Not long after I ran that “Where The Wild Things Are” interview on Ain’t It Cool, I got an invite from the same publicist who set that up to attnd a reception and screening for “Gran Torino.”
This was going to be one of the very first of the early buzz screenings for the film, so Eastwood was set to be at the reception, pressing the flesh. Face time with a living legend. Sometimes you go to one of these events not for the column fodder, but for the pure experience of it. I met Eastwood many years ago when I was new to Los Angeles, when I was a theater manager hosting a special advance screening of “The Rookie.” I was wildly intimidated by him at that point. I looked forward to talking to him this time as a filmmaker and not just as an icon. And when I double-checked to make sure I had an invite for a guest, I had an idea.
I called my dad.
“Hey, dad. What are you doing on Monday, December 1st, at around 7:00?”
“Ummm… I don’t think anything. Why?”
“Wanna come to LA and be my guest at a small reception for Clint Eastwood so you can meet him?”
Now, you have to understand… I grew up in a house where Eastwood sat at the very top of a list of icons of cool that my father held dear. I was raised on whatever Eastwood made. That’s what my dad would take me to the theater to see, ratings be damned. Clint was enough of a stamp of approval for him, and the hell with the MPAA. All of his movies were Rated Clint.
So when my dad realized I was serious, he gave the phone to my mother, went and checked on air fare, and then came back.
“You know what? I think I’m interested.”
So he came in a few days early, by himself.
I think my mom wanted to give him room to have his weekend out here by himself, and it was cool to have him alone for a while. Time with either of my parents is increasingly rare these days, and I’m hoping I can find an equally cool experience to invite my mother out here for, so she can have the same kind of hang time with us and the kids. My boys really seemed to enjoy having their grampa here, and it sort of blows my mind to see my father playing with my kids. I think I’ve always had a decent-to-good relationship with my parents, but until I had my first child, I didn’t really understand my parents. Now, it’s like my perception of them as people I’m glad to know and not just as the people who raised me has sort of snapped into focus.
And one of the things I really respect about my dad’s taste in movies, books, music, or TV is that it’s really his. It’s genuine. He wouldn’t know if something is cool, but he really seems to savor the things he likes. Certain authors and certain genres, tons of spy and detective fiction. I’m sure Donald Westlake’s death made an impact on him last week. My dad’s a pretty constant reader. Like my mom, he leaves finished paperback books everywhere he visits, like a trail of bread crumbs. When he raised me on Clint Eastwood’s films, he couldn’t tell me why he was drawn to them. He never explained John Wayne or Steve McQueen or Bruce Lee to me. How do you explain Lee Marvin or James Bond or Charles Bronson? How do you explain Clint Eastwood?
When he arrived in LA, he told me he’d been watching some of his favorite Eastwood films on DVD before he left. “The Outlaw Josey Wales” is a film I know he returns to often, and I don’t blame him. It’s still one of the very best things Eastwood’s made. And the last time my dad was in LA, I showed him “Dirty Harry” on BluRay, and he loved it. He loved the presentation of it, and he wanted to watch some more BluRay while he was here. This time, I showed him “Wanted” on BluRay (he liked it but wasn’t doing cartwheels, but thought it looked and sounded great), and he went to a press screening of “The Reader” with me as well (he was surprised by how much he responded to the film). All of that, though, was just warm up for the night of the 1st.
We drove over to Beverly Hills, leaving early enough to make sure the traffic on the 405 wasn’t going to stress him out. The Clarity Screening Room is one of my favorites in LA for sound and image. Right now, RealD, the 3D company, is located in the same building so they do all their showcase 3D screenings in this theater. And I’ve been to dozens of receptions in that lobby as well. I met Buzz Aldrin in that lobby last year, for example. They had a nice spread set up when we got there, and my dad and I had something to eat, had a few drinks, chatted with a number of familiar faces and other online film writers, including Greg Ellwood, one of the founders of HitFix, and the guy who first approached me about writing here. It was good to be able to introduce my father to him so he has some notion of who I’m working with.
For a little while, it looked like Clint was a no-show. We were told the reception would be from 7:30 to 8:30, and the film would be starting immediately afterwards. As it got closer and closer to start time, I could tell my dad was disappointed. I’ve been to events where something didn’t come off as planned, so I’m not prone to getting upset at something like this, but my dad flew in for this one. Even though we didn’t talk about his expectations, I could tell he’d imagined what it might be like.
But then one of the guys we were standing with gestured at the far side of the lobby. “He’s here.”
It was about ten after eight, and sure enough, Eastwood was finally in the house, already surrounded by people looking for their hello, their question, their moment.
I steered my dad through the crowd, over to the edge of things, where one of the publicists saw me. She led us through the crush as David Sheehan was wrapping up whatever point he was emphatically making.
“Clint? This is Drew McWeeny from Ain’t It Cool.”
“Nice to meet you.” He shook my hand and I was struck my how slight he is. Compact. Rangy. Lean. He’s not quite as tall as I am, something that’s very odd to realize when I think of how much larger than life he always seems. And since my dad stands a good two and a half inches taller than me, he sort of loomed over Eastwood a bit.
We chatted for a moment about how great the “Dirty Harry” BluRay box looked, and how much I hope they get through his whole library in high definition. I asked about “Bronco Billy” in particular. He told me no, that’s not one of the ones that is currently set for release.
“Shame. It’s always been a favorite of mine. I was raised on all your films, and my father always emphasized the holy trinity in our house of James Bond, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood.” This got a laugh out of him. “That’s why I wanted to bring him along tonight to meet you.”
And having made the introduction, I stepped back to watch my dad shake hands with him.
My dad beamed as he said, “I’ve enjoyed a lot of hours of entertainment thanks to your work over the years, and I appreciate it.”
“Thank you,” Clint responded in that unmistakable snarling whisper of his.
“I have one question for you.”
Eastwood smiled. My dad’s 68, so this isn’t just some kid accosting him, but instead, a greyer-than-average full-blown fanboy moment from someone in his peer group, and Eastwood seemed pleased. “Go ahead.”
“I was just rewatching ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales,’ and you were just incredibly fast on the draw in that one. Did you have special training for it, or was that an editing trick, or is that just how fast you were?”
And as Eastwood’s smile got broader, he looked at me for a moment, enjoying himself now. “Well, as it turns out, I was just rewatching that one myself. Checking out a new strike print they’re preparing for something.”
He turned back to my dad. “And you know what? You’re right. I was fast.”
We chatted for another few minutes, but as other people stepped forward, we faded back. And besides… that one genuine exchange, that give and take… that was enough. My dad and I headed into the theater and took our seats, and about ten minutes later, Eastwood walked in and introduced the film.
And as for the movie? I liked it a lot. It’s much funnier than I expected. Eastwood’s choice to use non-professional actors for the main kids leads to some awkward occasional moments, but overall, I thought it was as interesting a riff on his snarling tough guy image as “Unforgiven” was on his Western persona. It strikes me as broad entertainment more than Oscar bait, but his performance really is a special thing, a reminded of just why we’ve been watching his every move for 50 years now.
My thanks to Michelle Robertson for the invite on this one. In a year as packed with movie moments as 2008 was, this is the one I’ll always treasure.