Clint: Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, Paris, Europe and beyond January 1985
I realised some time ago that I had a large number of great stills on file, mainly around Clint’s trip to Europe at the beginning of 1985. I don’t generally like to paste pictures up without any form of related text – it’s too easy and it’s not what the Archive is about. There are several other ‘quick fix’ sites out there or Twitter accounts that do exactly that, most of whom appear to source material from the Archive – only to reuse them and present them as their own…
Clint’s trip to Europe in ’85 is not covered a great deal on the internet. Although I know I have a great many articles and newspaper stories in my own collection – it’s the sorting and finding them that is often time consuming and frankly, a hell of a job! I will get around to it at some point, and will no doubt add and edit this post accordingly as I manage to re-discover them.
However, in the meantime, and to support these first selection of images, I thought I’d dig out this rather interesting article which was first published by The New York Times some 38 years ago this month (February 24th, 1985). The Article was titled, ‘Clint Eastwood, seriously’ and was written by John Vinocur (died Feb, 2022) who at the time was the Paris bureau chief of The New York Times.
It was a look back at this re-evaluation of Clint’s work from a European perspective and formed a rather good overview of the events.
(Left, John Vinocur)
The snow heaved and billowed theatrically, the wind groaned with a sound-studio's boosted resonance, and halfway through a night frozen white and jagged, an outtake from a Sergeant Preston of the Yukon movie, a Rolls and a couple of big- boss BMWs discharged a small group of men at the bottom of the stairway of a private plane at Riem Airport in Munich. Luftwaffe bombing runs to Coventry or Rotterdam were called off on nights like this, but The Clint Eastwood Magical Respectability and European Accolade and Adulation Tour moved on. The Gulfstream's jet engines rumbled, a ground-crew type pleading, in German, for an autograph was shown to the door, and the plane lifted itself into the gale, carrying the actor and director, the world's most popular film star over the last 15 years, to England.
The tour had started in Paris in January with a retrospective at the Cinemath eque, and Eastwood's decoration by the Ministry of Culture as a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres. Then it shifted to Munich for more of the same: the start of a retrospective at the Filmmuseum there, and, as in France, the deep, wet embrace of at least part of the country's film intellectuals. Eastwood's latest general release was his return to the saddle western, Pale Rider (1985) - which was pulling in a lot of press coverage.
As enterprises go, the tour was an intriguing one, bones being consciously fitted under the flesh of Clint Eastwood's new, public embodiment as a very important American film maker. As cultural, or political, phenomena go, it was plain fascinating. Until a couple of years ago, Eastwood, actor or director, had been consistently reviled as a cinematic caveman, a lowbrow and lunkhead credited with a single, frightening trick: his Dirty Harry cop pictures seemed to tap straight into the part of the American psyche where the nation's brutal, simplistic and autocratic reflexes were stored. The great, foul audience, guzzling diet cola and wolfing down whole cartons of Milk Duds, had been seduced into roaring with base delight as Dirty Harry cleaned up murderers the authorities would have left free. If you paid attention to many of the critics, this was do-it-yourself justice, and pandering to redneck mindlessness. Eastwood's approach, some Americans and Europeans insisted, was that of a potential or proto-fascist; his Dirty Harry films were deeply, truly immoral. A French writer pushed further: Eastwood was pure bully, pure bigot, America looking for a new Vietnam. Hollywood, the argument ran, had finally cloned John Wayne.
Then something changed, and the times, perhaps, caught up to Clint Eastwood. Jane Fonda did knee bends; Yves Montand began to talk like Alexander Haig. Encounter groups became a joke, Jimmy Carter told of beating off an assault by an attack rabbit, the rhetoric of the 1960's fell through the floor, and the critics switched direction on Eastwood's work like a crowd doing ''the wave'' at a football game. Perhaps his best film, ''The Outlaw Josey Wales'' - all outrage, and, most of all, fury against killing, brutality, and war - was made in 1976, but no matter.
