Wednesday, 16 June 2010

INVICTUS DVD Review

Nelson Mandela had witnessed first hand, the unimaginable hardships brought upon by the Apartheid regime in South Africa. He had endured 27 years of vicious incarceration as a political prisoner. Mandela became President of his country and was adamant that the only way forward was in governing impartially. The film was adapted from John Carlin’s book, ‘Playing the Enemy’, while the title refers to William Ernest Henley’s 1875 poem which Mandela cherished within the tiny confines of his prison cell.
 
Below: Front cover art for the R1 DVD release, the UK DVD release and the Region free Blu ray cover.
In 1995, South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup which became the perfect opportunity for Mandela (Morgan Freeman) to unite the nation in support of their team, the Springboks. Matt Damon turns in a convincing performance as Francois Pienaar, the inspirational captain of the Springbok team. It was Morgan Freeman who introduced the script to director Clint Eastwood (his 29th film as director) in the hope that he would accept. Freeman had openly aired his opinion of Eastwood and regards him as one of the best directors in the business. Eastwood found the script fascinating and the project was soon set in motion. For Freeman, it was a dream to play Mandela, and the charismatic leader had previously stated that Freeman was the only actor who could possibly play him, should a project ever reach the screen. The film opens with the release of Mandela and shortly thereafter his elect to presidency. Rather then drawing heavily on the man’s ‘life story’ in the typical style of a biopic, Freeman and Eastwood chose to focus on the Rugby World Cup as the reconciliation point, and as a result, cleverly delivered an historical drama based around a sporting spectacle.
Freeman’s performance brings integrity and wisdom to the role of Mandela. It’s a role you feel he was naturally born to play and is simply quite stunning. For all his efforts, Freeman was rewarded with another Oscar nomination. Matt Damon, fully beefed up and under the guidance of Pienaar himself, is also quite outstanding, capturing the Afrikaner accent perfectly. His performance as Pienaar also gained Damon a worthy Oscar nomination for his outstanding supporting role. Sadly, both actors missed out in what was a particularly strong year at the academy awards. But as Eastwood as stated, he’s in the Filmmaking business, not the Oscar winning business.

Eastwood’s film succeeds in that it doesn’t rely upon Mandela’s political aspirations through politics itself. It is a simplistic portrayal of an arguably much heavy theme. However, Invictus unfolds gracefully and in line with Eastwood’s tried and tested theory of ‘less is more’. The film has a genuine feel good factor and an overall uplifting sense of grandeur.

And why shouldn’t it?

It is after all a triumphant story, a celebration, not just of a single man, but of an entire nation. Invictus leaves the viewer with a sense of inspiration and proves particularly poignant in light of South Africa’s current hosting of the 2010 Football World Cup. Yes, South Africa is a nation that still has its problems, but has nevertheless come a very long, in a considerably short period of time. Eastwood’s film is a remarkable achievement in that it portrays a passionate (if uncomplicated) account of a nation’s rebirth and a country’s long road to recovery. As with all of Eastwood’s projects, it remains an accomplished and compelling piece of story telling… and something of a rare commodity in filmmaking today.

The standard DVD release comes with a featurette, Matt Damon plays Rugby: Turning a Hollywood star into a Ruby Player and an Invictus music trailer.

The film is also released on Blu ray and contains:
Matt Damon Plays Rugby: Turning a Hollywood star into a rugby player
Invictus music trailer
Vision Courage and Honour - Clint Eastwood and the Power of a True Story (Picture in Picture): Clint Eastwood explains in-depth what attracted him to this story and how he fought to bring it to life on film.
Mandela Meets Morgan: Get to know Nelson Mandela as Morgan Freeman meets with him to prepare for the film
The Eastwood Factor: A Clint Eastwood documentary (22 min version)

Special Thanks to Bridget Groller of WARNER BROTHERS for supplying me with this DVD and for their continued support of The Clint Eastwood Archive

