Sunday, July 15, 2012

Erich Kuersten: An American Rohmer -- Clint Eastwood's Breezy

An American Rohmer: Clint Eastwood's Breezy
by Erich Kuersten

If you were ever a girl on a date with Clint Eastwood and he wanted to sleep with you, chances are--based on his rep, artistry and ouevre--there wouldn't be a much you could do to resist. He'd play the perfect music at all the perfect times, on the piano, himself; he'd get the door for you, hold out your chair; speak huskily of Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus, and when he finally smiled wide enough to show his teeth, you'd find yourself making the first move, despite your best judgments, or maybe because of them. After all, he's done this before. He believes what he's saying now, but the morning is bound to bring a whole different Eastwood.

As a director, Clint seemed to never quite recover his sense of the romantic after the whole Sondra Locke thing, but prior to then he had at least two romantic classics, only one of which is a slasher movie.

In order to find an American director/auteur who captures that pre-Locke longing, the slow rhythm by which real seduction occurs, one must go as far back as Nicholas Ray and Frank Borzage. Or one could just go to France, to Eric Rohmer. Rohmer wouldn't break his Bazin-influenced naturalism by playing a '70s soul-folk ballad over a beach at dawn holding hands montage, or setting a languid park-side tryst to Roberta Flack's "The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face)" as Eastwood does in Breezy (1973) and Play Misty for Me, respectively, but the potency would be the same. It would be 'real' in a way that makes you weak at the knees, even sitting down. But where angels fear to tread, Eastwood just advances more slowly and inexorably, like a mongoose on a cobra. His Flack montage works because he really is a romantic, and feels these things listening to Roberta Flack. You can tell by how fine and deeply it sits in your gut that it's not just groupthink treacle and cliche. There's a world of difference between manipulation--trying to make an audience feel some emotion--and the art of pleasing oneself. What makes Eastwood or Rohmer swoon? No one needs to ask such a thing, for we have their films.

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