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Arms and the Man: Clint Eastwood as Hero and Filmmaker

A nation lives by its myths and heroes. Many societies have survived defeat and invasion, even political and economic collapse. None has survived the corruption of the picture it has of itself. High art and popular art are not in competition here. Both may and do help citizens decide what they are and admire. In our age, however, high art has given up speaking to the body of its fellow citizens. It devotes itself to technical displays that appeal and can only appeal to other technicians. The greatest art, high or popular, aims at speaking to a whole society. The group may not be large in number, but it is felt to be a whole. Aeschylus was composing for only a hundred thousand or so Athenian citizens, while Stephen King writes for millions of people, but one was trying to speak to everybody in his city, while the other has a carefully marketed target audience that is and is viewed as being only a fraction of his nation.

Hollywood in the days of the great studios tried to express a national feeling. This effort collapsed with the decline of the studio system in the 60's. It is striking how many watchable films, along with a few masterpieces, the old system produced compared with the dated products of the 60's. Yet the 60's did produce a filmmaker who is committed to films that both work as popular entertainment and speak to the American people. No real understanding of the oeuvre of Clint Eastwood is possible unless...

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