Warner's Clint Eastwood DVD collection contains 34 films and Richard Schickel's new documentary The Eastwood Factor.
By Lee Pfeiffer
There have been precious few film critics with the reputation of Richard Schickel. If he seems an omnipresent aspect of virtually every classic film discussion, it's because he represents the Golden Age of movie criticism. Schickel's long and impressive career has made him a legend in his own right, but his talents extend beyond writing. He's also an award-winning filmmaker. Schickel has occasionally found inspiration in his long-time friendship with Clint Eastwood as the basis for documentaries. His TV special that chronicled the making of Unforgiven was the first in-depth look at how Eastwood approaches filmmaking. Now, Schickel has created a new documentary- The Eastwood Factor - that is available as part of Warner Brothers' new DVD collection dedicated to the iconic star and director. The set contains every film Eastwood has made for Warner Brothers and Schickel's documentary provides the perfect companion piece. The film takes Eastwood on a trip down memory lane, with visits to the Warner's studio lot where he made so many movies. To commemorate the release of the documentary, Warner Home Video arranged an exclusive interview with Richard Schickel.
CR: When you first saw the Sergio Leone trilogy in the
1960s, you weren’t very impressed with the films or Eastwood…
RS:When I first saw
those films, I didn’t care for them but I now care for them very greatly. Historically
they became incredibly important in the western film genre. I also just like
the movies:they’re smart, they’re
funny, they’re weird. They’re extraordinarily good movies, but I didn’t notice
that at the time because in those days I was a traditionalist.
CR: When did you first meet Clint Eastwood?
RS: In 1976, after the release of The Outlaw Josey Wales. The friendship just developed the way
friendships do. There was nothing magical about it. When I first saw Josey Wales, I thought it was a terrific
movie.I liked the theme of the movie:
the rescue and reconstruction of troubled and hard-pressed people. I had missed
the whole Dirty Harry factor
initially after Pauline Kael had said it was fascist.I think I was kind of misled by that.Instinctively, I liked the movie, but then I
thought “I shouldn’t like this
movie!” (Laughs). I revisited the
film not too long after that and found a lot of virtue in the character.
CR: Ironically, in recent years, you’ve become sort of a
Boswell to Eastwood’s Dr. Johnson.
RS: I don’t know about that. I just like the guy and he
likes me. We get along in a casual, male bonding sort of way.That isn’t to say I don’t admire many of his
films. Unlike most actors, he greatly expanded his range and work in films like
Tightrope and especially with Unforgiven. He also did movies that were
not very commercial like Bird and White Hunter, Black Heart. More
recently, he’s undertaken movies that most directors of his age wouldn’t think
about undertaking – even if they were able to. It’s a classic example of an
older man doing his best work.It’s
certainly unusual in the movie business. Most older directors fall into silence
or irrelevance.Eastwood doesn’t just
screw off. He chooses fairly difficult topics. He proceeds with them in a
rational way.He’s not subject to
“celebrity follies” of one sort or another.
CR: It’s interesting that, like John Ford,Eastwood has acquired somewhat of a stock
company he prefers to work with.
RS:Yes, Joel Cox has
been editing for him for twenty years. The same with the cameraman Jack
Green.Eastwood talks about that. He
says it’s much easier to work with someone you’ve known for many years. You
don’t even need to communicate verbally- you just point your finger or give a
nod and the guy knows what to do.When
you’re on one of Clint’s sets, you’re not aware of him doing any heavy duty
directing. He’s there for the actors, if
they have a question or something like that. He believes that if you have the
right person in the part, you really don’t have to do very much.
CR: Your documentary on the making of Unforgiven was the first in-depth look at Eastwood’s working habits
on the set….
RS: That’s true. It’s also true ofour new documentary, The Eastwood Factor. We have him walking around the Warners lot and
reminiscing about the work he did there. Then we have him in Carmel, which is
one of his favorite places….So you get from this film an unprecedented,
intimate look at this guy.I don’t know
of any films about actors or directors that are more intimate than this
one.The only credit I take for it is
that he’s pretty relaxed around me. And so he displays a rather casual, good
humor in the film.
CR: Is there one film of Eastwood’s that you would designate
as a favorite?
RS: That’s a hard question because there are probably six or
eight that I like a lot. I guess I would have to say Unforgiven. As you pointed out, I was on the set and was intimately
involved with that movie.It’s a
wonderful film that delves into the topic of violence and the price we pay for
violent behavior. It shows how it haunts this macho guy. I would rank that
quite highly but I would also rank Letters
From Iwo Jima and Mystic River right
up there. Another movie that’s underrated is the one with Kevin Costner, a Perfect World.
CR: A number of his films for Warner Brothers were
underrated at the time of original release. True
Crime, for example…
RS: Yes, it was just passed over as a genre movie. But,
again, it was a film that dealt with the issue of a family under pressure. I
liked that film a great deal. The same with White
Hunter, Black Heart. I also like Honky Tonk Man.
CR: That’s a film that was far ahead of its time…it’s a
RS:Yes, it is- and
it’s such a small movie. It probably cost no more than a couple of million
dollars to make.I don’t think the
studio or critics treated that movie as seriously as it should have been
treated. You know, he’s good in that part. People said it drifted away from his
core audience, but I think all the while he was trying to break away from his
core audience. He likes material that challenges him and challenges the
audience. If you ask him about it, he’ll just say, “Well, it was just a story I
wanted to make.” But I think he was determined not to be trapped as just an
action guy. Even far back, he took on a film like The Beguiled, which is a very strange movie – and a very good one.
