Author, award-nominated documentary filmmaker, and distinguished film critic Richard Schickel utilizes his experience as a prolific cinematic historian and discriminating film doyen to examine the filmmaking journey of friend and venerated actor/director Clint Eastwood.
Schickel's latest film, The Eastwood Factor, is a vivid and intimate documentary that explores Eastwood's unique approach to filmmaking during his 35-year tenure at Warner Brothers studios. The Eastwood Factor is a fascinating story; a life told in retrospect. Along with commentary from friends and rare photos, Schickel and Eastwood revisit the sites significant to Eastwood, from his personal costume closet on the Warner Brothers lot to the set locations of some of his landmark movies. Eastwood reminisces about his characters, the movies, and his role, as both actor and director, in some of Hollywood's most celebrated and groundbreaking films.
There is one striking and particularly poignant moment as Eastwood talks about the movie Bird (1988), the life story of jazz musician (and Eastwood's personal musical hero) Charlie Parker, a movie which Schickel refers to as "a passion project." Eastwood ponders some elusive connection between Parker's brilliance, talent, insecurity, and eventual self-destruction, calling the loss of that talent a crime. Eastwood wonders aloud if perhaps this connection might be true of actors also — a message that resonates with the loss of so many young talents to addiction and overdose in Hollywood.
Eastwood shows his humorous side as well. In talking about his decision to rewrite Unforgiven (1992) he says, "I started writing, writing and fooling with things and changing things… and all the sudden I realized I was wrecking it. So I called him [David Peoples] back up and I said forget about that. I'm just gonna shoot it the way it is." It was a funny and endearing moment hearing this story from Clint Eastwood and showed a side of him I would not have expected — no ego; no macho preening. A simple admission that sometimes he screws things up, just like everyone else, except he admits to having a bad idea and hands over the reins rather than trying to keep control — a lesson in humility. And probably a large part of the Eastwood factor is his ability to let go of personal ego and let someone else have a shot.
He also talks about his pride in saving the sound stage where most of his film music was scored, now called The Eastwood Scoring Stage. He then muses, with a wicked little humor, that if he had known they would do that he would have asked Robert Daly to change the name on the famous Warner Bros. water tower to Eastwood Bros.
On making Million Dollar Baby (2004), Eastwood says that "everybody interpreted it as a woman's boxing movie and my theory was… it wasn't. It was a father/daughter love story and that's the way I approached telling it." It's this type of intimate insight that makes The Eastwood Factor such a compelling film — a chance to appreciate his unique vision, his ability to take what others see as flat black text and pull from it a living, breathing, unforgettable story.
The Eastwood Factor is a rare glimpse into the mind of one of Hollywood's greatest and most driven icons. Schickel has done an outstanding job of highlighting the film career of a Hollywood legend, but more so, of capturing the magnetism and personal filmmaking philosophies of a man who most of us have come to respect for his brilliance, his generosity, his integrity, and his passion, not only for the filmmaking process, but his passion for telling great stories, stories that have touched us all and sometimes unexpectedly.
The Eastwood Factor is due for release on February 16 as part of the Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros. box set that celebrates Eastwood's 35th anniversary with Warner Brothers Pictures. It is a must-have for fans and should be requisite in the library of any young actor or director.
Richard Schickel is also the author of Clint Eastwood: A Biography (1996), Woody Allen: A Life in Film (2004), The Essential Chaplin: Perspectives on the Life and Art of the Great Comedian (2006), as well as many others. His documentaries include You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story (2008), Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin (2004), and the award-nominated films Minnelli on Minnelli (1987) and Elia Kazan: A Director's Journey (1994).