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NEW YORK — Continuing his long project documenting one of modern Hollywood’s most attention-worthy careers, Richard Schickel seeks and finds insights in Eastwood Directs: The Untold Story. The hour-long film may always hew to the aesthetic of made-for-video showbiz docs — particularly in its cram-it-all-in-there pace and its uncertain, industrial-film-like music cues — but its director elicits much more than the unspecific praise such films usually contain. Fans will be glad to have it.
As the title promises, the focus here is on Eastwood’s work behind the camera, but Schickel always addresses how that job is informed by his pre-directing acting career — on Rawhide, he got to watch a new director at work every week — and how it is complicated by his frequent triple-hyphenate status: As if to prove his ability to focus by citing an exception, Meryl Streep recalls a single instance during shooting of The Bridges of Madison County when she felt he was “absenting himself” from their scene in order to assess how things were going overall. She called him on it, he agreed, and it never happened again.
A couple of enjoyable anecdotes about Sergio Leone and Don Siegel — a great one finds Leone impersonating a Spanish highway worker so he can cut a homeowner’s tree down for use in a scene — round out the talk of how Eastwood’s old directors contributed to his understanding of the job. Then it’s on to discussion of his films, with A-list testimony coming from everyone from Gene Hackman and Hilary Swank to Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese.
The pleasures here tend toward small practical details (Eastwood suggesting that Kevin Bacon flub a line so a nervous actor in the scene will loosen up) and more general evocations of the ways Eastwood has built long-standing collaborations into a well-oiled machine: Tim Robbins says Mystic River was meant to be a nine-week shoot and only took seven; he recalls thinking “how are we going home at two o’clock in the afternoon?” after the day’s work was done.
The majority of Eastwood’s films aren’t discussed here, with many (including some very fine ones, like Pale Rider) not even mentioned by name. Omissions occasionally feel tactical, like acknowledgements that, as Eastwood is reported to have admitted, you always aim for the bulls-eye but don’t always hit it. But Eastwood Directs stands up for some titles it believes are underappreciated (The Outlaw Josey Wales) or whose stock will rise over the years: Scorsese says of the criticism faced by J. Edgar that “once people calm down a little,” they’ll see it for what it is.
Schickel, having interviewed Eastwood so many times over the years, lets others do most of the speaking here. But when he does have something to ask, the director is forthcoming, genial and modest. What else would you expect from a man who waits in the craft-services line at lunch just like the grips do?
Production Companies: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Lorac Productions
Director-Screenwriter-Producer: Richard Schickel
Director of photography: Kris Denton
Editor: Faith Ginsberg
No rating, 61 minutes
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