Suddenly, in 1985, Dirty Harry, for some, is funny, ironic, a fantasy, operatic in tone and politically prescient. ''Honkytonk Man'' gets compared to ''The Grapes of Wrath'' (''My God,'' the actor-director says). The Eastwood acting style has evolved, adjectivally at least, from wooden to spare or economical. Someone writes that he is a feminist film director. The Guardian, the left-wing British newspaper, invites him to lecture on film, and offers a half-page explanation of his tenderness under the mysterious headline, ''A Die-Hard Liberal Behind the Magnum Image.'' Uncharacteristically discreet about such political transgressions, The Guardian spares its readers news of Eastwood's occasional telephone conversations with President Reagan, a man the newspaper treats as a knave or an ogre.
Everywhere, all the good, warm, trust-words come raining down: alienated, vulnerable, sensitive, self- deprecating. Even Norman Mailer visited Eastwood for a beer and a little talk: ''He's one of the nicest people you ever met.'' ''Eastwood is an artist.'' ''He has a Presidential face.'' ''Maybe there is no one more American than he.''
The Gulfstream is bucking forward someplace over France, heading for Luton Airport, outside London, and Eastwood is being asked to talk a bit about respect and his new respectability, about being deemed vulnerable, generous and terribly significant, almost overnight, at age 54. He comes at answers slowly, hedging, digressing, stalling artfully until he figures out what he wants to say. A man with a good mind and a good memory, he has a knack for suspending a question, like leaving a pot at the edge of burner, before pushing it back on the fire when he is good and ready. The Munich segment, Eastwood agrees, keeping the pot well from the flame, had not really followed the ''serious philosophy'' of the tour (a Warner Brothers P.R. man's expression), but he considers it no great loss because it had degenerated amusingly. There was a Spanish countess who had gotten to interview him, asking questions about whether he wanted to act with Greta Garbo - ''Who me, I don't have a foot fetish,'' comes Eastwood's exhausted reply - and there was a television appearance on a variety show with an M.C. described by Lennie Hirshan, Eastwood's agent, ''as the kind of guy Dirty Harry would have shot if he had the opportunity.'' It could have been Joe Franklin on a Tuesday afternoon: the actor's TV slot was between a kid who was going to see how long he could swim in an icy river and a rock group called the Kane Gang. A flack named Horst, who had been specifically told that Eastwood did not want to receive a plaque on the show (a fan-mag job, and not consistent with the new film-archives image), jimmied open a car's trunk to make sure he got one.
The Warner Brothers' jet descends and the conversation flattens, no clear answers at hand. A digital altimeter on the passenger-cabin bulkhead ticks down, 800, 700, 500. Nothing to see through the windows except basic black. At 400 feet, a strange nonsound, a sense of nonmotion envelops the cabin. It is as if the jet engines had been cut and the aircraft is adrift and powerless. Suddenly, the plane tilts backward, and the passengers are jolted against the backs of the seats. The Gulfstream pulls up hard and away. A reporter on the tour, realizing that the plane had dropped to ground level and then backed off when the pilot noticed the airport was invisible, broke into a terrified sweat. When he looked around, he saw Eastwood climbing out of his seat and heading for the cockpit. He was gone quite a while, and during that time, the reporter, remembering that Eastwood as a soldier in the 1950's had been in a plane that crash-landed off northern California, thought that if he were going to see the man at all, well, here was his shot.
The plane ran through its approach again, the altimeter blinked down, and the runway lights finally broke through the black. Eastwood returned. ''Were you scared?'' he was asked.
''No,'' he said.
Either Eastwood was wholly bogus, a liar, which seemed unlikely, or he was answering the question about vulnerability, and explaining why so many people attach their fantasies to him, and why certain others have detested him so completely. ''I just went up to watch the pilots work,'' he said. Painful as it may be to some of his new admirers, Eastwood seems to be exactly what he's told us about himself as Dirty Harry, or Josey Wales: cool, resolved, in control, self-reliant, somehow not quite in reach. No need to read him too deeply. No need to chisel tortured ambiguity, restlessness, into the granite of the distant hero's face. With Clint Eastwood, you get what you see, what you've always seen. Up close now, bearded, Eastwood's face has something legendary about it. Driving past the Houses of Parliament in London, someone says that there is a statue of Abraham Lincoln there, and someone else recalls a man telling Eastwood that he looks more like Lincoln these days than Dirty Harry.