THE EASTWOOD FACTOR Extended version DVD Review

Richard Schickel’s film The Eastwood Factor is a fascinating look at Clint Eastwood’s incredible career at Warner Brothers. The 88 minute film is an extension of Schickel’s mouth watering Featurette that was included with the mammoth, Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros. which celebrated Eastwood's 35th anniversary with the studio. Eastwood’s friend and co star Morgan Freeman narrates throughout in his warm and charming style, while Eastwood informally welcomes us, the viewer, while tinkering away casually at the keys of a piano. It is obvious from the start that Eastwood is in relaxed mood, surrounded by friend’s, including Schickel, he is seemingly happy to talk at length and in an unhurried manner. Eastwood takes us back to his childhood and about his early influences such as Bogart and in particular, James Cagney and reminds us of his admiration for White Heat. It was dramas such as these that were produced at Warner Brothers in the 1930’s and 40’s and that Eastwood remembers watching fondly as a kid. A very brief look at his role in Maverick and Rawhide sets up the next stage of Eastwood’s career, before touching even more briefly, on his Sergio Leone ‘Dollar’ Trilogy (1964-1966). But in fairness, this is Eastwood at Warner Brothers, so the show really starts to bubble with the introduction of Dirty Harry (1971).

Eastwood mentions how there were several variations of the Dirty Harry script piled up for him to read, tailored for different stars and different premises. A hard enough task to read them all he recalls. But Eastwood was also smart enough to realise how the story was beginning to become lost with every subsequent read, and instead opted to choose the script that he first read and was first attracted to. It is an interesting glimpse at one of his philosophies, and one that Eastwood returns to later while discussing David Peoples’ script for his Oscar winning film Unforgiven (1992). Eastwood tells how he, ‘Started writing and fooling with things and changing things, and all of a sudden I realised I was wrecking it. So I called him (Peoples) back up and I said forget about that. I'm just going shoot it the way it is’. It’s a refreshing and humbling side of the star and one that is rarely realised by today’s equals, a simple admission that at times, even Eastwood can get it wrong. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) is touched upon, with Eastwood reminiscing fondly about his co-star Chief Dan George who couldn’t adapt to the art of memorising a script. He remembers how he would simply begin to tell stories, while Eastwood sat with him and encouraged the actor along.
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There are some wonderful segments shot on the studio backlot, where Clint visits his costume house. Concealed within an old courthouse set on the lot, Warner’s hold every costume worn by Eastwood and his entire supporting cast. For this special occasion, entire outfits from Dirty Harry to Unforgiven are displayed in all there glory. But it is inside the courthouse where row upon row of historical delights can be found. An original shirt from Play Misty for Me (1971) catches Eastwood’s eye, which strangely enough was made at Universal, and suggests that this particular ‘Aladdin’s cave’ may even date back beyond his Warner years. Eastwood’s love of restoration and preservation are explored from The ‘Eastwood’ Soundstage at Warner Brothers which he saved and turned into a viable commodity through to personal projects such as his Mission Ranch. Memorable locations are revisited, such as New York Street which featured in one of Eastwood’s most personal films, Bird (1988) to the small cabin featured in the closing scene of Eastwood’s Oscar winning film, Million Dollar baby (2004).
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For me, I was delighted to see many of Eastwood’s more personal films explored to a deeper degree and have tended perhaps, to me overlooked in other retrospective documentaries. The self destructive elements of Bird (1988), Honkytonk Man (1982) Tightrope (1984) and White Hunter Black Heart (1990) are characteristics that have always fascinated Eastwood and make for interesting viewing and insightful discussion. White Hunter Black Heart as Eastwood explains, is a film he enjoyed making. The story centres on a director (based on John Huston) whose obsession is to shoot an elephant instead of filming The African Queen. While its premise may not seem all that appealing to audiences, it is the concept of the character’s morality which become the focus of Eastwood’s fascination and deeper exploration. The film remains something of an undiscovered gem and a perfect example of Eastwood’s craft outside of the typical genre movie.

Lighter films such as Every which way but loose (1978) and the heart warming Bronco Billy (1980) are examined and used as examples of Eastwood’s instincts when choosing projects that were otherwise met with opposing opinion. While these characters may be described as ‘flawed’, Eastwood had no inhibitions regarding his screen image and that he was prepared to take chances along the way.

