A Second Look at Clint Eastwood and 'J. Edgar': Conservatives Too Quick to Judge Free-Thinking Director
Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar," out this week on Blu-ray and DVD, is about a man obsessed with self image. He attempts to write his own history to make himself more attractive to those of his ilk. That man is J. Edgar Hoover, who ran the Federal Bureau of Investigations for decades. If Eastwood were of the same temperament, he'd be filming "Dirty Harry in Space" right now. But he's not.
Eastwood has long been a master storyteller who has conquered everything from acting to directing to composing to whatever the hell he feels like accomplishing. And on top of it all, Eastwood has been different from the usual liberal, scarf-wearing Eurotrash Hollywood usually celebrates as a man. Eastwood served his country in the United States Army, and he was a Republican mayor -- not for self-promotion's sake but rather so he could fight big government in his small town of Carmel, California, where regulation had stretched itself so far that folks weren't allowed to eat ice cream in public.
Eastwood has always stated his opinion, whether popular or not. He's admitted time and time again for having always voted Republican when it came to the presidential ballots and for being an avid shooter and promoter of hard work.This same man has been deemed a "Hollywood liberal" because he made a film that suggested J. Edgar Hoover might have been a suppressed homosexual and because he made a commercial for Chrysler that literally seemed to fly right over almost every conservative's head.
I'm here to say that Clint Eastwood is exactly what people like us should want in a storyteller, and this is why: Eastwood is a storyteller first and foremost, and that is certainly not the case for most working in Hollywood. Nearly every day we see an actor or filmmaker commenting on what liberal agenda their film is trying to bring across. Eastwood never worries about politics when it comes to his pictures. His pictures delve into the human condition and deal with subjects ranging from manhood to death to what happens after we die.
Take 2009's "Invictus," for example. Imagine if someone like Spike Lee (a liberal who Eastwood publicly feuded with) had taken on the story of Nelson Mandela. We would've been subjected to a three-hour snorefest attempting to draw parallels between Mandela's hardships and Obama's. Lee would've set up the racist whites in the movie to be nearly identical to those "racist tea baggers."
Of course, that is all speculation. Now, look at the film Eastwood gave us. "Invictus" didn't care about what was happening in today's world. The film told the unlikely story of Nelson Mandela and the game of rugby. The film's story had almost everything to do with politics, yet Eastwood preferred to allow his story to tell itself rather than for him to dictate what lesson we needed to learn. This is exactly what Big Hollywood is about. We want storytellers like this, not people trying to preach to us through the arts.
My guess is most people who criticized Eastwood over "J. Edgar" either didn't see the film or went in with a preconceived notion of how they were going to feel. After all, "J. Edgar" never once or concretely said J. Edgar was a homosexual. In fact, the film was hardly about that. The film was about Hoover and his utter obsession with his own public image and that of the bureau's. The only time the film ever suggested he might have suppressed feelings is when the film examined the relationship between J. Edgar and Clyde Tolson. They spent nearly 24 hours a day together. Clearly, to ignore the fact that these men may have had feelings for one another would be ignorant. Eastwood even stated while promoting the film that he wasn't sure whether Edgar was gay and it wasn't any of his damn business. And if your sole proof is the fact that J. Edgar puts his mother's clothes on in a moment of grief after her passing in the film or the fact that the screenwriter is gay, then please do not waste your breath.
The issue that seems to harm Eastwood the most is the fact that many conservatives want him to be Dirty Harry and not Clint Eastwood. They want him to be John Wayne. Well, Eastwood isn't Wayne, but what did Wayne ever do? Eastwood served in the military, served as a Republican mayor, has always voted Republican, practically endorsed Herman Cain while promoting "J. Edgar," and also praised candidates like Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. This is a Hollywood liberal?
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In 2004, Eastwood released "Million Dollar Baby." The film was a masterpiece. It was perfect for conservatives as well. The film showed a character who came from nothing and became something through hard work and determination. The film even exposed welfare fraud! What more could Eastwood's conservative fans want? Apparently, a lot more. Conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh accused the film and Eastwood of endorsing euthanasia ... really?
Spoiler alert: in the film, Eastwood's character decides to put Hilary Swank's character out of her misery after she becomes paralyzed from a fight. What's ridiculous, however, is the fact that this was seen as a political statement and not a piece of the story. The film never says whether what Eastwood's character did was right or not. In fact, he visits a priest that tells him what he wants to do is completely wrong.
If anything, Eastwood is a great man who makes libertarian films ("J. Edgar," "Hereafter," "Unforgiven" are all brilliant films and perfect examples of this). In "J. Edgar," Edgar is seen for what he was: a mysterious man who did great things and did some terrible things with the help of Big Government to infringe on civil liberties. The film never becomes a liberal Hollywood piece by suggesting J. Edgar was nothing more than a closeted homosexual making up for his own failure to admit his true being. That kind of liberal propaganda trash is for lesser directors like Lee.
Eastwood even recently got attacked for a Chrysler commercial that had about as much to do with politics as Richard Simmons does with working out. Eastwood not only wrote the commercial himself but refused to let Chrysler even show their logo or cars until the end. The commercial was a simple message that, like "J. Edgar," seemed to fly right over some people's heads. The message was it's time to pick ourselves up and do what we do best America: work hard. The commercial could just as easily be seen as a message to elect a Republican as a Democrat. What Chrysler and their bailouts prefer is besides the point, since Eastwood has separated himself from Obama (even criticizing him while promoting "Hereafter") and wrote the commercial himself. Only a few conservatives seemed not to take the commercial politically.
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The point is this: why are we all so apt to attack a man like Eastwood? He embodies everything we believe in as a man and as a filmmaker. He is exactly what Big Hollywood is trying to fight for: a straight up storyteller (the stories will always lean right because of his own leanings and his worldview). Eastwood is no "Hollywood liberal," but he's certainly no Wayne either. He's better than both of those labels. He's an individualist who follows his own path and beats the drum to his own damn song. If that ain't a conservative, then I don't know what is.
Finally, let us close with a simple quote by the former Republican mayor, former soldier, current actor, director, composer, singer, songwriter and great storyteller that never seemed more relevant: "When you go far enough to the right you meet the same idiots coming around from the left."