American Rebel: Eastwood bio a disappointing read

While I remember the song from Rawhide I don’t recall ever having seen it. For me, Clint Eastwood’s career would have begun with A Fistful of Dollars (1964).

Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Roughly speaking, it was around the age of ten that I became aware of him and, back then, he would have been the Man with No Name.

So the cinematic career of Clint Eastwood, barring his earliest days, would have played out throughout my life. Most recently, he would be the guy behind Gran Torino and Hereafter. He has gone through quite a few phases in the time between those two movies and the earlier A Fistful of Dollars, phases both personal and artistic. Reading a biography of him, I remembered quite a few of the phases I had forgotten about.

But I found Marc Eliot’s book on Clint Eastwood disappointing. While any biography is going to be interpretative, American Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwood feels less interpretative than peppered with a lot of personal opinion. Particularly in the latter half, it continually weaves from a paint-by-numbers recounting of events to a kind of cranky blogger’s ranting.

They aren’t particularly distinctive rants either; they’re fashionable opinions about Hollywood, celebrities and so on. It’s gossip magazine stuff; Perez Hilton with a better facility with language.

Clint Eastwood in Grand Torino.

While it contains these run-of-the-mill dismissive opinions on things like the Academy Awards and certain Hollywood stars, it fails to contain any depth of analysis of Clint Eastwood as a filmmaker – actor, director, producer.

Does the life inform the work? Is there an artistic vision informing the movies and does it affect the life lived?

There are hints in the book but no real substance. It often appears to start down the road of that kind of analysis but quickly gets sidetracked by the opportunity to make another snarky comment.

The first half or so of the book is much better where it seems to rely more on available factual information than the opinions and anecdotes of others. It presents an Eastwood who begins largely directionless and callow — not surprising for a young man.

He gets into the world of movies as the path of least resistance, more or less. But as he continues to work he experiences a growing dissatisfaction with the types of roles he’s restricted to and is often impatient with the working habits of some directors. He absorbs information on the sets he works on and starts finding focus, becoming increasingly serious about this career he finds himself in.

Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976).

It’s not clear, however, where or what or why his artistic vision emerges and the book doesn’t help in this regard. The biography we’re given runs on two tracks: the personal life and the career but you don’t get a very distinct sense of how or where they intersect and inform one another.

To be fair to Eliot and his book, Clint Eastwood is famous for saying little and, when he does speak, saying next to nothing. He is a kind of poster child for reticence. He speaks strictly through his films.

Unfortunately, this book relies largely on conjecture that appears based on the summations of others and gossip. It’s a quick, slight read that mirrors its subject quite well in that it reveals little.



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