Big, black bars at the top and bottom of a TV screen mean that a movie is ultra brutal and only for grown-ups. At least, this is what my little child brain somehow convinced itself was the case. Back when TV sets still had an aspect ratio of 4:3, and there still were TV sets, the wider a movie’s aspect ratio was in the cinema, the bigger the black bars had to be to fit the picture on the TV screen without losing picture information.
Many of those picture with a wider widescreenformat than others, like the 2,35:1 Panavision compared to television’s 4:3, just happened to be brutal, or rather ruthless, loose-cannon-cop things or vigilante movies from the 70s, as both the content and the form in question became fashionable at that time. My parents were more than hesitant to let me watch those things, and understandably so. I guess my childhood brain forgot the thusly derived theory or I would have quickly gotten rid of it. It simply does not stand up to scrutiny in the light of epics like Ben-Hur or How the West was Won.
But still, the infantile theory lingered, waiting in the back of my mind, ready to erupt to the surface, which it finally did one day in front of the DVD rack in a local supermarket. I saw a DVD of Dirty Harry knowing virtually nothing about that movie. I had never watched a Clint Eastwood movie and the two things I did know were 1) it was one of those tough, thick-black-bar movies and 2) “Go ahead, make my day” and that’s not even in that one! I knew something else, though: The movie was rated age 16 and up, I had a brand new DVD player and enough money to pay for the disc. Nothing could stop me!
The movie was a strange experience at first. One of those you wish you could erase all memory of and relive it the very same way again, with a blank state of mind. I was not used to the minimalistic, on location, almost handheld-like kind of early 70s filmmaking, except maybe from The Persuaders and Moore’s Bond movies, and when have they ever been minimalistic?
So, obviously, the pool murder being both that and just incredibly in res medias, it had me perplexed and intrigued. Then the scene changed, and my tastes in movies were never the same again! Ever since watching Harry Callahan coolly and reluctantly foil a bank robbery, I have been in love with Clint Eastwood movies. Yes, even The Bridges of Madison County. Yes, even Paint Your Wagon. Hell, especially Paint Your Wagon! What’s not to love?
The way Harry takes down the robbers and then famously talks the last one down, even though he might just grab his shotgun and Harry himself <spoiler-alert!> not having any bullets left </spoiler alert>.And during all this he keeps chewing his hotdog, probably the only warm meal he will get all day, it simply is a great scene from start to finish, working perfectly to get across everything we need to know about the character. And it even manages to slip in a little easter egg on a marquee in the background.
Anyway, in the world of my cineastic love life, Clint Eastwood, both as an actor and a director, is the one long-lasting love affair I am cheating on Alfred Hitchcock with. As a loner and a victim of bullying I spent years of my life trying to emulate Eastwood’s more macho personas, at times not even realizing one might be self-parody or a deconstruction of another, earlier one.
Josey Wales, Harry Callahan, The Man With No Name (who has not none but 3 separate ones, by the way) they do their own thing. They do not need anybody in their lives and they do not take shit from anybody. So what if Callahan clashes heads with his superiors and/or the mayor? He does a damn good job and the damn well know it! The allure for teenage me is obvious.
So what if ‘Joe’ is not exactly talkative? On the occasions he does speak, people listen and pay attention! Any other problems get solved by a six-gun. Even though not liked, he is at least respected by everybody. The allure for teenage me is obvious.
All this is notwithstanding all the other factors, of course. The general appeal all the above things have on a male audience. The beautiful scenery. The driving scores by Ennio Morricone or Lalo Schifrin. The fact that Where Eagles Dare fits right into my thing for WWII Behind Enemy Lines action movies we saw from the 60s all through the 70s for various reasons.
Clint Eastwood movies have given me a lot in my life, at times when I really needed it, and I consider myself lucky that I was able to see some of them on the big screen. Even The Outlaw Josey Wales, thanks to retrospectives and arthouse cinemas. That one really made my day!