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Clint Eastwood and Issues of American Masculinity

Drucilla Cornell

Publication Year: 2009

In this risk-taking book, a major feminist philosopher engages the work of the actor and director who has progressed from being the stereotypical man's manto pushing the boundaries of the very genres-the Western, the police thriller, the war or boxing movie-most associated with American masculinity. Cornell's highly appreciative encounter with the films directed by Clint Eastwood revolve around the questions What is it to be a good man?and What is it to be, not just an ethical person, but specifically an ethical man?Focusing on Eastwood as a director rather than as an actor or cultural icon, she studies Eastwood in relation to major philosophical and ethical themes that have been articulated in her own life's work.In her fresh and revealing readings of the films, Cornell takes up pressing issues of masculinity as it is caught up in the very definition of ideas of revenge, violence, moral repair, and justice. Eastwood grapples with this involvement of masculinity in and through many of the great symbols of American life, including cowboys, boxing, police dramas, and ultimately war-perhaps the single greatest symbol of what it means (or is supposed to mean) to be a man. Cornell discusses films from across Eastwood's career, from his directorial debut with Play Misty for Me to Million Dollar Baby.Cornell's book is not a traditional book of film criticism or a cinematographic biography. Rather, it is a work of social commentary and ethical philosophy. In a world in which we seem to be losing our grip on shared symbols, along with community itself, Eastwood's films work with the fragmented symbols that remain to us in order to engage masculinity with the most profound moral and ethical issues facing us today.

Published by: Fordham University Press


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p. c-c

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

As for so many of my generation, Clint Eastwood was simply a part of the social landscape in which I grew up. My ex-husband met him on the set of Rawhide, and my mother campaigned for him when he ran for mayor of Carmel, California. My father, like so many of his...

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pp. xiii-xvi

First I would like to thank Elrich Kline for his tireless editing and reediting of this book. It is no exaggeration to say that he went through every page with me. He also carefully watched all the movies that are analyzed in the pages that follow....

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Introduction: Shooting Eastwood

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pp. 1-9

Clint Eastwood has been acknowledged as one of this country’s most original and provocative directors, but this classification fails to recognize the real depth of Eastwood’s complex trajectory as a director. He grapples with all of the most significant ethical issues of our time: war,...

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1 Writing the Showdown: What’s Left Behind When the Sun Goes Down

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pp. 10-39

High Plains Drifter,1 Eastwood’s first Western, clearly reflects the influence of Sergio Leone. The Stranger (Eastwood) rides into town as the residents gather nervously around, transfixed by the beating hooves of his horse. As Lee Clark Mitchell reminds us, the Western’s beautiful landscape...

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2 Dancing with the Double: Reaching Out from the Darkness Within

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pp. 40-79

In this chapter we will discuss the nature of evil and its relationship to eroticism, the issue of doubling, and the questions Eastwood poses about the relationship between retribution and mercy. Only two of the films in this chapter, Blood Work and Sudden Impact, were directed by...

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3 Ties That Bind: The Legacy of a Mother’s Love

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pp. 97-94

The Bridges of Madison County (1995) is Eastwood’s only mature film in the romance genre.1 Early in his directorial career he made Breezy (1973), the story of a May-December relationship.2 Breezy moves through a story line that is quite typical for Hollywood romances, and it...

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4 Psychic Scars: Transformative Relationships and Moral Repair

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pp. 95-120

Is it possible for one person to intervene in another’s traumatic past, to change the course of a life’s path through love or responsiveness? Trauma is often defined as an experience that falls beneath the reach of memory, belies articulation, consumes the traumatized victim in symptoms...

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5 Parables of Revenge and Masculinity in Mystic River

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pp. 121-155

In this essay, we read Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River1 as an insightful exploration of the seductions and dangers of revenge and the relation of vengeance to violence and masculinity. What revenge offers in response to trauma and loss is the fantasy of control. The ‘‘value of vindictiveness,’’...

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6 Militarized Manhood:Shattered Images and the Trauma of War

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pp. 156-168

While Eastwood has recently gained attention as the director of two profoundly antiwar masterpieces, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, his first true antiwar movie came much earlier in The Outlaw Josey Wales.1 The film makes a powerful statement about the lasting trauma of...

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7 Shades of Recognition:Privilege, Dignity, and the Hubris of White Masculinity

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pp. 169-184

As I have mentioned throughout the book, many of Eastwood’s most important meanings are captured in the dramatic details—in how he tells his story as much as what he tells. In Million Dollar Baby, for instance, the central narrative is told entirely from the perspective of a black man,...

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Conclusion: The Last Take

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pp. 185-190

As we have seen throughout this book, Eastwood the director addresses the most urgent and searing questions of ethics and politics today in his films—from the question of evil to the possibility of moral repair and reconciliation. He does so through familiar American genres...


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pp. 191-202

Filmography: Clint Eastwood as Director

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pp. 203-204


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pp. 205-216

E-ISBN-13: 9780823246830
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823230129
Print-ISBN-10: 0823230120

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2009