Mostly, Clint Eastwood has been a surprise and afterthought, even to himself. He comes from an America where it is bad form to take yourself with gravity, to sound too analytical, an America that will accept risk and loss but likes pretence as little as it likes being pushed around. In hours of talking, the phrase ''the body of my work'' comes out of his mouth once, and he looks embarrassed, as if he wants it right back, so grand and unlike him does it sound. He does not treat the metaphysical in any conventional way, and does not make movies for dealers in subtexts, deep-readers, or people writing term papers; his films work backward in terms of theme: They are stories first, ones with human relationships that make Eastwood feel comfortable; later, someone, perhaps himself, can come and say that one is about loyalty, or about responsibility. Eastwood's thought process, he explains, runs to small units, frame after frame. It's the way the family was, he says, looking for an irony. ''My dad's dream was to have a hardware store. I'm his son.'' The pride is there, but the doubts dilute it every day.
The remark seems to make him uncomfortable. He says nothing. He looks out the window. Needled, kidded, treated like a third-rater for so long, respected so late, he is essentially a wary man. He finds none of Dirty Harry's easy derision, no one-line dart, to call on to make the Lincoln talk disappear. Eastwood is condemned to saying what he thinks.
''You know,'' he says after a while, ''I'd like to know what the economics of that were. I mean freeing the slaves. I'd like to know what was behind it.'' What is this Jerk doing directing films we're not going to like when we don't even like him as an actor?'' Clint Eastwood said that of himself recently, trying to sum up the prevailing critical view of his work over the last 15 years. It's an old story. The cover of Life magazine on July 23, 1971, carried the actor's picture and the caption, ''The world's favourite movie star is - no kidding - Clint Eastwood.''
''Did you once describe yourself as a bum and a drifter?'' someone asked him in Paris.
''No,'' Eastwood answered.
''Then what are you?''
''A bum and a drifter.''
That was Paris, and the line was not so much thrown but flipped away in Eastwood's modified Smothers Brothers, California deadpan. But the subject returned in London, and Eastwood rubbed it again, a man massaging an old ache that he assumes will last as long as he does.
''Wherever I came from, I always came out of left field. I wasn't predicted to do anything. So it was easy to say that this guy was going nowhere. And then when he does try to do something, maybe that disappoints the soothsayers who've decided his type isn't supposed to do anything at all.''
His pride, his sense of what is right, is intense and at times it comes close to a kind of puritanism. For an extraordinarily rich man, he gets extravagantly upset about the money and time spent on making films.
His own, financed and distributed by Warner Brothers, and usually made by Malpaso, his production company, are expedited as if there were Oscars for the fastest shoots and most first takes to reach a final print. For a man who lives in the very protected elegance of Carmel, Calif., his clothes often look like K Mart and Sears, but this could be a kiss blown at his audience, the people who came to Clint Eastwood pictures when Rex Reed was describing them as a ''demented exercise in Hollywood hackery.''
Talking to people, he is gracious, tolerant, almost courtly. But he wants to be left alone about his former wife, whom he divorced after 25 years of marriage, and his friend, Sondra Locke, the actress, who frequently appears in his films. Little bits of himself work loose though. ''I'm always appalled, just knocked out by disloyalty,'' he says. ''I never think it's coming.'' He tends to trust people, and sometimes wonders why:
''I was driving around my place in Carmel, and I saw this guy and his girl camping on it. I thought, 'What the hell, they're probably having a great time, let 'em stay.' Later, I went back, and they had left the place a mess. I felt I had been had.''
When he talks about actors and films he likes, the names are not the Waynes and the Stewarts, like himself, the redwoods of the American movies. Instead, they are Montgomery Clift and James Cagney, Simone Signoret and Maggie Smith, ''Saturday Night and Sunday Morning'' and ''Breaker Morant.'' His descriptions of them are kind but cool, with Eastwood saving his passions for his audience, the single element, along with his instincts, that he seems to trust totally.
