Clint talks to Patrick

Patrick Goldstein‘s “Big Picture” column is about the non- battle in today’s media culture between the pornography of self-exposure vs. modesty and reticence, and how two of the fall’s best films — Flags of Our Fathers and The Queen — “honor” the latter.
Really? I didn’t get the idea that Queen director Stephen Frears was “honoring” Queen Elizabeth II at all. The film doesn’t appprove or disapprove of her insulated cluelessness in the wake of the August 1997 death of Diana, Princess of Wales — it’s saying that the old-school sensibilities of Elizabeth Windsor and those of her generation no longer permeate the culture, and this was an event that made this clear. The Queen is saying “she doesn’t get it” over and over — in what way is that an honoring?
And while we sympathize with the glum-faced soldiers who went on that war-bound tour in Flags of Our Fathers, the bottom line reality is that they’re….kinda boring! We have to climb up that paper mache thing?…gee, I don’t think this is right…we should be back on the battlefield with our buddies…thank you, sir, this sounds like a good opportunity…strawberry syrup, please… yes sir…buy war bonds!…tell them I’ve gone fishing, son. They’re all good fellows, but they have no spunk in them…they’re stiffs.
Then I got to the end of Goldstein’s piece and realized what was going on.
Goldstein writes, “When I ask Eastwood where he keeps his Oscars — the showbiz equivalent of Bradley’s wartime medal – he points to a corner of the room. ‘There’s a couple behind my desk over there. They’re just sitting where they were put after the event.’ He shrugs, already a little uncomfortable talking about his achievements. ‘I appreciate the honor, but the question is — how far do you want to carry it?’
Eastwood, straight-arrow that he is, is telling Goldstein what’s on his mind. He’s also saying however much money Flags makes, he’s at peace with what it is, and proud of it. And, clever dude that he also is, he’s subtly telegraphing that he’s not that concerned if Flags of Our Fathers will collect a bunch of Oscar noms or not (although it’s a moderately safe bet it’ll get one for Best Picture…I think).
By saying he’s into the “thing” of it, rather than the things that may come out of it (money, awards), Clint is media-positioning himself and his film as being imper- vious or indifferent to failure, or the perception of same.

  • JD

    Are you seriously calling Flags of Our Fathers one of the fall’s best films? I saw Flags with 4 other people last night and we all agreed it was one of the worst films of the year. It’s a total mess. A train wreck even. As far as I’m concerned, you’d have to be pathologically in love with Clint Eastwood to find any real merit in that film.

  • http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com jeffreywells

    Wells to J.D.: I’ve said what I’ve said about it — do a search. (I linked to my review in my “Lette rto Clint” piece.) I’m just saying look at how all the big critics have tumbled for it, and consider the Clint Legend within the industry. I’m guessing it’ll end up with a Best Picture nomination despite the drawbacks, because of the personal relationship thing that Clint enjoys with so many plugged-in and/or prominent people.

  • Dixon Steele

    I totatlly disagree with Goldstein’s read on THE QUEEN.
    I loved the movie, especially Mirren, but it seemed obvious to to me that the film’s POV was anti-Royal and showed the Windsors as a bunch of clueless, blooodless snobs.
    The Royals just didn’t get the fact that the one-time Princess, the mother of their grandsons, was killed and the public just wanted some kind of small acknowledgement from them about. Just to confirm they too were caring people, which they obviously weren’t.
    It was Blair who came off the best, who at least understood both sides of the story.
    Perhaps only a jaded journalist could take the side of the Windsors, although I do like Goldstein’s work, in general. But here, he’s as clueless as they were…
    The film is lucky they had the brilliant Mirren portraying the title role, or the audience wouldn’t give a damn about her.

  • Craig Kennedy

    I don’t know if Frears was exactly ‘honoring’ Elizabeth with The Queen, but I certainly found her to be the most sympathetic character in the film and it was a better film for it.
    She may have gauged the public mood incorrectly but so what? The public was wrong. Politically her actions may have been a mistake, but she’s not a politician. She’s the Queen! I would imagine a certain conservatism and attachment to the past is one of the attractive things about having a monarchy in the first place.
    The clip they showed of the funeral with Tom Cruise and various other Hollywood types pretending to look solemn and deeply saddened to me was Frears kind of saying the Queen was right.

