David Denby's Defense of Clint Eastwood—Annotated
David Denby, film critic for The New Yorker, took the road less traveled last week and wound up defending Clint Eastwood's speech at the Republican National Convention. I'm a fan of the “In Defense of...” article—I've done a few of them myself—but, as I began the piece, I couldn't imagine what defense Denby could conjure. Here it is:
For the record, I didn’t think Clint Eastwood’s chair dialogue was “sad and pathetic” as Roger Ebert put it, or the weird mutterings of a senescent citizen, as Rachel Maddow and other liberal commentators thought, or quite as incoherent as Amy Davidson said. John Cassidy admitted that the speech was “refreshing,” which was closer to my response. It’s amusing that so many commentators complain about the wooden or pre-fabricated nature of convention speeches and then carry on as if some unspeakable disaster had taken place when someone tries something off-beat and a little strange. That's actually not a bad defense, particularly from a film critic. 'In a world of Hollywood gloss, Eastwood has given us mumblecore.'
Rachel Maddow, whom I generally admire, teases Republican squareness with shrugs and grins in every broadcast. Every broadcast, Gracie? I think I've seen, at most, a half-hour of her show total. But then I don't watch TV news. But last night, with a larger than usual national audience watching, she relied on some presumed proper standard of behavior to judge Eastwood, using that assumption as an opportunistic sarcastic tool. Last night, Maddow came off as the square.
I deplore most of Clint’s politics, yet this speech was not a disaster but an act of cunning, like many of his public appearances. I looked at it as an act of “One-take Clint.” Here's Armie Hammer on Eastwood's directing style: “At one point he was like, 'OK, cut, print.' And I was like, 'Whoa, whoa, Clint, I had my sides in my hands, I thought we were just rehearsing that.'” That's how Eastwood does it and he probably thought he could get away with it at the RNC, too. He couldn't.
He eschewed rhetoric and “rousing” pro-Romney remarks. Apparently most of the speakers did without rousing pro-Romney remarks. They weren't there to nominate Romney; they were there to nominate against Obama.
I could have done without his reprisal of “Make my day,” but, in general, he was folksy, Will Rogersish, eccentric, maybe, but less doddering than mock-doddering. Look at it again: there’s a kind of logic to what he said. As always, his focus was on his idea of integrity—a man should do what he promises to do. Like give a good speech at a national convention?
That led him into a tangle on Obama’s not closing Gitmo, but he started out by saying that it was a broken promise. That matters to him much more than ideology. Then why is he stumping for Romney--a man who's repudiated everything he ever did as governor of Massachusetts? Does Eastwood like the fact that Romney's making no promises other than the generic and jingoistic? That's he's making the usual Republican promises to increase defense, cut taxes on the rich and yet somehow balance the budget? That he's promising us voodoo economics all over again? Does Eastwood like how the GOP's attack on Obama is an attack on a strawman? Does he like Romney's line about “voting for the American” as if Obama isn't?
He’s always been more of a libertarian than an orthodox Republican, and is actually quite liberal in his social views. Exactly. So why was he there?
His remark that we should have consulted the Russians before going into Afghanistan was startling and very far from stupid. No, it was stupid. Particularly if it was an attack on Obama. Or was it an attack on Bush 43? Or was it attack on our post-9/11 response? Dirty Harry was telling us we shouldn't have attacked those who attacked us? That we should have read al Qaeda its rights? Funny.
His assertion that Obama should bring the troops home tomorrow morning was even more startling. How many people at the convention reject our military efforts in Afghanistan and want to end them tomorrow? Besides Eastwood and the Ron Paulites? I'm guessing ... none.
Eccentric, maybe, but not a disaster, and it will be remembered fondly as the one humanly interesting moment of the convention. Nice try, David. The mere fact that Eastwood was there was a bad call, given his politics; but it was his lack of rehearsal, his thought he could do this in one take, that hurt him. Sometimes, Clint, a man's gotta know his limitations.
Eastwood said Hollywood has conservatives; they just don't “hot-dog it” like Hollywood liberals. And where did he say this? Before a national audience at the RNC.