''I never second-guess audiences, because many times they're just so much further ahead of you. And then sometimes, they miss what you think you've been explaining so simply. So you can't second-guess. All you do is build on your own instinctive reactions. That tells you what to do. You do it the best way you know how, and you hope, of course, that somebody likes it.''
He insists he is ''no great intellect'' and is uncomfortable with ''analyzing things too much.'' It is not a sham retreat by an intelligent man into some kind of yokelism, but a very measured view of his own skills. He has always cut dialogue out of his films, and limited exposition because he feels the audience will catch on without it. Eastwood describes acting and directing as ''interpretive'' functions, activities at a somewhat lower rung on his creative scale than writing a script. He waits for scripts, rather than commissioning them on a theme that interests him. The character of Dirty Harry, for example, was developed from a story by Harry Julian Fink and R.M. Fink. The script was originally meant for Frank Sinatra, but he got sick, and Eastwood took over the project, changing the personality of the detective. His next film, ''Pale Rider,'' a western, is an exception to the pattern - Eastwood's notion of a theme came first, and the movie was written to fit it. When he says he can pick out a good script, but does not have the ability to write one from scratch, it is as if he is drawing lines and saying: ''This is me. This isn't me. My limitations are real.''
He harbours considerable anger against the critics who described him as an apologist for violence and no-nothingism. ''Those are the kind of people who become dictators and think they should run everybody. There's an awful lot of people out there who want to tell everybody else what to do. . . . They're always thinking in terms of all those poor lonely people who don't know anything out there. It's just a giant ego running around. . . . They're putting themselves above and looking down saying this is what the masses see.''
Eastwood insists that he does not fully understand the reversal in the critical current about his work.
The pattern of his films has not changed over the years - a smaller, more detailed, more complicated film, and then a popular one, broader in approach, the kind of enterprise that Graham Greene refers to as an ''entertainment,'' as opposed to a novel. The same critics who notice that Wes Block, the cop in ''Tightrope,'' is vulnerable and has ''problems,'' may not have paid much attention to the fact that Josey Wales, almost 10 years earlier, had ''problems,'' too: His entire family was wiped out by marauders. Sometimes, Eastwood says, he has the impression ''a couple of gray hairs don't hurt.'' Other times he assumes that the relative lack of commercial success of a couple of his more ambitious films probably has been a positive factor - ''Some critics just don't approve of too much effective screen presence or too much success.'' There is also the accumulation of continued effort: No one in Hollywood of any stature works as much, or is as completely involved in every aspect of film making.
Politics count, he knows, and he acknowledges, without elaborating, that a change in the American and European political mood toward one closer to his conservative instincts has probably played a role in the critical reassessment. But the labels and tag words irritate him because he feels they have done him harm. ''I don't know, I don't have an explanation other than the fact that maybe there were certain prejudices in the times of Dirty Harry in 1971 that don't exist now, or are changing now, or times are changing. Maybe I'm older, more mature, maybe the audiences are changing and I'm changing. It's just circumstances.''
Eastwood insists he is not sure how much he is enjoying the new respectability - ''maybe yes, in the back of my mind, but I'll hedge it'' - and the reason could be that a lot of it may be based on what looks like a wilful swelling, a puffing up by critics of what he wants to say. The respect is there now, and Eastwood cares about it, but with it came the ''liberal behind the Magnum'' headlines, and the kind of phrases, like the ones in the Cinemath eque presentation that better fit what the critics would like to see than what Eastwood has offered. One of the articles tacked on the ''hommage'' insisted that if Eastwood were to do a film on the Vietnam War, he would be ''on the side of the Vietnamese people, of course, just like he has been, minus any sentimentalism, on the side of the Indian and black minorities.''
Eastwood is reminded of this and his face stays blank. When he thinks about the last few years, he makes other points:
''I never begged for respectability.''
''I never said, 'Come, let me show you, come like me.'''
Then what do you need this trip for, someone asks.
''It's nice to come to Europe. It's nice to hear people say nice things, isn't it?''
Clint Eastwood grew up in about 10 different places in California in the Depression as his parents moved around looking for work.
