14th Jun2009

getchoff MY LAWN!?

by jerad.formby

clint eastwood folks in case you don't know

I’ve spoken off and on about film history and film language before. I have no way of knowing if you, my dear brothers and sisters, keep reading or if your eyes glaze over. This time I am going to risk that you read every word.

And don’t worry there will be pictures.

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The main reason I am writing this piece is that I was at coffee with a friend and this movie came up. Well, I brought it up. It occurred to me that when this film was released, I couldn’t find a review or a piece of film criticism that reflected my point of view on it and it occurred to me that maybe I should just handle it.

This is the article I wanted to read about Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, which just came out on DVD.


keep reading i'm still your nerd
The movie has garnered a lot of praise. A lot of the critical reaction has been happiness for Eastwood being a very Eastwood kind of character. There is something inherently awesome about him chewing on his words and tossing them out as if toward a spittoon. I will admit that’s probably the main reason I went was to see Eastwood being so very Eastwood in an Eastwood kind of way.

He also directed it and unlike many actor/directors, Eastwood actually has filmmaker cred. He is not the recipient of fluke academy awards that are given to darlings when they make a Dances With Wolves or a Braveheart. He’s one of those filmmakers who can be studied and dissected. He makes the kind of work film students will watch well into the future.

So what makes this sort of filmmaker? Briefly and not-boringly, a movie is made up of two things: form and content. The content is the stuff most people watch –acting, story, writing. The content is what you’re watching the film for. The form is how that content is expressed –that’s found in the lighting, the editing, the camera work, and ultimately, my friends, in the mind of a person called a filmmaker.

There are tons of filmmakers, obviously, but what separates the artists from the others is the amount of decision making the filmmaker applies to the form. How is the story told best? Is there another way to tell the story? Why place the camera there? The great filmmakers do not make these decisions based on a cool factor, but on a factor that best counterbalances the content.

Eastwood decides this stuff. If you didn’t believe it before, you’ll believe it with Gran Torino.

these sorts of questions are very valid believe methis girl should be in everything I write yes people think of this stuff and it can be significant

i am not making this up

take this hey star trek challenge

If you haven’t seen it, it’s the story of an older white gentleman who lives in a house wherein the neighborhood has completely changed around him. The majority of his neighbors are now Hmong and Eastwood is the mean old man who doesn’t want to know them. The story grows into Eastwood acceptance of them and the Hmong accepting him. A possibly small and unremarkable story, but I enjoyed it.

A number of people who complain about this movie can’t put their finger on exactly what their problem with it was. First they will complain about the acting and that will eventually tumble into a mumble of words that say mostly: well it was weird.

And they’re right. Gran Torino is weird.

There is something more and deeper and stranger going on with this movie, brothers and sisters. It’s caused me to go to my DVD shelf and take a look at film history’s journey through the ages and I just might have singled in on what Eastwood was doing –even if he won’t admit it.

Back in Italy, right after World War II, there was a movement called Neo Realism. The filmmakers of that movement believed that Italy didn’t need fiction or contrived reality. Italy needed movies that were about modern Italians and their real struggles as they lived in their shattered economy.

The neo realism movement brought some very novel ideas to world attention and film language.

They wanted to shoot on location as often as possible –something that didn’t happen a lot in those days. They wanted to tell stories about what it meant to be Italian and have a certain life –something that could be dismissed as boring or not for movies. Oridnary people couldn’t lead extraordinary lives, after all! That was fine by these filmmakers, because they didn’t want things to be extraordinary. They wanted them to be real.

Should one of these films require a character who was a baker, the filmmakers would seek out an actual baker to play the role. The filmmakers didn’t want to make documentaries, they wanted to tell stories with real Italians. Two of the biggest titles in this genre are Diary of a Country Priest and Rome: Open City. Is that an odd page from film history, or totally brilliant?

yeah its in italian look for the yellow subtitle version

One of the most famous entries, even though some argue it doesn’t quite qualify under the strictest definition is The Bicycle Thief. If you have never been, Hey Star Trek! highly recommends it. It tells the story of a man who needs a bicycle to do a job and his bicycle is stolen. The pressures of being a father and being a provider are brought to the forefront of the drama. The filmmaker, Vittorio de Sica, injects this film with lots of “long takes” in which little more happens then some dude walking. He doesn’t skip ahead in the story, he injects a realistic approach to time to ensure that you’re spending as much time with the main character as possible.

And over the course of that time, you get to know him and you feel for him. And you like him.

It also has one of the saddest, most powerful endings I’ve ever seen.

I believe Clint Eastwood made an American Neo Realism movie when he made Gran Torino. He insisted on real Hmong actors appearing in his film in the prominent roles. This means that actors in the movie weren’t cast for ability, but because they were real.
Eastwood doesn’t borrow the Bicycle Thief’s sense of time, but you can see the neo realism approach in this simple casting choice.

There’s this idea floating around in my head. The idea that Clint Eastwood drove up to Detroit in a beat-up truck filled with movie equipment and he parked in a Hmong neighborhood and just announced what he was doing and got the whole neighborhood to help.

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The movie was shot entirely on location in Detroit –one of the American cities hit hardest by our economic crisis. Real.

Eastwood has brought us a story about racism, how ignorant America is of other cultures, about our economic slouching, and about generational differences. I don’t feel Eastwood is being preachy with this piece, I just feel like he’s being real. He got very real with us with Gran Torino. Each of the issues I mentioned are part of America’s struggle and maybe one day they won’t be. Movies like Gran Torino will help us later, just like the Bicycle Thief might help a modern Italian.

This is why I walked you all the way to Italy and used a time machine. Italians had a belief that by presenting the real struggles of Italians, they could improve their society. They used extreme and novel approaches to ensure their films were noticed and that they left a mark on history.

I am not saying its his master work –I keep hoping that’s around the corner, but as an entry in his pantheon, Gran Torino can boldly stand as at once incredibly unique, timely, and a bit off putting. The “weird” factor definitely sticks with people and if Eastwood caused you to think just a little more about what you saw then the weird worked on you.

It certainly worked on me. I’m happy to throw out there exactly why.

Thank you for your attention on this matter.

so many unanswered questions the dashing mystery man known as hey star trek dont leave us confused we want to know the truth my epic conclusion is it all for a long form joke i will never say

see unforgiven right now


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  • Reno

    Get off my lawn…

  • Ryan

    Great blog Jerad. Very interesting enjoyed reading the whole thing. That said. What the Hell? I thought this was Hey Star Trek not Hey Grand Torino! That said. Again I enjoyed it. I also enjoy your Jeradisms.

    Your Trek friend Ryan (ravendragonstar)

  • jerad.formby

    @ryan

    You know on Saturdays (or Sundays it seems today) I try and do something different over here 🙂

    That said, thought about doing Hey Gran Torino! But Star Trek makes more sense since there’s so much of it. Gran Torino is only six movies and three TV series 🙂

  • Ryan

    LOL. Keep up the good work Jerad. I’m lovin it.

    P.S. Please don’t do a “Hey Love Story” or “Hey Beaches” No chick flicks.

    Ryan Out.

  • Steve

    Nicely done, sir. And I agree.