Clint Eastwood Term Paper

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Clint Eastwood’s career spans more than six decades, and is one of Hollywood’s few luminaries that is equally as renowned for his acting as his directing. Born in 1930 in San Francisco, Eastwood’s formative years were spent during the Great Depression, during which his family moved around in search of work. Eastwood has one younger sister (“Biography: Clint Eastwood” 1). Eastwood worked a series of odd jobs, mainly manual labor, until he was drafted into the army in 1950. During his time in the Army, Eastwood proudly recalls how he managed to skillfully avoid combat in the Korean War by becoming a lead swim instructor (Schickel 50). Eastwood exhibited traits of the proudly rebellious antihero that many of Eastwood’s films would later depict.

He was discharged from the Army three years later, after which he moved to Los Angeles and became interested in acting. His rugged good looks are what gained him access to Hollywood “despite minimal acting experience,” (“Biography: Clint Eastwood,” 1). After a few bit parts, Eastwood started his acting career in earnest with the television show Rawhide. Starring in Rawhide led to Eastwood being typecast into Western roles as a leading outlaw-protagonist, the quintessential loner cowboy who is full of toughness, courage, and frontier wisdom.

Eastwood has had a relatively tumultuous love life, which has perhaps added fuel to his depictions of masculinity on screen. In 1953 when he returned from his stint in the Army, Eaastwood married his first wife Maggie Johnson. They had two children together, and although were separated for years, did not divorce until 1984. Eastwood then lived with actress Sandra Locke for ten years (“Clint Eastwood Biography,” 1). After he and Locke broke up, 1996 Eastwood married a television reporter named Dina Ruiz, and they divorced in 2014 (“Clint Eastwood Biography,” 1).

Although Eastwood has been somewhat outspoken about his political views, he never used his celebrity status to wield power as a public servant. The only exception is that he did serve as the mayor of Carmel for two years; Eastwood still lives in Carmel. Eastwood at one time aligned himself with Republican values, spoke at the 2012 Republican National Convention, has harshly and openly criticized President Obama, and yet he more recently shifted his attitudes on issues like gun control and same-sex marriage, now declaring himself as a libertarian (“Biography: Clint Eastwood” 1).

In 1964, while Rawhide was still in production, Eastwood started working with spaghetti Western specialist Sergio Leone. The first film he and Leone did together was A Fistful of Dollars, which was shot in Spain and “made Eastwood an overnight star,” (“Clint Eastwood Biography” 1). During the peak of the Western genre’s popularity, Eastwood continued to star in European productions including For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966). Eastwood then segued into crime dramas, starring in the 1971 film Dirty Harry and its sequels before getting behind the camera.

As a director, Clint Eastwood lacks the status of an auteur, if only because his films span too many different genres and impart so many different tones, moods, and themes. Eastwood has directed Westerns (like The Outlaw Josey Wales), thrillers (like Play Misty for Me), romances (like The Bridges of Madison County), biopics (like Bird) dramas (like Gran Torino), sports dramas (like Million Dollar Baby), action films, films about war, crime dramas, and even films about space. Eastwood’s oeuvre is expansive, and therefore it can be difficult to pinpoint elements of continuity in his style. Eastwood has earned two Oscars for Best Director: for Unforgiven (1993) and for Million Dollar Baby (2005).

In 1971, Clint Eastwood made his directorial debut with the critically-acclaimed film Play Misty for Me. Eastwood’s style of direction in Play Misty for Me was heavily influenced by Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, both of whom had also directed Eastwood in their own films. From Leone, Eastwood learned the art of “meticulous framing—with great attention to both foreground and background depth,” whereas his “efficiency-based approach, focusing only on the base needs of each scene, efficiency-based approach, focusing only on the base needs of each scene,” were pragmatic skills Eastwood learned from working with Siegel (Kozak 1). Play Misty for Me is in many ways a quintessential 1970s-era thriller, and yet it bears the distinct stamp of Eastwood’s burgeoning eye for cinema.

Eastwood never lets go of his affection for the Western genre, which is why he did go on to direct several of them himself. The first real Western film Eastwood directed was 1973’s High Plains Drifter, which has been described as “genre-stretching,” as well as “tonally playful,” (Kozak 1). While interjecting wry or dark humor into the Western genre is not necessarily a novel thing by 1973, Eastwood’s ability to envision himself in the leading role allows for a more cohesive narrative on screen.
Eastwood also uses High Plains Drifter as an opportunity to stretch his creativity by fusing some elements of Mexican cinema, particularly the fusion of surrealism with the outlaw, drifter, and Western themes.