He was not an Okie, he says, and never went hungry, being told instead to eat everything on his plate, and to think about the starving Armenians. He went to high school in Oakland in a blue-collar neighbourhood that also produced Billy Martin, the baseball manager, and other Dirty Harrys. Nobody ever told him he was smart or promising. The Army got to Eastwood around the time of Korea, but he taught swimming and made friends with guys who wanted to be actors. He wound up in Los Angeles and started L.A. City College on the G.I. Bill. He pumped gas and emptied garbage cans. Universal Studios, hiring young flesh as contract players, gave him a job for $75 a week. He got bit parts in giant tarantula and Francis the Talking Mule movies. Eventually, Universal let him go, but he got a role in ''Rawhide,'' a new television series that lasted seven years, and it brought him professional skills and a kind of national popularity.
In 1964, Eastwood went to Europe, packing his own poncho, six-shooter and little cigars, to make ''Fistful of Dollars,'' the first of three films that became known as spaghetti westerns. Conceived by Sergio Leone, the Italian director, they produced the Eastwood personage, and a controversy, that was to run, with modifications, into the present through the Dirty Harry films. As ''The Man With No Name,'' Eastwood was a western hero without the western's traditional heroic characteristics. He had no sense of chivalry, no sense of regret, and an approach to a witheringly violent world that could be justified as ludicrously ironic, or condemned as a hired gun's cynicism and amorality.
Enormously successful outside the United States, but little more than cult pictures at home, the Leone westerns were drawn so large, cut so close to a grand guignol model in their freaky disproportions and black-comedy excessiveness, that it took a determined intellectual effort not to classify them as parody. If you were going to force a Great Metaphysical Theme onto the films, a reasonable argument might have been this one: that they offered a consciously fantastic and absurd nonreply to the dilemma of finding the right response for violence that is insane and absurd. But Pauline Kael, the eminent critic of The New Yorker, fused what she saw as the immorality of the spaghetti westerns with the Eastwood character of Harry Callahan, the San Francisco detective, who represented the actor's first stunning success in the United States in 1971, and his entry into the arena of politics and myth. Turning her view of their message into Eastwood's view of the world, she wrote, ''A tall, cold cod like Eastwood removes the last pretensions to humane feelings from the action melodrama. . ..'' He is offering ''a man who essentially stands for nothing but violence,'' a ''hero of a totally nihilistic dream world.''
What Dirty Harry did in the 1970's was to outrun an American political phenomenon by close to a decade. In the series involving the rebellious detective, Eastwood caught a mood of blue-collar discontent with a country portrayed in the films as being run by bureaucrats, sociologists, appeasers and incompetents. American society's deepest incapacity, the Dirty Harry films said, was in failing to protect the normal lives of its normal people, and its most galling trait was rationalizing crime and the intolerable with guidance-counsellor jargon. In the films, the country is reduced to the scale of San Francisco, and Dirty Harry roams the city, defying the bureaucracy and restoring order. Better than anything else, Eastwood as Harry transmits a mixture of irony and outrage about the fact that he, a reasonable kind of guy in a Sears Roebuck sport coat, should have to be going through all this. Harry responds to the mess with a very theatrical distance, a kind of hyper-coldness, and if you watch the films again, it is about as hard to take Harry literally as it is the almost-campy Eastwood of the spaghetti westerns.
In retrospect, the argument might be that all the killing was really cop-film convention, and that now, with the wind blowing the other way on Eastwood, no one gets morally outraged when a woman is stuffed into a clothes dryer in ''Tightrope,'' his much praised recent film. But there's more. What's lasted from the Dirty Harry movies, and really gone from them into American folk culture, isn't the hecatomb, but Harry's cool, and with it, the films' sense that submission to violence is as morally reprehensible as creating it. The films say it is possible not to cower. Looking at a gunman and wondering how many shots he has left in his Magnum, Eastwood says, ''You've gotta ask yourself one question: Do you feel lucky? . . . Well, do ya, punk?'' In another film, he eggs a thug on, telling him, ''Come on, punk, make my day.'' To use the anti-Eastwood critics' frame of reference, these are fantasies of omnipotence, a phrase that doesn't fit Eastwood's style, but one whose reality he acknowledges. Is Dirty Harry political? Yes, of course. Is Dirty Harry fascist, as Pauline Kael has suggested? Ask the black audience with whom Eastwood has had enormous popularity.
