Timed with and likely designed to accompany Warner Home Video’s new Clint Eastwood box (Clint Eastwood: 35 Years 35 Films at Warner Bros.), The Eastwood Factor is essentially an extended DVD featurette on one of cinema’s most successful and busiest filmmakers.
Although his directorial career began at Universal with Play Misty for Me (1971), Eastwood made films at Universal and Warner Bros. before the latter studio offered him a permanent home to develop projects – and he’s stayed at WB for more than 40 years.
Writer/director Richard Schickel has grouped clips (some widescreen, a few full screen) from Eastwood’s WB films into an ongoing stream of iconic figures (anti-heroes, men coming to terms with their violent lives or thrust into violence, talented but self-destructive men) and genre twists (the spaghetti western reformulated as contemporary and nostalgic tributes), and as a basic into to Eastwood’s work as an actor and director, the doc will definitely motivate newbies to seek out his westerns, crime films, dramas, comedies, and war films, whereas fans will probably revisit favourites.
Schickel intercuts a few interviews with Eastwood, most taped at different times, and the actor/director is true to his screen persona as a man of few words. Eastwood articulates concisely his feelings about antiheroes and violence, and he also speaks of the more personal films he’s directed, most notably White Hunter Black Heart (1990), the underrated A Perfect World (1993), Bird (1988), and Honkytonk Man (1982).
The narration (spoken by Morgan Freeman) expands on Eastwood’s thoughts, but just slightly; the film clips obviously demonstrate Eastwood’s favourite themes and character obsessions, but the doc’s running time and genial tone ultimately leaves little room for any provocative, critical thoughts.
There’s also a detour that has Eastwood shown the wardrobe from his classic films by costume designer Deborah Hopper, which initially feels like fluff, but actually functions as a simple venue to name-drop several films not excerpted in the doc.
There’s some material regarding Eastwood’s early years as an actor at WB, doing bit parts in shows like Maverick, and his current home base at WB, where he maintains his production offices and aided in saving the recording studio (now branded the Eastwood Scoring Stage) where the music to many of his films were recorded.
By filtering the doc through the words and work of Eastwood, it espouses to be a personal statement on a lengthy career, but the omission of collaborators and colleagues limits the information pool, so there’s nothing new for Eastwood fans. The doc closes with a brief section on Eastwood’s home in Carmel, but it feels like a perfunctory coda before the quick end credit crawl.
Perhaps what resonates the most from the doc is Eastwood’s longevity, his determination to avoid ruts and move between genres, his skill as a striking storyteller, and simple words from his father about being masculine through small gestures.
That last point is maybe key factor to Eastwood as a filmmaker, because his investigations of men grappling with violence, heroism, and weakness at pivotal moments in their lives all relate to what lies beneath the clichéd masculine archetype in cinema.
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan