This collection of seventeen essays is a significant contribution to scholarship on Clint Eastwood, building upon the scholarship of Drucilla Cornell in Clint Eastwood and Issues of American Masculinity (2009) and the first set of Eastwood essays collected and edited by Leonard Engel (2007). While Engel’s earlier book concentrated mostly on Eastwood’s big- screen Westerns, this one is broader in scope, including examinations of early television work and of recent films such as Invictus (2009), Hereafter (2010), and J. Edgar (2011). As these essays demonstrate, Eastwood is a thoughtful, daring, and ever- evolving artist who should also be seen as “undeniably rounded” (55).
Eastwood’s artistic range and depth are clearly on display in these essays, and students of Westerns will find new insights. Edward Rielly, in “Rawhide to Pale Rider: The Maturation of Clint Eastwood,” shows that Eastwood embraced the Western for its thematic possibilities, refusing to write off the genre as cliché bound. Other essays by Craig Rinne, Stanley Orr, and Philippa Gates bravely take up Unforgiven (1992), despite its status as the “most analyzed of Eastwood’s films” (140).
Masculinity reverberates through Eastwood’s films, and the contributors to this volume reveal how Eastwood consistently undermines easy notions of what it means to be a man. Cornell writes in her foreword that Eastwood’s movies both foreground “[t]he undoing of masculine hubris” and “engage with all the complexities of what it might mean to be a good man” (x). Eastwood’s interest in the fraught connection between living as a man and living up to society’s ideas about what men should be is suggested in almost every essay in this collection. Writing about Bronco Billy (1980), Dennis [End Page 223] Rothermel reveals Eastwood’s rejection of “the juvenile fantasy of masculinity and courage” (101). Arguing for a view of Mystic River (2003) as a tragedy, Robert Merrill and John L. Simons see the film’s determinism in a complex nexus of childhood sexual abuse, adult murder, and the received masculine roles of detective and violent avenger. In “Lies of Our Fathers: Mythology and Artifice in Eastwood’s Cinema” William Beard focuses on Eastwood’s skeptical view of the individualistic male hero. Beard demonstrates brilliantly how Flags of Our Fathers (2006) rejects the feel-goodism of Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Band of Brothers (2001) by depicting “how the sausage of charismatic patriotism is made” (245). One crucial element in this manufactured patriotism, Beard shows, is the idea of individual male soldiers who always act out “the reassuring spectacle of buddies risking their lives for one another” (240). Finally, to take one last example, John M. Gourlie and Engel analyze Gran Torino (2008) as a family film in which the central character matures from loner to a man invested in the needs of others, a community not of “bloodline kin.” In this film Gourlie and Engel see Eastwood “passing the keys of American manhood to immigrant sons of another race” through the conviction that male self- sacrifice, a defining feature of manliness, can be broadened to include not just one’s buddies but “all of humanity” (275).
As a whole this collection should prove valuable not only to students of Eastwood but also to readers interested in how America’s films speak about, and sometimes against, the nation’s dominant values.
Scott D. Emmert
University of Wisconsin, Fox Valley
Copyright © 2014 Western Literature Association
New Essays on Clint Eastwood
Edited by Leonard Engel
Foreword by Drucilla Cornell
Film and Theatre Studies
New Essays on Clint Eastwood is a companion to Engel’s previous book, Clint Eastwood, Actor and Director: New Perspectives. It includes discussion of some of Eastwood’s most recent films as well as his earliest work, and deepens our overall appreciation of his artistry and his growth as an ever more accomplished storyteller. The contributors to this new volume examine Eastwood’s body of work as both actor and director: his portrayal of Rowdy Yates in the television series Rawhide, his directorial debut with Play Misty for Me, his directorial and starring role in Gran Torino, and his recent directorial successes with Hereafter and J. Edgar.
A common thread throughout the volume is the respect for Eastwood’s commitment to cinematic storytelling. Individually and collectively, the essays highlight the variety and complexity of Eastwood’s themes and his accomplishments throughout a lifetime of endeavors. Examining his Westerns and detective films illustrates how Eastwood left his iconic stamp on those genres, while discussion of his more recent films expounds on his use of family, history, and myth to transcend generic conventions and to project a hard-won vision of a united humanity beyond the separation of ethnic, racial, and national conflicts. Cumulatively, the essays remind us of his lifelong devotion to perfecting his artistry and his powers as a storyteller.
Leonard Engel is a professor of English at Quinnipiac University. He has published a number of cinematic critiques, and he is editor of The Big Empty: Essays on the Land as Narrative; Sam Peckinpah’s West: New Perspectives (The University of Utah Press, 2003); Clint Eastwood, Actor and Director: New Perspectives (The University of Utah Press, 2007); and A Violent Conscience: Essays on the Fiction of James Lee Burke.
Table of Contents:
Foreword by Drucilla Cornell
1. “Landscape as Moral Destiny”: Mythic Reinvention from Rowdy Yates to the Stranger - Robert Smart
2. Thoroughly Modern Eastwood: Male/Female Power Relations in The Beguiled and Play Misty for Me - Brett Westbrook
3. Clintus and Siegelini: “We've Got a System. Not Much, but We're Fond of It." - Mike Smrtic and Matt Wanat
4. Rawhide to Pale Rider: The Maturation of Clint Eastwood - Edward Rielly
5. Eastwood's Treatment of the Life of Creativity and Performance in Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man, White Hunter Black Heart, and Bird - Dennis Rothermel
6. “You Can’t Hunt Alone”: White Hunter Black Heart - Richard Hutson
7. The End of History and America First: How the 1990s Revitalized Clint Eastwood - Craig Rinne
8. A Man of Notoriously Vicious and Intemperate Disposition: Western Noir and the Tenderfoot’s Revenge in Unforgiven - Stanley Orr
9. A Good Vintage or Damaged Goods?: Clint Eastwood and Aging in Hollywood Film - Philippa Gates
10. Space, Pace, and Southern Gentility in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - Brad Klypchak
11. Mystic River as a Tragic Action - Robert Merrill and John L. Simons
12. Lies of Our Fathers: Mythology and Artifice in Eastwood’s Cinema - William Beard
13. Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima: The Silence of Heroes and the Voice of History - John M. Gourlie
14. Gran Torino: Showdown in Detroit, Shrimp Cowboys, and A New Mythology - John M. Gourlie and Leonard Engel
15. Invictus: The Master Craftsman as Hagiographer - Raymond Foery
16. Hereafter: Dreaming beyond Our Philosophies - John M. Gourlie
17. Postscript, “Citizen Hoover: Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar” - Richard Hutson and Kathleen Moran
Praise and Reviews:
“In this rich collection, we find almost all of Eastwood’s major movies reviewed, with excellent critical analysis and care for Eastwood’s cinematic rejection of simplistic closure. The director does not attempt to give us an ultimate vision that leaves no place for the imagination of the audience: the very opposite is the case. The texts in this volume address the richness of Eastwood in his extraordinary work, not only as a director, but also as an actor, and give rightful acknowledgment to his place of honor in the cinema of the United States.”
—from the foreword by Drucilla Cornell
“As a whole this collection should prove valuable not only to students of Eastwood but to readers interested in how America’s films speak about, and sometimes against, the nation’s dominant values.”—Western American Literature