The answer, instead, may be that Dirty Harry - like Eastwood's Josey Wales - deals mainly with the audience's fears, its outrage at having to exhaust itself in steering clear of trouble, and Harry's example as someone refusing to bend or to run.
In the context of the early 1970's, in terms of America's view of itself then, Dirty Harry wasn't a fascist, but a romantic, and a rather subversive one. By 1980, measured against the changes in the American political mood, Dirty Harry's message looked vastly more ordinary. Ronald Reagan had become President, and Clint Eastwood, obviously, had voted for him.
The success of the Dirty Harry series turned Eastwood into one of the great, rich, traditional stars of the American film industry without making him an acceptable, or even interesting, personality for a very substantial part of the intellectual community that sets the country's cultural standards. In 1976, after Eastwood directed the western ''High Plains Drifter,'' an article in Esquire by Bruce Jay Friedman, the novelist and playwright, talked reverently about his mythic qualities; Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice wrote favourably about his work. But the tone of reviewers usually had a disbelieving edge. In Europe, expressing a liking for Eastwood (once described by the left- wing Le Nouvel Observateur as ''the reactionary antidote to the liberal young lions, Hoffman and Redford'') was akin to lining up with barbarianism. ''The acting is a riot,'' said Rex Reed of ''High Plains Drifter.'' ''The direction (by Eastwood) is as interesting and as mobile as the rear end of Eastwood's horse. I've seen better westerns at the Pepsi Cola Saloon in Disneyland.''
In the next years, Eastwood alternated movies aimed at mass audiences with smaller, more personal films. One of these, ''Bronco Billy,'' a film about a Wild West show troupe, followed ''Every Which Way But Loose'' and ''Any Which Way You Can,'' Eastwood's two orangutan movies. ''Honkytonk Man,'' his film about the deterioration of a country singer during the Depression - his first picture that did not make money - was quickly compensated by ''Sudden Impact,'' the latest Dirty Harry, which took in great amounts of cash. Somewhere in the early 1980's, the tidal flow had reversed, and Eastwood, directing films since ''Play Misty for Me,'' 1971, found himself being described as a man with an oeuvre.
''Bronco Billy,'' a favourite when the Museum of Modern Art in New York offered its Eastwood retrospective in 1980, is a fascinating example of how a film-maker's work can be co-opted by critics who have decided, on their own terms, that he is to be treated kindly. Caught in the French re-embrace of all things American after decades of institutionalized anti-Americanism, Les Cahiers du Cinema, probably the world's most hyper-intellectualized film review, spoke of Eastwood's ''self- parodying subtlety'' and ''his perfectly sincere humility'' in ''Bronco Billy,'' while describing the film's collection of losers as people who ''have transcended the boredom of daily life and chosen to live in a universe of poetry and the imagination.''
It is a partially blind read of the film. In rehabilitating Clint Eastwood and making him fit for Guardian lectures and Chevalier des Arts et Lettres lapel ribbons, it skips over the Eastwood who was the centre of so much scorn all these years, and who, while finding different tones and nuances, hasn't changed so enormously. Bronco Billy, the two-bit Wild West show hero, never looks more angry or less tolerant than when his friend tells him he deserted from the Army in Vietnam. When a bunch of kids at an orphanage ask him if he ever kills anybody, Bronco Billy explains ''no,'' and then adds in what is almost an aside to the theatre audience, well, not ''unless it's absolutely necessary.'' When Bronco Billy allows himself to be humiliated by a policeman to get his deserter friend off the hook, the very old-fashioned message is one of loyalty and friendship. And the movie itself is wildly patriotic, urging everyone to dream Big American Dreams: The little cowboy show is saved when the inmates of a home for the criminally insane sew them a new big top, stitched together from hundreds of American flags. If critics are going to take Clint Eastwood seriously, they are missing the point if they ignore the final, joyous scenes of the Bronco Billy troop reunited under a crazy quilt of red, white, and blue, stars and stripes.
