"Eastwood vs. Scorsese: Why We Like Clint"
by Quendrith Johnson
Although Martin Scorsese topped Clint Eastwood for Best Director at the 2007 Academy Awards(R), Clint Eastwood should have won. Period. Hands down.
Why? Why do we like Clint?
Because Eastwood reflects not only perennial Best Director material, but his path from actor to director spans changes in American cinema and in the American Male sensibility. Clint Eastwood is a 'Man's Man' with the off-screen courage to take a professional arc onscreen from the stogie-chomping dead-eyed rapist in "Fist" to the conflicted soulful loving father archetype in "Million Dollar Baby."
The choice to make that journey, from Rogue to Scholar, is why in a Scorsese/Eastwood match-up, Clint always wins.
For example, in 1964 when Martin Scorsese was graduating from NYU Film School, Clint Eastwood was graduating from serviceable television actor ("Rawhide") to bona fide screen star in Sergio Leone's "Per un pugno di dollari" (1964).
While Scorsese spent a fistful of dollars at NYU learning the formal theories of filmmaking, Eastwood made $15,000 in cold hard cash steel-toeing his way through an Italian director's gambit to retool the American Western as a genre. The word "gambit" comes from the Italian 'gambetto,' which literally means to trip someone up. Clint Eastwood, a San Francisco-born son of a steel worker, certainly tripped up the American psyche with his vendetta-infused cowboy vigilante persona. Weren't Cowboys on the American frontier supposed to be "nice guys with guns" in the image of John Wayne? Eastwood shot his enemies in the back, breaking the cardinal rule of the John Wayne School of Westerns.
For his part, Scorsese was tripping up the American public with other topics, from pederasts to politics to persecution with "Mean Streets" and "Taxi Driver." He was plying his trade at the badly behaved edges of an encroaching urban frontier that was beginning to erode the last vestiges of 1950's movie-making "Small Town America" as a cultural aesthetic -- beyond all recognition. But in doing so, Scorsese, unlike Eastwood, lost his bead on the roots of tradition in American cinema and why the house always wins. Eastwood got the picture: times may change, presidents may change, the literal and social climate may change, but Americans must have a spoonful of the Dream with the medicine of social commentary. Americans, at their core, are a people born of constant political change who have historically fought everything from stamp tax to soup kitchens with one weapon... Optimism with a capital "O" -- in life and the movies.
Clint Eastwood is nothing if not optimistic; you can practically read it between the lines of the scripts he directs and in the lines on his face. Scorsese is not willing to throw the dice in favor of the Big O, which is conceptually all too naive for a native New Yorker who ironically cut his teeth on the ivory tower. Yes, Scorsese is a genius director, but has he ever shared the lens "Every Which Way But Loose" (1978) with an orangutan?
Finally an Oscar(r)-winning director, Scorsese is now going 'message' via the biopic "Theodore Roosevelt." Chances are good,he isn't making another musical anytime soon that doesn't include Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton or "The Band," recycling thread-worn once-vibrant political themes. (Editor's note: Scorsese is currently slated to work with the Rolling Stones to be released TBD.) When you see a Martin Scorsese film, it is steeped in Martin Scorsese Brand of muck-raking-meets-movie-making techniques.
This is not to say that Martin Scorsese isn't one of the most important directors in the world working today. But Eastwood, like Walt Whitman, is more in tune with 'singing the body electric' of this country. Browbeating the audience can win you an Oscar(R), as with "The Departed" which is an amazing homage to its original scenarist in Hong Kong, but allowing the audience a chance to feel the music is what Eastwood does, much like the free-form strains of Charlie Parker.
Rural vs. urban, personal vs. political, objectivity vs. emotionality: Eastwood (born 1930) and Scorsese (born 1942), both came of age as artists in tumultuous times for Americans and American cinema.
Eastwood missed WWII, age 15 when it was all over, but he later served in the military and even voted for Nixon. Movies in his day went from the pastille fare of the original mega-hit "King Kong" to the well-oiled Howard Hawks classics of the 1940's that consciously reflected a striving victorious America that "licked" the enemy. Probing the cultural depression of post-Viet Nam America, Scorsese turned his near entry into the priesthood into a relentless questioning of the American experience, both for immigrants as well as founding families. Through his lens, Scorsese directed and filmed gut-wrenching hypothetical scenarios that supported emerging counter-cultural notions that were a crowbar for social change. Actors were depth charges Scorsese used to hit bottom in the American political climate of discomfort. From "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" to "Goodfellas," Scorsese hit America in the psychic solar plexus, taking the wind out of the country's self-image.
No one can shine a klieg light on roiling contradictions, fragmented social fabric and a boiling melting pot like Martin Scorsese. But Eastwood never pinned an actor with the legendary maniacal fast-talking intellectual four-figure leg-lock that is Scorsese's stock and trade, either. Scorsese, for all of his "Gangs of New York" tender meat of drama, never revisited a genre with the delicacy of former hard guy "Dirty Harry" who became the drifter in "Unforgiven." A Scorsese movie always has Scorsese written all over the acting. Eastwood's movies are mistakenly critically hailed as meandering across genres, from "Perfect World" to "Letters From Iwo Jima," when in fact he is roughing out the edges of American experience not from the "Sands of Iwo Jima" perspective but with a common denominator: stories that are hard to tell, hard to film and hard to sell. That requires guts, not blood and guts. And this is also where Eastwood and Scorsese truly part company.
Scorsese poses hypotheticals and drafts actors into service as foot soldiers in his "vision." (Note, actors to a person, usually say "I'd love to work with Marty.")
Eastwood has walked the walk. He is an unapologetic American Male who actually found himself through his craft. When the four-time Oscar(r) winner eventually elected not to "suit up" as an actor, Eastwood took up the lens to share his personal arc from Stud to Student of Behavior. He hit gold for Hillary Swank, and another changed man, Sean Penn, by allowing the actors to stamp the film with their own cinematic explorations into what it means to inhabit a rendition of human experience, in the form of a character, written on pieces of paper called a screenplay.
As a human being and humanitarian Clint Eastwood represents the best of the Robert Bly drum-banging generation of neo-sensitive males who still managed to come out on the other side dancing to the beat of their own drummer.
Clint Eastwood is an American National Treasure, and Screenmancer is proud to salute the man with the .44 magnum who once said he envisioned a better future for Callahan, flying-fishing in meditative retirement -- reflective and reflecting the best and the rest in the American Male. He makes our day.
HAPPY 80, CLINT EASTWOOD.