By Victor Bruno
First, let’s define the concept of home. Home is anyplace you feel warm and welcome and somewhere you can relate to. You can fix your roots or at least find something to hold on to. At home you should feel safe, and you know everything at the end of the day will be fine. You’re protected from the evils of the world and you can always return to if things are bad out there. It is not, however, where you live. If you live somewhere you cannot relate to, if you feel trapped in, if you want to get out, this place—even, say, if it’s the house of your family—can’t be called home, by what was said in the lines above.
In what way does that relate to the work of Clint Eastwood? It is of general agreement that Eastwood, coming from Western films (or rather, spaghetti westerns), is a filmmaker of exterior shots. Of riders, policemen, enforcers of the law and of the good old American traditions—and for that very reasons, the strong power of the words “enforcement” and “American traditions”, they need to be out there, walking around the block, wearing chess stamped shirts and heavy boots in poor conditions, but always with dignity. If you Google “Dress like Clint Eastwood”, this is the exact description you will get—fashion-wise.
Here we will stick to his work as a director: because there can’t be a film in which the personality of his director does not spill all over the finished work, so it does not matter if the picture hasn’t Eastwood as it main protagonist. To me, to say that Eastwood is a brute, unsentimental, little self-conscious, cold, violent man and that The Bridges of Madison County and Breezy are sole exceptions in his oeuvre is totally false. It’s a poor and lazy way to view a magnificent body of work built in more than 50 years. You can’t diminish the work made in 50 years to two or three adjectives. And wrong adjectives. A Clint Eastwood film is mainly about love, hate, trust, honesty, justice, violence (and the mean effects it has on humanity), kindness, friendship and work. But these themes, as a good director would do, are not exactly underlined—and when they are, they may be talking about another thing that is hidden under the solid façade the film is trying to make up. Is Heartbreak Ridge about the American marines, friendship or a romantic comedy about a couple whose relationship ended long ago but they can’t get over the feelings they once had? What about all of it? Eastwood is also a jazz musician, and it’s known that jazz is a unique musical style because you can ramble on a music for, say, two hours while encompassing a myriad of possibilities to that same song—it’s a jam, they call. Almost the length of a movie.
But answering to the question I made two paragraphs ago, in which way does the concept of home relate to the work of Clint Eastwood? Well, home (or, at least, a house) is an important object in his films. A house is a steady structure, made either of wood, concrete or tiles, that can’t change places and inside of it you will have support and love. The Eastwoodian man needs that. The Eastwoodian man struggles to get over a vicious world, full of hate and violence, in which people (most of the time) get killed for nothing. The only prospect of change to this very man is to settle down, find a wife and have kids and live peacefully. Otherwise, he is doomed to walk about after dark, looking behind, all the time, waiting forever to something to happen.
Of course, it’s important that this geographically motionless place can actually morph itself in its spiritual structure. Because the spirit in Eastwood’s world is a living thing (and isn’t it in the real world?), a water-like body, translucent object with divine powers that can either act to the good or to the bad of man and is highly mutable. A house can trap a man inside of it if the man has a mean spirit—and it can kill. But first, we have to know where we are, and that’s why the Eastwood camera always first gets us to know exactly where we are. But it does that with gusto: I can actually draw a blueprint of Francesca’s house in The Bridges of Madison County. But, of course, Eastwood developed this ability over the time. In Breezy, we can only feel that the vibe changes from the beginning to the end, and Clint doesn’t even betakes those old and publicity tricks like changing the illumination or the likes. It’s that his camera has a sense from the other world. And this very other world can even kill.
If the house the character lives in is not a true House (or Home), but just a house, a simply structure, this character is also doomed. In this case, to Eastwood, the violence and killing is justified, because it is not a mundane violence, but a divine act. Which thing killed Jim Williams at the end of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: a stroke, the hustler’s ghost or a house based on lies, cheating and bad memories? What about all of it?
What calls our attention in a house from a Clint Eastwood picture is that it is the exact opposite from the streets and high plains that feels our imaginary and our dreams about America. Those houses have the same function like the hills and valleys from John Ford and Howard Hawks: they are firm, motionless, but high spirited. They are like harbors: they mean that everything in the end will be fine.
But what makes a good house from a bad house? Love, of course. Mellow? Perhaps. Untrue? No way.