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CLINT & BORAT: NOT SO FAR APART

The news that Clint Eastwood is to direct the fourth incarnation of A Star is Born is certainly intriguing. On one level, he looks like he’d be directing Beyoncé Knowles in the Judy Garland role, which is clearly terrible casting. On the other, he’d be directing Tom Cruise in the addled, Svengali-esque James Mason role, which is clearly one of the most inspired matching of life to a role, until you begin to wonder why Katie Holmes hasn’t been tapped up to play the Vicki Lester part.

There may be much to say about the eventual film, but until it actually emerges all will be vague speculation. However, most interesting is the fact that Eastwood seems to be having something of a spiritual epiphany. Following the execrable Hereafter – a film so bad if you do anything other than shrug and grunt ‘it’s shit’ after viewing, you’re giving it too much credit – and the reasonable Gran Torino, moving Million Dollar Baby and excellent Letters from Iwo Jima, Eastwood does indeed seem to be having some sort of an epiphany, opening up what was previously a very limited range and viewpoint.

Eastwood has previously based almost his whole career around Howard Beale’s maxim from Network;

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!”

Sure, in the majority of Eastwood’s films, his characters find themselves in a situation where they do indeed end up “mad as hell” and they often decide that they won’t take it any more. However, while this may work fantastically well for a Chuck Norris or an Arnie figure, who, despite all their posturing will never be more than a living, breathing Action Man doll, but Eastwood is seen as a symbol of America.

Will Munny in Unforgiven? Harry Callaghan? Even Dave Garver in Play Misty for Me? All killers. All totally accepted as American icons. Mystic River, which Eastwood directed, was similar – extreme events are used to justify brutality. Indeed, it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid parallels between Eastwood-the-American-icon, and the Bush regime’s foreign policy.

And this brings us to the crux of the matter; Eastwood is undoubtedly a decent, talented, admirable Hollywood icon, but he is clearly open to interpretation. Funnily enough, the character that instantly resonates with America’s idolisation of Eastwood is Borat, the Kazakhstani reporter unleashed on the States by Sacha Baron Cohen.

At the time of release the Borat film – please excuse the fact I have no desire to slavishly type the full, ‘humorous’ title – was subject to a number of lawsuits by concerned citizens alarmed by the fact that their actions may be misinterpreted as they appear on screen. This included a Winnebago full of fratboys disgusted by the fact that they were seen as drunken, boorish slobs. Yet Eastwood is lauded as a symbol of America’s desire to put up its fists, using aggression against its person or surroundings to launch assaults and dispense its own form of justice. Interpretations are clearly deeply subjective, but parallels become increasingly unavoidable.

Of course, this may seem several years too later, but then again, financial woes have seen the US lurch back towards its bristling, paranoid beast persona with the likes of the Tea Party and Michelle Bachmann and her intriguing views on masturbation and menstruation. Sure, these are clearly woolly liberal musings, but then again, when George Bush was gunning for reelection in the early noughties, he was bringing out the likes of Mystic River, where people take the law into their own hands and dispense their own form of justice. It was a box office smash; critics raved; and it took home a number of Oscars.

In 2011, gearing up to the 2012 elections, Eastwood releases J. Edgar – a film about the charmingly right-wing spymaster Hoover. Box office is fairly weak; critical reception muted and it received less Oscar nominations than Norbit (seriously). Of course, this doesn’t suggest that America has reevaluated the way it interprets Eastwood – and indeed there are likely to be parts of the US that Sacha Baron Cohen will still be keen to shy away from – but it is intriguing to think that perhaps, just perhaps, as the politics of Eastwood’s films begins to mature, so will many of the people who watch them.

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