  • Craig Kennedy

    Wow, it sounds like Dixon and I saw two totally different movies!
    The thing I kept thinking about Tony Blair as I watched the movie, is that if you’re constantly putting your finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing, going with public opinion rather than trying to shape it, eventually you’re going to get it wrong and find yourself out of a job….which is exactly what has happened to him over Iraq.
    I’m not suggesting the film tried to make this point, but it’s what I was thinking while watching it.

  • Mike Schaefer

    “The thing I kept thinking about Tony Blair as I watched the movie, is that if you’re constantly putting your finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing, going with public opinion rather than trying to shape it, eventually you’re going to get it wrong and find yourself out of a job….which is exactly what has happened to him over Iraq.
    I’m not suggesting the film tried to make this point, but it’s what I was thinking while watching it”
    CJK you absolutely right — the queen says as much to Blair in their final scene together. “They can turn on you in an instant” says Mirren-as-E2, or words to that effect.

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    I feel like a lot of you missed the movie I saw.
    The Queen reminded me of Powell & Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Which did the paradoxical and not very popular thing in the middle of WWII of paying tribute to the old farts whose way of making war had been rendered obsolete by the new mechanized total war of WWII. Yes, they were old dinosaurs fighting a gentleman’s war, which meant they would have lost it to Hitler if they hadn’t been swept aside. But at the same time, P&P were saying that you always lose something with progress– there was something essentially English in the character of these old fools and blowhards, and they were paying it tribute as it left the historical scene for good in the 20th century. (Let’s remember what’s behind the opening credits of Blimp– a medieval tapestry.)
    Blair comes in– like the audience– laughing at the silly Windsors, their insistence on outmoded protocol, the perpetual walking-on-eggshells atmosphere, their pinched lives watching TV (a tiny, crappy little TV set, you’ll notice) in a stuffy room like every other elderly couple in Britain. But where his wife sees no reason not to sweep them away with all the other leftovers of the old pre-Thatcher England, replace them with a gleaming Norman Foster glass tower no doubt, Blair slowly comes to realize that you don’t just end something that’s been part of English life for hundreds of years because you can… that maybe being relentlessly modern isn’t the only value he’s supposed to advocate, and that it’s his job to help them adapt to the world he’s creating in England.
    The difference between The Queen and Col. Blimp, though, is that where Blimp truly is leaving the scene, his time is over, the queen has the last laugh here– as she reminds Blair that his time on the scene will be brief, she’s seen plenty before him and will see plenty more after, but he has helped them endure another crisis and quite probably bought them another century.

  • Craig Kennedy

    Mgmax: I hadn’t thought of Blair representing a bridge between the attitudes of people like his wife and those of the monarchy but that’s a very interesting point. But you’re right that she does get the last laugh, not just within the scope of the film but even beyond as her popularity is back as high as it’s every been.
    Nice parallel with Blimp as well. Just as with The Queen, I don’t think the film would’ve been has powerful if it was only interested in tearing down and mocking. Both films seem to have an affection for the old ways even while acknowledging that their usefulness may be at an end.

  • zoey

    I also thought the queen the most sympathetic character. For a person who inspired her subjects through a world war with her stoicism and forthrightness, adapting to the modern age of emotionalism and self confession must be brutal. And the elevation of Diana to sainthood must have been particularly galling to a woman who had not yet learned that battles in a tabloid society are fought in the pages of People, not behind closed doors.
    Of course, anyone who comes off as more clueless than Prince Charles, could use a few pointers and a good publicist.

  • adaml

    “eventually you’re going to get it wrong and find yourself out of a job….which is exactly what has happened to him over Iraq.”
    cjK,
    You’re wrong. Blair was re-elected for teh 2nd time long after the Iraqi invasion and had always promised he would hand over power to Gordon Brown before the end of his third term.

  • cjKennedy

    I don’t know if Frears was exactly ‘honoring’ Elizabeth with The Queen, but I certainly found her to be the most sympathetic character in the film and it was a better film for it.