Eastwood followed High Plains Drifter with a few other Westerns, most notably the classic The Outlaw Josey Wales. On the surface, Outlaw bears most of the marks of the genre. Yet as Kozak points out, the film serves as a “fitting Swan Song for the genre,” which Eastwood himself reckoned was falling out of vogue by 1976 (1). As a result, The Outlaw Josey Wales is part love song to the Western, part ironic tribute. In terms of lighting, framing, and editing, Outlaw derives much from core genre elements but Eastwood manages to interject a meta-textual dimension that is only present in some of his other movies. Eastwood built upon the success of The Outlaw Josey Wales, returning occasionally to the Western genre for sentimentality and creative sustenance. In 1992, Eastwood directed Unforgiven, a much darker coda to the Western genre than Outlaw. Kozak calls Unforgiven Eastwood’s “crowning achievement as a director and his game-changing epilogue to an established career in the genre,” (1). Eastwood’s Westerns are uniquely well-developed because of his extended period acting under the tutelage of the likes of Sergio Leone, and also because of his intimate familiarity with the American frontier ethos—both its positive and negative components.

In 1988, Eastwood directed a film about jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker in Bird. Bird remains one of the few Eastwood films that does not star him in an acting role, and represents a total departure from his previous movies. Yet Bird also highlights one of the essential elements of Eastwood’s directorial style, which is the use of jazz in soundtrack. Yet Eastwood’s other music drama, Honkytonk Man (1982) blends his Western orientation in cinema with his appreciation for music. Moreover, these films show how Eastwood came to associate most with stories with strong male leads, or stories about individuality, courage, and masculinity. Like Westerns, both Bird and Honkytonk Man can also be considered period pieces, testimony to Eastwood’s versatility as director and auteur (Perno 1).

Eastwood took another new turn with The Bridges of Madison County in 1995. While Eastwood had directed romantic movies before, Bridges was his most successful. Starring alongside Meryl Streep, The Bridges of Madison County is not as much of a radical departure for Eastwood as it may seem—given that his character’s stark individualism plays into the brand of masculinity also showcased in Western movies. Likewise, Eastwood’s foray into films like Bird and Honkytonk Man might be about music, but they are also character-driven, centering on strong male protagonists. Eastwood rarely allows himself the opportunity to direct female leads with as much rigor, with the most notable exception being Million Dollar Baby (2004). Million Dollar Baby is one of Eastwood’s most famous films, partly because it is about a subject that is not given much treatment in Hollywood: female boxers. Hilary Swank stars in one of Eastwood’s only attempt at flushing out a female lead without resorting to gender tropes. The film earned Eastwood the Oscar for Best Picture, even though it is not his best attempt at direction given the formulaic nature of the story.

In 1997, Eastwood directed one of his most controversial films: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. One of the few films Eastwood directs but does not act in, Midnight stars Kevin Spacey as Jim Williams and John Cusak as John Kelso. Set in the humid, moss-strewn tree-covered, antebellum architecture-laden Savannah, this film is also a major shift in imagery and aesthetics from other Eastwood productions. In fact, the protagonist is also completely different from those Eastwood tends to feature in the movies he directs: an eccentric gay man. Yet Williams shares some characteristics in common with the classic Western-style heroes Eastwood can relate to; he is individualistic, embittered, cares little for rules, and has his own sense of morality. Eastwood captures the atmosphere of Savannah with aplomb, showcasing the director’s versatility.

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Works Cited

“Biography: Clint Eastwood.”
“Clint Eastwood Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biography.

Ebert, Roger. “Reviews: Gran Torino.” 2008.

Kozak, Oktay Ege. “The 10 Best Films Directed by Clint Eastwood.” Paste. 2018.

Perno, G.S. “Directors’ trademarks: Clint Eastwood.” 2016 Cinelinx.

Schickel, Richard. Clint Eastwood: A Biography. New York: Vintage.

Smith, Paul. Clint Eastwood: A Cultural Production. London: Regents of the University of Minnesota, 1993. Digital version:

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