Clint Eastwood’s RNC speech: Bold backing or career misstep?

August 31, 2012

Clint Eastwood delivered his much-anticipated speech at the Republican National Convention Thursday night, a 10-minute prime-time address endorsing Mitt Romney. The presentation appeared “unscripted” and a bit unprecedented as the famed director addressed President Obama in the form of an empty chair.

Those analyzing the speech are mixed on whether the speech will bode well for Romney, whether it distracted from the presidential candidate’s own speech while accepting his party’s nomination or whether it was a risky move for the actor/director’s image.

Eastwood’s appearance “marked the oldest backing of a Republican candidate by a Hollywood A-lister in a generation or more,” says Amy Argetsinger of Reliable Source :

“The 82-year-old has won renown (and two Oscars) for his directing in recent decades, but it was against the silhouette of one of his 1960s spaghetti Western gunslingers and a twanging guitar that he arrived at the podium.

“I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking, ‘What’s a movie tradesman doing out here? They’re all left wingers out there, left of Lenin!’” he began. “There are a lot of conservative people, moderate people, Republicans, Democrats in Hollywood . . . The conservative people by the nature of the word play it closer to the vest. . . Believe me, they’re there.”

He recalled Obama’s election night with some gentle sarcasm. “They were talking about hope and change. . . I just thought, This is great. Everyone was crying. Oprah was crying. I was even crying. . . ”

Sharp segue: “There’s 23 million unemployed people in this country. That’s something to cry for.”

Turning to the empty chair, he quizzed the absent president about Afghanistan in tones that suggested he favors a quick exit. “You mentioned about having a target date for bringing everybody home — I think Mr. Romney said, why are you putting out the date now, why don’t you bring them home tomorrow morning.”

And then, sounding like your crabby uncle doing dinner-table comedy: “What do you want me to tell Romney? I can’t tell him to do that! He can’t do that to himself!”

No reliance on a Teleprompter here; Eastwood even gave the impression he was talking off the top of his head. The room laughed heartily and roared its approval throughout, but many TV viewers expressed bafflement on Twitter.”

Jen Chaney of Celebritology says that the timing of the speech “comes at a moment when Eastwood already has hit some off-notes from an image-perspective.”

His last two directorial efforts, “J. Edgar” and “Hereafter,” have not been met with the same universal critical acclaim lavished on previous films such as “Gran Torino,” “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Million Dollar Baby.” Some heads also were scratched when he decided, along with wife Dina Eastwood, to allow his family to become the subject of an E! reality show. He may not have lost respect on a significant level, but his choices may be inserting an Eastwood question mark into some people’s minds that didn’t exist there before.

Will any of these unconventional decisions affect the box office of his next film, “Trouble With the Curve,” or a studio’s interest in working with him on the Eastwood project that follows? Probably not. But then again, Eastwood is proving that it’s really hard to predict what’s around the corner for him.

Maybe that’s by design. Maybe more than anything else, he’s trying to demonstrate to the American public that he’s going to be whoever he wants to be and that we should spend a little more time leaving him, as well as everybody else, alone.

Given the social media response to his performance — which played like the weirdest buddy comedy ever (“Clint Eastwood and an empty chair star in “Every Which Way But Politically Savvy”!) — it doesn’t look like people are quite ready to leave him alone. Not just yet.

Responses via the social network were mixed as well, according to the Associated Press :

— “20 years ago I wanted Clint Eastwood to make my day. Now I just want him to take his pills and b grateful he doesnt need medicare.” — Nancy Lee Grahn, “General Hospital” actress.

— “I demand to see Invisible Obama’s invisible birth certificate.” — Michael Schaffer, The New Republic.

— “Clint Eastwood made my day.” — Charlie Daniels, country singer.

— “And so on this day, August 30, 2012, (at)MittRomney became a better actor than Clint Eastwood.” — Lawrence O’Donnell, host of MSNBC’s “The Last Word.”

— “I can’t believe I just watched (hash)ClintEastwood turn into somebody’s DRUNK UNCLE HARRY on the stage of the (hash)GOP (hash)RNC. He humiliated himself.” — Star Jones, “Today” contributor.

— “I. Love. Clint Eastwood.” — Blake Shelton, country singer and judge on “The Voice.”

Phillip Kennicott of The Style Blog links the delivery to a one-act opera:

Jean Cocteau and Francis Poulenc wrote a one-act opera called “La voix humaine” (1958) for a solo soprano, which is a one-sided conversation. There were a few of these as the technology spread and created concern about the surreal, one-sided conversations people over heard.

In the Poulenc the women is the victim, having her last conversation with a man who is dumping her.

Alexandra Petri of ComPost had a simple, effective way to describe the rambling, imaginary dialogue that Eastwood delivered on stage during the prime-time cast:

“In a word, it was magic.”

More on Clint Eastwood’s speech:

Clint Eastwood and his convention speech

Ann Romney: Clint Eastwood 'did a unique thing' last night

Clint Eastwood talks to imaginary Obama

The greatest speech in U.S. history

Eastwood goes unscripted at RNC

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