    She may have gauged the public mood incorrectly but so what? The public was wrong. Politically her actions may have been a mistake, but she’s not a politician. She’s the Queen! I would imagine a certain conservatism and attachment to the past is one of the attractive things about having a monarchy in the first place.

    The clip they showed of the funeral with Tom Cruise and various other Hollywood types pretending to look solemn and deeply saddened to me was Frears kind of saying the Queen was right.

  • cjKennedy

    Wow, it sounds like Dixon and I saw two totally different movies!

    The thing I kept thinking about Tony Blair as I watched the movie, is that if you’re constantly putting your finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing, going with public opinion rather than trying to shape it, eventually you’re going to get it wrong and find yourself out of a job….which is exactly what has happened to him over Iraq.

    I’m not suggesting the film tried to make this point, but it’s what I was thinking while watching it.

  • Mgmax

    I feel like a lot of you missed the movie I saw.

    The Queen reminded me of Powell & Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Which did the paradoxical and not very popular thing in the middle of WWII of paying tribute to the old farts whose way of making war had been rendered obsolete by the new mechanized total war of WWII. Yes, they were old dinosaurs fighting a gentleman’s war, which meant they would have lost it to Hitler if they hadn’t been swept aside. But at the same time, P&P were saying that you always lose something with progress– there was something essentially English in the character of these old fools and blowhards, and they were paying it tribute as it left the historical scene for good in the 20th century. (Let’s remember what’s behind the opening credits of Blimp– a medieval tapestry.)

    Blair comes in– like the audience– laughing at the silly Windsors, their insistence on outmoded protocol, the perpetual walking-on-eggshells atmosphere, their pinched lives watching TV (a tiny, crappy little TV set, you’ll notice) in a stuffy room like every other elderly couple in Britain. But where his wife sees no reason not to sweep them away with all the other leftovers of the old pre-Thatcher England, replace them with a gleaming Norman Foster glass tower no doubt, Blair slowly comes to realize that you don’t just end something that’s been part of English life for hundreds of years because you can… that maybe being relentlessly modern isn’t the only value he’s supposed to advocate, and that it’s his job to help them adapt to the world he’s creating in England.

    The difference between The Queen and Col. Blimp, though, is that where Blimp truly is leaving the scene, his time is over, the queen has the last laugh here– as she reminds Blair that his time on the scene will be brief, she’s seen plenty before him and will see plenty more after, but he has helped them endure another crisis and quite probably bought them another century.

  • cjKennedy

    Mgmax: I hadn’t thought of Blair representing a bridge between the attitudes of people like his wife and those of the monarchy but that’s a very interesting point. But you’re right that she does get the last laugh, not just within the scope of the film but even beyond as her popularity is back as high as it’s every been.

    Nice parallel with Blimp as well. Just as with The Queen, I don’t think the film would’ve been has powerful if it was only interested in tearing down and mocking. Both films seem to have an affection for the old ways even while acknowledging that their usefulness may be at an end.

  • Craig Kennedy

    My perception was that he’d lost a lot of support for appearing to be Bush’s lackey, but I’ll be the first to admit my understanding of politics in the UK is weak.
    This is why I’d rather talk movies than politics.

  • Terry McCarty

    Former Pop Eye columnist Patrick Goldstein flaps his right wing again for the edification of Tribune owners.
    Just do your duty and shut up-no whistle-blowing
    or complaining allowed. Yeah, right.
    Although I’ve read that Kenneth Turan allegedly dislikes Peter Rainer, I’d rather see Rainer in the think-piece, analysis, puffing of “important” films position-even if it’s just on a “special to the TIMES” basis.

  • cjKennedy

    My perception was that he’d lost a lot of support for appearing to be Bush’s lackey, but I’ll be the first to admit my understanding of politics in the UK is weak.

    This is why I’d rather talk movies than politics.

  • joncro

    The person who ‘inspired her subjects through a world war with her stoicism and forthrightness’ was actually the Queen’s mother, (who lived until the age of 102).
    Elizabeth became Queen in 1952.