From the middle of March to about September, people in Los Angeles are happy – no, delighted – to talk about Clint Eastwood. In those months, before Oscar season kicks in, you’ll hear about what a magnificent movie star he was and still is – the last, maybe, of the great generation. You’ll hear about Rawhide and Leone and his illustrious career, and about how amazing it is that a man of his eighty years can still get a movie made, not just often, but regularly, at the rate of at least one a year. And you’ll hear about that incredible year when he made two movies, Flags of our Fathers and the Japanese one.
But starting around October, that changes. As the leaves fall over Little Santa Monica and the studios send out Oscar screeners, a certain group of progressive (i.e. old-fashioned) movie folk don’t want to talk about Clint anymore. It makes them quiet. It makes them nervous.
Yesterday, I casually mentioned Clint’s name at a party off Abbot Kinney and about two-dozen heads turned down to the floor. One of those heads belonged to my friend John, who, once the party resumed again, grabbed hold of my upper arm and drew me into the kitchen. “Jesus Christ,” he said, “it’s the middle of fucking January already. You can’t do that, Sam.”
Of course. I should have known better. Now is the time when we have to stop thinking about Clint-the-Acting-Legend and start thinking about Clint-the-Director. And it’s a hard transition for a lot of people, myself included. Hard because we – and I hate saying this – we don’t really love Clint-the-Director as much as we love Clint-the-Acting-Legend. Well, I mean, of course we love him – we’ll always love Clint no matter what – but after October, that love loses its luster and begins to feel more like the love one has for a cousin, or Robert Wise.
John threw his arm around me as we made our way out of the kitchen. “It hurts me as much as it hurts you,” he said. “Believe me, after I saw Mystic Pizza – ”
“River. Mystic River.”
“Right. After I saw Mystic River, I thought, ‘Wow, now I get it! Clint’s making old movies. He’s the last Classicist!’”
“I know. I thought the same thing.”
“We all did.”
“Somehow it made it seem okay.”
John reached for a bottle and refilled my glass. “Well, it’s not okay anymore.”
“But what about Unforgiven?”
He looked up. “Stop it, Sam. Don’t do this.”
“Play Misty for Me? What about Play Misty for Me? What about High Plains Drifter or The Outlaw Josey Wales? You’ve got to admit – ”
“Jesus Christ, pull yourself together.”
“But – ”
“But – ”
“I said no.”
We were quiet for quite a while before John muttered, “Space Cowboys…” That was the last thing we said to each for the rest of the party.
On the walk back to our cars, I slipped and said something about Morgan Freeman. I knew it was a mistake the moment the words “Miss Daisy” left my mouth. There was a stillness in the air, and I sensed John wanted to say something about Invictus. But he didn’t. I guess he knew it would be better for both of us if nobody said anything at all.