I love Clint Eastwood's movies. As a director and actor, he has made intriguing and influential films, especially in the last two decades. Unforgiven, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers, Gran Torino, Invictus, Hereafter, J. Edgar -- Eastwood's works are ripe with sincere portrayals of psychological dilemmas, the aging process, timely political issues, sincere spirituality and fascinating, strained personal relationships. Under the lens of Visual Gerontology, Eastwood gives me plenty to think and write about.
When he stepped onto the Republican National Convention stage in Tampa on Thursday night, I watched with anticipation, eager to hear what he would say. I love it when screen legends appear on a stage. They command a live audience by nature of our past experiences watching them on screen. For example, Martin Sheen, a living legend, impresses many across the country with his appearances. How about when Kirk Douglas appeared at the Oscars following his recovery from his 1996 stroke? I was riveted and drawn to tears as Douglas shaped every word of his speech.
But what about Clint? Eastwood is 82, and his appearance just before Mitt Romney took the stage was an opportunity for him to leave his legacy on the political process. He's been working hard -- throughout his life and especially in recent years -- at leaving a creative legacy for us to remember.
Unfortunately, too many of us will now remember him for his unorthodox appearance at the Republican Convention. I actually loved the way he started off. He explained that he was not the only conservative in Hollywood, acknowledging that the GOP faithful like to blame liberal Hollywood when celebrities don't endorse Republican political and social views. He quipped in a very rational way that there are indeed conservative people, moderate people, Republicans and Democrats in Hollywood. That is true. He explained that Hollywood conservatives, by nature, play it very close to the vest and don't go around "hot-doggin' it."
However, as a director, the octogenarian Eastwood is known for his own style of "hot-doggin' it," with minimalist preparation before a scene is filmed -- a tactic that would be risky for a less skilled and experienced craftsman. He reportedly doesn't like to rehearse much or take multiple shots of the same scene. In addition, while he is legendary for his acting and directing, he is not a writer. Nor is Eastwood a comedy director. Indeed, his performance did not sound like it was written by a speechwriter or even a comedian. Initial laughs gave way to winces.
The question, then, is why the event planners let Eastwood do whatever he wanted. The GOP likes to criticize the world-renown celebrity of President Obama, yet with Eastwood, they seemed a little too eager to use a celebrity for their purposes. It backfired. Big time. No one has any idea what Mitt Romney said in his speech. That is unfortunate, because undoubtedly Romney spent weeks, if not years, rehearsing for what he would say.
I have read many ageist comments across the Internet about how Eastwood messed up his speech because he is an old man. Indeed, at 82, he seemed a bit confused, and his chair metaphor was inappropriate at best, definitely offensive and racist to many, portraying President Obama as both invisible and vulgar. I haven't had a chance to interview Eastwood myself or administer him a mini mental health status exam. However, I don't think the mistakes of his performance had anything to do with his biological age. They may have had to do with his stage of life, if not his personality.
Eastwood's unusual Romney endorsement showed his disregard for convention -- pun intended. I think he was "hot-doggin' it." At his age, Eastwood showed us he just doesn't care what people think, but he still likes to show off. Maybe he never cared what people think, and if his personality is the same now as at his earlier stages of life, then we can assume he is aging normally and vitally.
His performance also makes me wonder if Eastwood is indeed more like the foul-mouthed, gun-toting old widower Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino than I previously cared to believe. Those who identify with Walt Kowalski are probably voters the RNC has in the bag. So who was his performance supposed to woo?
Maybe for someone like Kowalski or Eastwood, making an offensive speech at a political convention was on his Bucket List. It is easy to picture Jack Nicholson making a similarly erratic speech, isn't it? Maybe the Democrats will bring Nicholson out next week at their convention.
One thing is for sure: once again, a Hollywood performance stole the show. No matter how hard the wholesome Romney works, no matter how much sweat, equity and money Romney has put into his successes and winning the nomination, no matter how much he worries about the color of his hair, it doesn't matter. We cannot remember what he said.