''I wanted to say something about everybody being able to participate,'' Eastwood said. ''America is the maddest idea in the world, put together by madmen. So, here comes this tent. I suppose other people see America as a collage of crazies. Well, maybe we are kind of hard to fathom.'' The European Accolade and adulation tour bumped forward. Looking back from London, things had gone well but imperfectly. On one hand, as if by common accord, nobody mentioned ''City Heat,'' the rather recent blip below the median line of what Positif, another ambitious French film publication, grandly described as Eastwood's ability to ''totally control his audience and his own universe, both stylistically and mythologically.'' On the other hand, in Paris, Jack Lang, the Minister of Culture, had another engagement and could not make it to the Cinemath eque award ceremony. Lennie Hirshan took the green chevalier ribbon anyway and later threaded it through the buttonhole of one of Eastwood's Dirty Harry corduroy jackets. A man quietly checked the list of other American cultural chevaliers of the Mitterrand era. They included Myron Karlin and Sidney Sheinberg, studio executives at Warner and Universal; the investigator decided not to tell Eastwood. John Huston became a member of the order in 1984, but with a higher rank, commander. Maybe the French were still not convinced about Eastwood's perfection.
The Germans, who followed one another into Eastwood's suite at the Vier Jahreszeiten in Munich, asked the actor continuously about the New York subway vigilante. One young man, apparently hoping to nail Eastwood as a fascist, or to pronounce him reformed and contrite - Eastwood would later call the visitor ''the Wehrmacht lieutenant'' - failed on both scores. Eastwood insisted there was something pretty significant about the wave of sympathy for the vigilante; he also said he didn't approve of people shooting other people because their dog had urinated on their lawn, a line, he pointed out, that came from a 10-year-old Dirty Harry picture.
In London, the Daily Mail, noting that Europe was suddenly discovering Eastwood's ''hidden depths,'' announced his arrival with the headline: ''Dirty Harry Gets Arty.'' Lord Snowdon was waiting for him, having turned two rooms at Claridge's into photographic studios. ''As you know,'' Eastwood's typed itinerary said, ''Snowdon is one of most respected portrait photographers working today. His family connections on his wife's side (his first wife's side) are also not to be sneezed at (!).'' The photographer asked the actor-director to wear black for his pictorial immortalization.
A man from The Guardian came, furiously intent on liking Eastwood, but on his own terms. At first, he seemed hopeful that Eastwood would say that his film ''Honkytonk Man'' was about the death of the American Dream. He did not; it was not. Then, he seemed interested in drawing Eastwood into confessing that his own youth was hard and bleak, and perhaps, from there, into some psychopolitical construct: a 54-year-old man finally coming to terms with his youth and the working class? Eastwood would not bite; he chewed on an apple instead, and told a couple of companions later that he saw ''that failed American Dream stuff coming a mile away.''
Wherever he went, the bottom-line question was really whether he was going to be President of the United States. The question usually came cautiously wrapped, maybe with a reference to an actor- President who also had been upstaged in a movie by a monkey co-star, but the intent was serious. And why not? So many people were finding so much in him, co-opting the details that made them feel comfortable, ignoring the rest.
Clint at The National Film Theatre in London for the The Guardian lecture, 14th January 1985
Clint Eastwood: Very un-freaky, likes Oskar Werner and ''Amadeus'' and jazz, works out every day; or: displays a Californian's fascination about diet (fish extract, thyons and things called cholines), owns a bunch of expensive cars, thinks hunting is obsolete; or: rather likes guns, says he worries about the environment, fears losing his luggage in airports, and photographed right, looks not entirely unlike Abraham Lincoln.''