In discussing Unforgiven (1992), Eastwood acknowledges that the film will probably be his final western, the genre in which he first made his name. In his commentary, Freeman describes it as Eastwood’s ‘fully acknowledged masterpiece’, and sets the scene nicely for the last chapter. The Bridges of Madison County (1995) is a full on romance and perhaps the last thing that Eastwood’s audience were expecting. He explains how he encouraged Meryl Streep to come on board and was both equally happy with the results. Films including A Perfect World (1993) are discussed and Eastwood talks informally about how he didn’t intend to star in it all and that Costner wanted him to feature along side him. There are also some charming anecdotes regarding child actor T.J. Lowther and how he had to be caught on the first or second take at the most. So we had ‘no slates, none of that crap’. On Million Dollar Baby (2004) Eastwood informs us that everyone misinterpreted the stories content in its pre production stages and labelled it as a woman’s boxing movie, while he saw it as ‘a father-daughter love story and that's the way I approached telling it’. The Eastwood Factor is filled with such personal and delightful stories. Flags of our Fathers (2006), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) and Eastwood’s ultimate redemption story, Gran Torino (2008) are all touched upon before concluding with Invictus (2009).

The Eastwood Factor is a highly informative piece of work. It avoids Eastwood the man and instead provides a rare look at a rare breed of filmmaker. Schickel steers clear of a typical biography approach and instead lets the actor’s body of work propel us on an intimate and insightful journey. The film’s 88 minutes encapsulates Eastwood’s integrity, charisma, passion and brilliance. For admirers of film documentaries in general, The Eastwood Factor serves as a compelling education. For Eastwood fans in particular, it’s an absolute essential for your collection!
 
Special Thanks to Bridget Groller of WARNER BROTHERS for supplying me with this DVD and for their continued support of The Clint Eastwood Archive

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Eastwood Interviewed #07 Jazz Times September 2007

Jazz Times September 2007 Mise En Swing

JazzTimes: You discovered jazz at a young age. What was the first music you listened to?

Clint Eastwood: When I was a kid growing up in Oakland, I started listening to a program called The Dixieland Jubilee. For 15 minutes every day, they’d play the Frisco Jazz Band, Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band, stuff like that. Then there was a jazz store out near El Cerrito, and I went out there and started listening to things and purchased a few records. Bop was starting to come in pretty good. So I went over and saw Dizzy Gillespie with a big band in San Francisco. I was drawn to the whole improvisational element. It was great fun and very appealing, and just outside the mainstream.

I used to go out to El Cerrito to Hambone Kelly’s and listen to Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band. You’d go to places where they’d let kids in. In those days they weren’t too strict. If you had the money to go to the bar you were okay. If they wouldn’t serve you beers you could drink colas. I liked blues too. There was a lot of blues being played around Oakland at that time—Ivory Joe Hunter, Joe Houston, Wynonie Harris—and I got wrapped up listening to that. I loved the humor of it. In those days jazz had a tremendous sense of humor too, with great acts like Louis Jordan. It seems to have lost that nowadays, though it seems to be regaining it in some areas now.

JT: You caught Dizzy early on. When did you first hear Bird?

I didn’t see Charlie Parker until Jazz at the Philharmonic came through Oakland in 1946. I was interested in Lester Young. I thought he was the cat’s rear end. So I went down there to listen to him with Coleman Hawkins and Flip Phillips, and this cat Charlie Parker came out. I thought, well, this is really something. I don’t fully understand what he’s doing, but I’m interested in finding out. I started buying records.

JT: You were doing a little playing yourself around this time, weren’t you?

My mother loved Fats Waller and he died about that time, so she went down and bought a bunch of 78s, those albums with four discs in them. She brought it back and said we’ve got to have this stuff, it’s classic. At first I wasn’t too sure about Fats Waller, but I loved his sense of humor, and after listening to him I realized he was a pretty good stride player. I’d listen to his things and I’d try to imitate him. I’d try to imitate Meade Lux Lewis and people of that era. Everybody was listening to either stride, bop or boogie.
 JT: The trad scene was really strong in the Bay Area, but it seems like you were gravitating to the more modern players, who were starting to make a name for themselves.

