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Late in his career, Eastwood expanded his layered storytelling to include conjoined movies: Flags of Our Fathers, which portrays the horrific World War II battle for Iwo Jima from an American perspective. Two months later, he extended that story with a second film, Letters from Iwo Jima , the same battle from a Japanese perspective.
The recent success of James Cameron’s epic Sci-Fi thriller, Avatar, easily surpassed his immensely profitable ( 1997 ) Titanic — whether measured in terms of box office, or technical achievement. Those who have seen Avatar in its superb three-dimensional format come away impressed with the potential for Cameron’s three dimensional expansion of the cinematic medium.
But movies are merely containers that tell stories, and while there is and will remain a vast audience for content that is fantasy, or expository of creative genius, the roots of movie making remain entrenched in reflecting the human experience.
James Cameron has produced and directed many memorable films — ranging from Terminator ( 1984 ) to Titanic ( 1997 ). True Lies, Aliens and The Abyss entertain by action and suspense — the hallmarks of what some call the Cameron Genre. Cameron’s movies have been commercially successful because they are consistently story-driven — even when they are packaged and promoted as spectacular movie events.
If James Cameron is a master of his genre, and one of the greatest movie makers who ever lived, he is narrow in his scope of story telling. His success derives from being an excellent writer, director, editor and producer of materials which rest on action, situation, deviance and violence. Subtlety is not what he is best known for, but part of his success with Titanic was in his well crafted love story — and his choice of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio to bring that romance to life.
Few movie makers put forth the effort to expand the story line envelope into uncharted territory. That’s mainly because today’s movie business leans heavily on commercial success, as opposed to artistic achievement. Some of those who go strongly against type to test their mettle as storytellers so thoroughly that their once perceived genre no longer defines their work, include Ron Howard, George Clooney and Clint Eastwood.
What each of these men brings to their producing and directing work is acting experience. But only one of them has made movies in later life than run entirely against the type and genre that made them famous. For Clint Eastwood, it was Dirty Harry Callaghan, a seriously conflicted and prone to violent character that first emerged in Eastwood’s western characters beginning with Rowdy Yates in his six-year TV series, Rawhide.
His early movies built on his tough-guy image in a series of westerns from Fist Full Of Dollars, A Few Dollars More, The Good The Bad and The Ugly, and Hang ‘em High. Eastwood became the epitome of the violent and thoughtless American — roles that made him a major movie star but only touched at the breadth and depth of his talent and story-telling abilities.
Clint Eastwood Academy Awards
- 1992 Best Director – Unforgiven
- 1992 Best Picture – Unforgiven
- 1994 Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award
- 2004 Best Director – Million Dollar Baby
- 2004 Best Picture – Million Dollar Baby
Notable Nominations Nominations
In the last two decades, Clint Eastwood has revealed the full breadth and depth of his immense talent as well as his insight into the movie as expositive of American life, values and character. But that was only a start, for Eastwood is one of the most astute producers in his medium, a cunning businessman willing to put his own legend, and sometimes his own money on the line to prove there is an audience for movies of substance, character and values.
These abilities alone would seem enough to justify Clint Eastwood winning the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1994.
Eastwood’s other talents include pianist and composer. He wrote film scores for films he produced and directed including Mystic River (2002) and Grace Is Gone (2007). He also composed music for other films ( Changeling, 2008 ), as well as the piano segments in Wolfgang Petersen’s, In the Line of Fire, in which Eastwood also starred ( 1993 ).
Eastwood is not alone in advancing his movie career beyond acting. But he is alone in taking on so many projects that reveal the intricacies of the human condition, or speak to the complexities of modern life. The Bridges Of Madison County ( Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep ), for example, sets out to tell a very complicated love story intertwined with the seeming simplicity of rural Iowa. While the Eastwood-Streep romance bloomed in the heat of summer, Director Eastwood told us about the contradictions of middle America, and the incestuous nature of small town life.
What his audience discovered were two people in search of love cast against the backdrop of a society avoiding reality by means of communal denial. Not all directors seek to reveal what lays beneath the surface, as Clint Eastwood has done, for in most stories the foundations that drive all of our lives are overlooked for being irrelevant, or intentionally left out.
In Stephen Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, for example, we learn little about the underlying forces driving the principal characters in favor of weak storyline meant only to rivet our attention on the what-if elements of dinosaurs running afoul of humankind. Steven Spielberg’s story telling tends to go for the jugular focusing solely on the principal story line while Eastwood looks wants us to know the inner conflicts, movies and hidden agendas of his characters.
In Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg relentlessly follows the surface storyline — even though there is a back-story to connect today to yesterday. What we see is how one soldier became so important to the war effort that he had to be saved no mater the risk to others. Where Eastwood would want us to know about the era, societal stress and family defects, Spielberg drives the main story home from the moment he recreates the Normandy landing until the cemetery scene at the end.
In Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Clint Eastwood takes on a story set against a background of the old south — a place of cultural differences, societal taboos and hidden agendas suitable to reveal character defects and ethical discordance with equal power. Late in his career, Eastwood expanded his layered storytelling to include conjoined movies: Flags of Our Fathers, which portrays the horrific World War II battle for Iwo Jima from an American perspective. Two months later, he extended that story with a second film, Letters from Iwo Jima , the same battle from a Japanese perspective.
What Clint Eastwood has taught his own profession, and the wider movie audience, is the merit of a cinematic legacy that dates back to the depression era movies of the 1930s. The legacy is one of layered story telling meant to provide context and foundation to stories suitable to enriches the movie-goer’s experience.
Like James Cameron, Clint Eastwood expanded the envelope of the movie medium, but perhaps more importantly, his own immensely broad story-telling abilities.