After all, Eastwood had already laid out his positions. It was clear from ''Firefox,'' another blip under the Cinemath eque median of high artistic achievement, that Eastwood did not trust the Russians much, although not in any obsessive proportions since he believed that John Milius's ''Red Dawn,'' described widely as of the loony-right and paranoid, was not a very good movie. The nation knew where he stood on law and order, and ''Honkytonk Man,'' a film set unromantically in the Depression, made it clear he didn't approve of poverty as a builder of character; the problem in helping the poor was education and incentive, he said. His audience was aware he voted for Nixon, and Eastwood described Reagan as ''a very nice guy - I like him.'' He was a Republican, he acknowledged, but not doctrinaire, defining people with very ideological positions as ''the most boring guys in the world.'' The right-to-life groups made him nervous since they seem to lead to people bombing abortion clinics, and the born-again types did, too, since how could Clint Eastwood be sure, or the Russians for that matter, that one of them, near the nuclear trigger, might not decide that everyone, atheists excluded, would be much happier in the hereafter.
He felt strongly about civil rights, he said, and he felt strongly about the need for less government and fewer taxes. Eastwood also felt he knew something about America, perhaps in the way that a Lee Iacocca or a mailman or a mechanic did. In the last elections, he saw that Mondale ''was going to all these fringe groups, but he forgot about the people in the middle. Mr. and Mrs. America out there were saying: 'What is this about? We don't care about that. What about us?'' '
And he noticed other things. When he was planning to film ''Escape From Alcatraz'' in the 1970's, he sought permission from the National Park Service to use the abandoned prison island, turned into a park. ''In order to film we promised to clean the place up, to paint it. That meant in particular painting over the graffiti that was left behind by Indians who occupied the island in a protest thing.''
The Eastwood squint narrowed, his portrayal of reason about to clash with nonsense. ''So we did our little presentation, and the Park Service guy said, 'No, no, you can't paint that over. It's part of our history.'''.
Eastwood let his view of the world sink in. It is not Dirty Harry outrage, but a kind of can-you-believe-this look that assumes total agreement. ''Well, that's the way the country was,'' he said. Eventually, he explains, he convinced people to let him paint and restore the buildings on Alcatraz, and he seems now to look back at the situation as if it had some kind of symbolic value, a little victory for what he considers good sense. ''I think things have changed a bit in the meanwhile,'' he said. Straight, no subtext.
But there was a problem.
''I've never thought of myself as . . . first of all, I wouldn't be able to operate in that kind of . . . ''
Why? someone asked.
'' 'Cause I'm not . . .''
Because you aren't a liar?
''I guess I can lie like anybody else, but I don't like it. I'd hate to exist constantly, day- in, day-out, having to come up with something. Having to come up with something whether it's the truth, a variation of the truth or whether it's an outright lie or variations on a lie.''
The Presidency talk amused him, he said, ''but what I think was being referred to was just a physical look, a look that he thought might inspire some sort of credibility with the public. It's just thinking out loud. I don't think it's meant to say I am the best prepared. I'm probably the least prepared.''
Eastwood smiled. The next question was: ''Would you have liked to make movies with Greta Garbo?'' Someplace during the award ceremony at the Cinemath eque, the movie museum in the Palais de Chaillot, Pierre Viot, who made the presentation, began to talk about ''the abyss of perplexity'' that Eastwood had created for reviewers and students of film. He threw in a couple of references to paradoxes, heroes and anti-heroes, to an ''America that is not summarily Manichaean'', construction or destruction, contradictions, and even quoted a Dirty Harry line - ''I'm afraid you've got the wrong idea about me.''
Somebody hunting for a paradox might have sought to look at Eastwood's face at that moment. The oils of anointment were being poured on full force, but he was being drowned in explanations that didn't reflect Eastwood as much as an intellectual establishment's difficulties in classifying him - and its race to mark him down matured, reformed, liberal, or whatever.
The joke was close to enormous. The strained exegesis of Eastwood and his work mostly showed the impossibility of his existing as a man who is what he seems. Now, Eastwood had got institutionalized respect, but at a price: being told about representing 17 levels of ambiguity and enigma, and then, as the most popular film star in the world, hearing Mr. Viot tack on a peculiar indignity: ''You really are someone'', he told Eastwood. ''You really have something to say.''
Later, a man would ask Eastwood a question he asked a couple of times before: What did you go through all this for?
''Well, it's like this,'' Eastwood said, his voice the same soft monotone of all his films, of Bronco Billy, of Josey Wales, of Harry Callahan. ''They're pretty nice people. And I hadn't been in Europe for a while.''