During a nearly hourlong masterclass at the Cannes Film Festival, Clint Eastwood reflected on growing up during the Depression, climbing the acting ladder and developing a mindset as a director that has enabled him to consistently surprise audiences and himself.
The conversation with film critic Kenneth Turan was tied to the 25th anniversary restoration of Eastwood’s Academy Award winning Unforgiven. He told Turan that Westerns had always been a genre he loved as a moviegoer. “I grew up in the 30s and 40s, when every kid wanted to pack a gun and ride a horse,” he said. “They are pure escapism. You can have the fantasy of a time when law and order was about the individual and how well he took care of himself.”
In a similar vein, Eastwood reflected nostalgically on the Dirty Harry films. “They weren’t politically correct,” he said. “That’s what we’re killing each other with now. We’ve lost our sense of humor.”
While that aside hinted at a deep reservoir of right-wing beliefs Eastwood maintains — and has expressed, most famously in recent years at the 2012 Republican convention — the session remained focused purely on cinema.
Hearing Eastwood’s descriptions of his remarkable path, from a Steinbeck-ian childhood carpetbagging across California to his collaborations with Sergio Leone and A-listers like Tom Hanks and Sean Penn, it seemed he has always sought a pragmatic approach to making popular art. He recalled director Don Siegel decrying the “paralysis of analysis” on set. “Do it; don’t talk about it all day long. If the director hesitates, the whole crew becomes sedate.”
One project that benefited from this spirit of action was Bridges Of Madison County, which became an enduring hit despite the initial doubts of not only Eastwood but co-star Meryl Streep. “It’s a book that is odd. I didn’t think much of it when I first read it,” Eastwood said. “But then I started thinking it was from the man’s perspective when it really should be from the woman’s. I called Meryl and she said, ‘I didn’t like the book.’ I said, ‘Take a look at the script we’ve got.’ And she understood it then.”
Unforgiven, which screened on Saturday in Cannes, surprised Eastwood with its power a generation after it was first made. “I was only going to stay for the first five minutes” of the screening,” he said with a wry grin. “But then I thought, ‘This isn’t too bad, maybe I’ll stay.'”
Turan asked what fans have long wondered: How much longer can Eastwood get behind a movie camera? The answer: As often as he feels passionate about a particular script. “Cinema is completely emotional,” he said. “It’s not intellectual at all. An example: I like playing golf but I don’t want to have to play golf. It’s the same with directing.”
For the full video of the session — which starts with five minutes of French-language introduction before Eastwood and Turan begin their discussion in English — click here.