Monday, October 06, 2008

Clint Eastwood's world of music

It's not often that fans get to sit around with actor/director/producer/icon Clint Eastwood and hear him jaw about his work but that opportunity came up on October 4th. The New Yorker Festival presented an interview with him done by long-time writer (and icon herself) Lillian Ross at the Director's Guild of America theater, just down the street from Carnegie Hall.

The first part was a series of past clips from some of his most well-known films including the initial gunfight/confrontation in A Fistful of Dollars, the "do you feel lucky punk" scene from Dirty Harry, a moving, dialog-less scene with Meryl Streep in Bridges of Madison County, an unnerving scene with Jessica Walter in Play Misty For Me, a heart-breaking scene with Angelina Jolie from the new film Changeling (which is also premiering at the New York Film Festival) and a pretty damn funny scene from the upcoming Gran Torino, where he plays a hardened old codger. Lest anyone think otherwise, Eastwood himself isn't a mean crank as he usually plays in his films but a very smart, witty guy. Nevertheless, he's still such a great actor that he can say volumes in a scene with the right look or stare and not utter a single word.

But me being a music nut, I was most interesting in... well, you know what. And he had a lot to say about the subject too. He spoke about his admiration for Art Tatum and Chopin, who he admits to copy many times in his scores. More about that- "I don't like music to overwhelm a movie but to provide an important undercurrent." He also spoke about Martin Scorsese's blues series which he was asked to do the piano episode and which he was all too glad to do since he knew where to find a lot of footage for it.

He even recalled Paint That Wagon, the Western-musical that's usually seen as an embarrassment, but which a few people (i.e. me) actually like. There he spoke of not only having to deny Lee Marvin libations but also his inability to keep up with him as such. Eastwood also said that as they filmed in Western Oregon, director Joshua Logan took the unusual step of recording the singing live while they were doing the scenes, which make it interesting to try not to tumble through the woods as they were walking around there.

(There was no mention of 1982's Honky Tonk Man where he plays a country singer)

As they sat and talked about his career, a grand piano and microphone sat at the other end of the stage. Since Eastwood was known for playing, it was obvious what would happen later. Sure enough, Ross got him to walk over there 2-3 times for a little demonstration. As you can see from Internet Movie Database, Eastwood has had a hand in his movie music going back to the early 80's. He explained that when he was in high school, even if you didn't happen to be the quarterback, girls would still swoon around the guy playing the piano. "So if you were a little retarded... wait, you're not supposed to say that... if you were a little slow, then this was a good way to make up for it" he explained, before laying some boogie woogie on us.

He played a bit from his score of Mystic River, explaining that he thought of the three main characters there as a triad so he tried to musically come up with that and expand on it. Later, he also did the love theme from Bridges of Madison County, which he also wrote. The one request he wouldn't take from Ross was "Misty." "Nobody can improve on Erroll Garner with that," he said (decide for yourself here).

When it came time for Q&A, the subject of music came up again. Q: would you consider doing a musical? He said that couldn't discount it and that he'd be up for doing another music bio like Bird but not one with an unhappy ending like that. Guess he's had too many of those already in his films.

Oh and for you film buffs, he's what he said were some of his all-time faves: Red River, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity and other 40's noir films. Tough to argue with a list like that...

(Special thanks to Reuben Cervera for the top photo)


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