Vilified by critics before becoming a giant of cinema, with “American Sniper,” Clint Eastwood has regained the bad reputation from his beginnings.
Fascist. The term flourished in the writings of many critics. We have to remember that in the 1970s, Eastwood didn't get good press. He starred in a soap opera and in spaghetti Westerns. At best, the purists shrugged their shoulders at “Rawhide” and Sergio Leone. Admiring a nameless cowboy with his poncho and his cigarillo would expose you to condemnation. Intellectuals (as they were called at that time) would look the other way.
Racist, Nazi and Misogynist
Dirty Harry was not going to fix things. The epithets rained. Racist, Nazi, misogynist, Eastwood was labelled. In the film, a San Francisco cop would hunt down a dangerous psychopath. The villain would be a hippie; his belt would be adorned with a peace symbol. Harry Callahan in his tweed jacket would treat the law casually. In the movie theater, the audience would applaud. The critics, they would fulminate. Newsweek would denounce a "right-wing fantasy." The New York Times would criticize the actor for playing a "Nietzschean policeman." Even the peaceful Variety would condemn "a specious and artificial glorification of the police and of the criminal violence." Top marks would go to Pauline Kael. The New Yorker journalist who was calling the shots would get enraged. In her writing, we would come upon the words "vile," "repulsive," and “medieval fascism." She would compare Eastwood to "a big cold and expressionless swordfish." *At that time, there was only John Wayne in "The Green Berets" (and his glorification of military involvement in the war in Vietnam) being dragged
> through the mud to that extent.
Facing the storm, Eastwood would put his Magnum 44 back in its holster and adopt the terseness of the hero. “It does not affect me because I know who I am and, damn, I don't give a f---." In short, "make my day," to quote one of his favorite lines.
Who is Clint Eastwood? Vilified for almost two decades, he would remain self-confident. What a shame, he voted for Nixon, certainly, but he defended civil rights. Unlike Charlton Heston, he was not a gun enthusiast. There would be defamatory labels stuck onto his back. But at the end of the film, Harry, disgusted, would throw out his badge.
Suddenly, an unexpected turnaround occurred. We can place it at the time when the Cinémathèque Française (the French film institute) paid him tribute in 1985. At the same time, “Honkytonk Man,” in which he portrayed a musician who suffers from tuberculosis, was released. As if by magic, from an outcast, Eastwood would turn into an author, an artist. The right-minded press discovered the earth in a work which became rich, subtle, ambiguous. It was almost too much. His admirers came within a hair's breadth away from abandoning him. Oscars interfered. “Unforgiven” was acclaimed. Eastwood didn't have a hangover anymore.
Eastwood at the White House
He's a complicated person. This conservative is pro-choice on abortion and is not opposed to gay marriage. This individualist believes that taxes are too high. He spoke out against the war in Iraq. During the last presidential campaign, he disconcertingly addressed Obama's empty chair. This atheist would be incongruous at the tea party meetings. The state is his enemy. In America, it's called the libertarian movement. Some would see Eastwood in the White House. His experience as mayor of Carmel was enough for him. How to classify someone who played opposite Meryl Streep and an orangutan and who knows about self-destruction like nobody else (count the number of times that he got hit in the face, amputated, emasculated)?
Today, with “American Sniper”, Eastwood has found his bad reputation again. Michael Moore attacks him. The journalists talk about “macho stereotypes" and evoke "the glorification of a silly patriotism." This must make him feel good.
*Editor’s Note: The quotes in this paragraph, including those of Pauline Kael, although accurately translated, could not be independently verified.