It was overlooked because it wasn’t the kind of thing people expected him and
Don Siegel to be doing at the time. It’s a really interesting contemplation of
a cocksure male who becomes very careless of the way he treats the women and
girls in that schools. It’s a movie that questions people’s values even though, at the time, no one recognized they were being questioned. So, he’s always
had that instinct for doing things that were special and a little bit
different. Even if you look at Dirty Harry. There have been a lot of tough cops
buthe’s more soulful than most of them.
Clint is not hugely articulate about this sort of thing. He always just says,
“I just go where I instinctively want to go.” I think that’s true, but I think
there is also consciousness operating in his choice of projects.
CR: Are there films of his that you feel fell short of their
RS: Oh, sure- he’s made pictures that didn’t work out
terribly well. I don’t think Midnight in
the Garden of Good and Evil is one of his best. I never understood why he
was so interested in that. He sent me over the book and said, “You gotta read
this- it’s an interesting book.” I read it, but I didn’t get it. He saw something
in that he’s never actually articulated to me.
I certainly didn’t see whatever he saw in it. I’m also not wild for Firefox. I suppose he just wanted to do some kind of
espionage movie. Space Cowboys is
okay but it’s not one of my favorites. But if you look at those movies, you
sort of see what he’s aspiring to. These movies are okay, but I wouldn’t
particularly want to go back and see them again.
CR: Do you think there will ever be an effort to create
director’s cuts of even Eastwood’s lesser films, utilizing any unseen footage
from the Warners vault?
RS:I don’t know if
there’s any footage. It probably wouldn’t be in the Warner vault, it would be
in the Malpaso vault. I’m always a little bit dubious about these director’s
cut versions of movies. I understand, as a writer, that sometimes I want to go
back to some of my old books and add something here orsubtract something there. But I think that
with film, any mistakes you make, they’re probably just as well buried. I think
this business of endlessly revising your work is probably not a good idea. I
think you have to put the work behind you and move on.We had
an event for the AFI out here where they asked ten or twelve directors or stars
to choose their favorite movie and come and present it. Clint chose Unforgiven and introduced it. We made
some remarks and then we had to leave to go to a party. But Clint said, “I just
want to check out the print” and we stood and watched some of it. So he starts
looking at it and looking at it. Finally, I had to tug at his sleeve and tell
him, “We really have to go.” He said, “I know, but I haven’t seen this in a
long time and it’s really kind of good.” (laughs).
The thing about Clint is that he’s always moving forward. He does not
particularly dwell on the past. I know how he feels because I feel the same way
if I have to go back and look at some of my old books to look something up.
I’ll say, “You know, that isn’t so bad.”
CR: The inverse is also true. I can never look at my old
books or documentaries because I know I’ll find flaws and things I’d like to
change but can’t and it’s too frustrating.
RS: Well Clint doesn’t do any of that, either – or at least
very little of it. I know Clint almost never goes back to look at his old
films. When he married Dina, I think he showed her two or three films she
hadn’t seen. I think one of them was Dirty
Schickel at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, promoting his documentary on the history of Warner Brothers. (Photo copyright: Damian Fox, Cinema Retro)
CR: Yes, it was- it’s amusing that she married the man who
played Dirty Harry without ever seeing the film.
CR: Do you think Eastwood will ever formally retire?
RS:I don’t know that
he’ll do a great deal of acting. I think he’s beginning to feel that acting and
directing in the same movie is arduous. For example, hewas in almost every scene of Gran Torino and it was more of a strain
than he thought it would be. It wasn’t necessarily because he was older. He was
working largely with a cast of amateurs so he had to be a more pro-active
director on that one than he would have been if he had a cast that included
Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman. I think he will be a little more sparing about
acting in his pictures but he might do a nice little cameo in one of his
pictures if it was appropriate. But I think he’s really going to focus on
directing as opposed to acting. I don’t imagine him stopping directing any time
soon even though he’s 80 years old. He has a way of pacing himself. People
think he’s a workaholic but he arranges to have a sufficient amount of time off
with his family in Carmel or their houses in Hawaii and Palm Springs. He gets
in his golf and family time.
CR: Do you think Eastwood remains underrated as an actor? I
felt he should have gotten a nomination for Gran
RS: He was very good in that. I was talking to Morgan
Freeman and Morgan is kind of pissed off that Clint didn’t win an Oscar for Million Dollar Baby. It’sa really great performance by him. I think he
has been – as an actor- a little bit short-shrifted.
CR: I think he’s always suffered from the John Wayne/Cary
Grant syndrome. He’s so good at playing a certain type of character that critics
overlook the fact that he’s not really playing himself…
RS: I go back and watch him in one of his early films, let’s
say a Dirty Harry movie. That’s the
acting. In real life, he’s an ironic, humorous man. He’s not a hard case.So the acting is when he’s saying, “Go ahead-
make my day.”
(Thanks to Carol Samrock for her help in arranging this interview)
Click here for more information about the new Warner Brothers Eastwood DVD collection