I started going over to the Blackhawk, and started listening to Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond. I first saw Dave Brubeck on Lakeshore Avenue at the Burma Lounge in the mid-’40s. It was the Brubeck trio then and he was playing with Cal Tjader and Ron Crotty. Cal would play both vibes and drums. They couldn’t make it a quartet. They didn’t have the money, I guess.

JT: Did you have a chance to hang out with any of those players?

I was just a gangly kid sitting in the back. I didn’t get to know them, until years later. I would just go and listen to them.

JT: You were taking in a lot of movies at the time too. Were there any films with jazz themes that made an impression on you?

I liked movie scores but that was a different thing in those days. It was Max Steiner and Franz Waxman, who did big movie scores. I liked those, but they were a different kind of thing. I guess Elmer Bernstein and some of the guys came along with jazz scores, but that was later, in the 1950s. Sometimes jazz would be very effective on those scores if somebody knows when to turn it on and when to turn it off.

There’s been a lot of stuff over the years, and it would go in fads. Somebody would do a jazz score and it would be a hit, like Man With the Golden Arm, then people would do jazz scores for a while, and then back to something else. They’d do all country-western scores, pop scores, or rock-and-roll scores after Blackboard Jungle. Hollywood is a very faddish place. Whatever the fad is, I try to go against it.

JT: Music brought you to Hollywood long before acting ever did.

I’d travel to Los Angeles to hear bands that weren’t in the Bay Area. I’d go to Balboa Island and Rendezvous Ballroom and hear Stan Kenton back in the 1940s. Then I’d go up to the Beverly Cavern and listen to Kid Ory and then go down somewhere else and hear Charlie Parker. I’d go down to the Haig behind the Ambassador Hotel, and they’d always have great acts there. And then you’d go down to Central Avenue and there were a lot of good little crazy clubs you could fall into. There’s not much of that left. There’s a place in Santa Monica I went to the other night, the Temple Bar, where my son Kyle was playing. There used to be a place out there, the Loa, and the last person I heard out there was Stan Getz.

JT: That was Ray Brown’s club, right?

Yeah. I sat with Stan, and he had a gallon jar of water. His liver was obviously going, but he was still playing very well. I said, “Kyle, you gotta get down here and see this, he might not be around much longer; come and down and listen.” There are still some places out in the Valley, but not like what it used to be.

JT: You had discovered the Monterey area long before the festival started.

I was in the military in the early 1950s, and during the start of the Korean War there were a lot of people at Fort Ord who had been drafted: Andre Previn and Lennie Niehaus and all those guys. They’d have a lot of good music playing around the base, and we actually had a pretty good swing band there. With all these draftees you get all this top talent, who would have otherwise not joined the service. And later on I did go down to Monterey in 1958 and attended the first Monterey Jazz Festival, and I’ve been going to that for years.

JT: Is it just a coincidence that obsession and music are the themes of the first film you directed, Play Misty For Me.

No, It struck a chord with me. Originally the script was written as a late-night pop DJ in Los Angeles, but I took it up to where I lived in the Monterey area because I felt to make the character right, it should be a bigger fish in a smaller pond, so he would stand out more as a local celebrity. Then I made him a jazz-oriented DJ. I went and saw Jimmy Lyons and talked him into letting me shoot at the jazz festival to get some atmosphere in the picture. We recorded performances by Cannonball Adderley and Erroll Garner and various people.

JT: And “Misty” was the original song in the script?

Yeah, it’s what the writer had. Universal was the studio I was working for at the time, and they tried to talk me out of it. They thought it was too expensive a tune to buy, but I thought it was a good one, because it crossed over into pop and jazz and a lot of different things. It was in an era when music was turning more toward rock and roll, so this was a movie of a classic song that everybody would remember. I finally prevailed and used it and then brought Errol Garner back and recorded him for the end credits and turned it up a little bit.
 Above: Clint at the 2004 Monterey Jazzfest, California

JT: Obviously that wasn’t your last musical venture in film.

That was the beginning. I guess the ultimate thing was later on when I did Bird and I got to use all jazz because that’s what the story was about, and it was terrific. It was great fun, anyway. But I love all kinds of music. I’ve appreciated jazz and classical, but I’ve even liked certain country artists. I remember going to see Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys up near Eugene, Ore., when I was stuck up there with nothing to do. I just went out thinking this might be interesting and I was taken by how good some of the musicians were.

