the real life events of three young American tourists who thwarted a terrorist attack in a Paris metro in 2015 is his latest offering.
(The author is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, instructor and writer)