JT: You seem to work in jazz though, even when you’re not the director. The Secret Service agent you play in In the Line of Fire comes home and puts on Kind of Blue to relax. Was that something you put in the script?

I don’t recall whether it was in the script, but I think we put it in, and everybody thought it was good to have. It might have been written in by the author. If the writer knew me, he probably put it in (laughs).

JT: Whether it’s your agenda or not, you’ve been able to draw some attention to overlooked artists, particularly with Bridges of Madison County. How important was music when you were conceptualizing that film?

I just thought that these two people, Kincaid and Francesca, were sort of outsiders. She was a war bride from Italy, and Kincaid was a loner who traveled around trying to get photos into National Geographic. So they’re sort of outsiders and they listened to stations that played outside stuff. I picked Johnny Hartman because he was a guy who never made it into the mainstream but was really good, and Irene Kral was a great singer who didn’t do that much because she didn’t live that long. But what she did do was quite interesting. She and Hartman never became pop stars.

Whenever you do a period picture, okay, it’s the 1940s, so you’re going to play Glenn Miller. Or you’re going to go with more of a swing band, Duke Ellington or Basie, maybe. But nobody looks beyond that. They don’t look into Stan Kenton, Boyd Raeburn or other bands of that era. I tried to use Artie Shaw in Flags of Our Fathers, people who were great musicians and very popular at that time, but have sort of been forgotten as generations have gone on. People call attention to the musicians who are the obvious two or three, but they don’t really understand that era. It was a tremendous era musically. It’s lasted a long time, a lot longer than contemporary music today will last.

JT: So how important would you say the music is in how you conceive of a film? Can it end up affecting the structure?

I can’t say there’s any great intellectual thought that goes into it. To me, it’s just you hear something and say, “That’s great; wouldn’t that go nice with this?” Like I did a picture years ago, Honkytonk Man, about a sort of country singer, but we stopped at a blues club and he plays a little blues. He stops in a whorehouse and plays a little whorehouse piano. Whatever suits the project. Sometimes it can add a lot of shades to a movie. You can add a lot of different colors by utilizing source music, not even with the score. I did a movie years ago, The Eiger Sanction, and I had John Williams scoring the film for me. I shot some of it in Switzerland and some in the U.S., and I said, “Whenever we’re doing the Swiss scenes why don’t we use classical music, and when we’re in America why don’t we use a jazz score?” And he loved that and he did a very nice score on it.

JT: You’ve been involved in several documentaries as an executive producer, but it was only with the PBS series The Blues that you decided to direct one yourself.

[Martin] Scorsese did The Blues series and brought in various directors and said, “Choose whatever you want to do.” I felt, I’ll specialize on the piano. I had known what some of the archival elements were [that] I wanted, from looking at some old movie shorts and various things, some when I was growing up. If you’re going to do Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons and Dorothy Donegan, there were some pieces here and there. Bruce Ricker helped me out, finding out where that stuff’s located. I got to interview Ray Charles, probably one of the last interviews he ever did. I knew he was ill, but we got a chance to reminisce, because we’re both the same age and had grown up listening to a lot of the same music. It was great. I was able to utilize Oscar Peterson and Brubeck and all these players, plus some old-time blues players, trying to get a feeling of what the history of the piano was on the American scene.


Press here for the complete Eastwood Interviewed Index

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

The Great Eiger Sanction DVD Dispute!

A lot of people have contacted me over the last 6 months or so regarding the DVD release of The Eiger Sanction. I have also seen that it is a matter of discussion on other Eastwood related sites where the question has attempted to be addressed. The dispute is over the film's frame ratio, and while people have addressed it, many have not explained it to any 'relevant' degree. Firstly, The Eiger Sanction (Universal 1975) is a wonderful looking film. Sadly the real problem is that the large proportion of DVD releases (while in Widescreen 2.35:1), (Panavision), (Scope) or whatever you choose to call it, has remained simply 'Letterboxed' in a 4:3 full frame. Which presents a very big problem.

To explain further, most (all) films shot in this ratio today are subsequently released on DVD in Anamorphic form, or more commonly known as 16:9 enhanced. Enhanced for widescreen, 16:9 TVs. This means that the film image is actually squeezed, as real film would be in cinemas. In the cinema, it would be the projector lens that opens the film out to it Widescreen splendour. This same format is applied to the DVD and instead, the Widescreen setting on the TV does the exact same job. It 'opens the image' and preserves the clarity.

A Letterboxed Widescreen image contained in a full 4:3 frame, creates a very poor effect on Widescreen TV's. Basically you are left with 3 choices:

1) Preserving the image on TV by watching it in a 4:3 setting:
The downside of this option is that you will be watching the film with its Black bars not only at the top and bottom, but also at the sides of the TV screen, the actual image therefore is very small.
2) Selecting widescreen on your TV:
BUT, this will distort the image, you'll eliminate the Black side bars, but you will be squeezing the image down, and making the entire image look 'squashed', not a good option.
3) You can 'blow up' the image from 4:3.

Remember this way you are preserving the frame image, you can enlarge it to 14:9 or even 16:9. 16:9 will be the best way to view the DVD from the Letterboxed image, but this will now cause a secondary problem. Like a still photograph, whenever an image is enlarged, you are likely to expose more grain. So the film viewed this way is going to look pretty poor overall.
Of course, this could have been made so much easier if the DVD had been released properly in the correct format to begin with. This would solve all problems, unless of course, you still owned a standard 4:3 frame TV set..
For too long, The Eiger Sanction has been very badly neglected by the studio. Towards the end of 2009 another Eastwood Universal Box Set was produced in the U.K.
Looking into it closer, I found that The Eiger Sanction was finally re-mastered in its full 16:9 glory! Call me cautious, but I checked it out further on Amazon, read a few reviews.. Yes, someone had even stated, 'at least the Eiger is in 16:9...' Fantastic.
Even my dearest said, I'll add it as a stocking filler for Christmas - Wonderful! (See Below)

Above: Clint Eastwood The Collection - Play Misty For Me/Joe Kidd/Two Mules For Sister Sarah/Coogan's Bluff/The Beguiled/The Eiger Sanction/High Plains Drifter/Breezy

Come the morning of the 25th, the first thing I reached for was The Eiger Sanction, simply in order to admire its visual beauty. I take in the box details (under side of box)...Yes, there it is 16:9 enhanced!
I take out the case...Yes, there it is 16:9 enhanced!
I take out that little mirrored platter and lay it gently into the lap of my DVD player.
I press PLAY, and there before me....
is that bloody 4:3 Letterboxed version once again!
What the Hell?
Naturally at this point I was completely outraged, this was now quite unacceptable!
Looking at the box further I noticed that The Beguiled is detailed as Full Screen Letterboxed!!! What? I put that disc in and it turns out to be 16:9 Anamorphic!?!?
I'm now quite lost, silent in fact - I'm reduced to shaking my head slowly in a state of confusion?

I left it a month or so, so I could gather myself before I started to make contact with Universal. In between time, I researched this a little more and finally found out that the Universal France DVD was actually 16:9. I explained this all in a detailed email to Universal.
A month passed, nothing.
So I sent the same email, again and again. Until one morning I found an email waiting for me explaining that the U.S. version was actually 16:9. (I had explained that my player was multi regional). I wasn't entirely happy at first, because my research on the DVD had also informed me that the U.S version of the DVD was also just Letterboxed. But I remained patient. A week or so later I had a 'box set' arrive from Universal U.S.A American Icon Collection (Below).

I am pleased to report (to my knowledge) this version of The Eiger Sanction and Universal's French release, are the only versions to contain the 16:9 version of the film. It took a long time, but I was adamant on this occasion. I had been fooled too many times, as I knew a lot of the fans had. There was no explanation offered by Universal, even after I had asked repeatedly. They simply didn't reply. If anything is to be learnt from this, I suppose it's to never give up and persist with your complaint. I just felt the time had come and that this particular consumer finally deserved a little more.

I hope this explanation has helped throw some light on a very long and often overlooked point of concern.

~The Clint Eastwood Archive~