Richard Schickel is a man who has truly done it all in the movie business. Schickel has written, directed and produced films, TV shows and documentaries and even has a few acting credits to his name as well. Aside from his career on the production side of filmmaking, Schickel is also a renowned film critic for Time Magazine, author and historian, with a number of film books to his credit. Schickel's latest endeavor is the new documentary The Eastwood Factor, which will be included on the incredible 19-disc set Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros., which includes 35 of Eastwood's Warner Bros. films and will be available on DVD shelves everywhere, as well as for download purchase (CLICK HERE to find out more on download purchases) on February 16. I had the distinct honor of talking with Mr. Schickel over the phone about this new documentary - which offers a unique glimpse of Eastwood, roaming the Warner Bros. lot and talking about his time on the lot - and much more. Here's what he had to say.
I understand you've known Clint for essentially his entire time at Warner Bros. Can you talk about how that first meeting went with yourself and Clint and how he struck you?
Richard Schickel: We met for dinner at the home of some mutual friends. It was about a month or six weeks after The Outlaw Josey Wales had come out and I had given it a favorable review for Time and it just developed from there, in a casual way. I would call him when I was in Los Angeles, he would often call me when he was in New York, lunches and dinners, and we just kind of liked each other. There's nothing very fancy about it.
Did you find that a relationship like that is kind of tricky, though, with a critic and an artist like that?
Richard Schickel: Oh yeah. At some point, I of course had to stop reviewing his movies. Not immediately, though, because at first, it wasn't much different than some other relationships that you inevitably develop when you're writing about movies. People get in touch with you and you have a few, like I say, lunches and dinners and what have you. It doesn't mean much. With Clint, there was some mutual liking that had developed and there came a moment where I couldn't keep any critical perspective on his movies. It shifted then. We made a couple of appearances together, Q&A kinds of things, various cinematic institutions and I did a film about the making of Unforgiven. I was on location for a couple of weeks when he was shooting the picture, and it just developed more intensely thereafter. We talk a lot on the phone, between here and Carmel, have dinner, then projects like this one arise. Warner Bros. really wanted to do a documentary, coinciding with this huge boxed set of his movies over 35 years. We did the documentary and then the book came along also. I wanted to do the book so the two things sort of happened altogether. I mean, last year was kind of a busy year because I was writing the book and writing the film at the same time.
Where did the format of this documentary come from, with you and Clint just walking around the lot and reminiscing?
Richard Schickel: In the final version, there is some footage that we shot in December, up in Carmel at his home up there. That's nice stuff too. I think it's kind of unique stuff, in the sense that candidly speaking with stars and directors of his stature, you don't usually get into the more intimate context that we got into in this movie. I think that's what's kind of unique about the movie.
They were saying that this boxed set is probably the biggest single set on just one artist ever to be released.
Richard Schickel: I think that's true. I'm not sure of the details. Didn't Fox a couple of years ago have this huge John Ford retrospective? I don't know if there are more films or less in that package. It certainly doesn't happen unless the artist involved is a major artist. That's certainly true.
I think it also has a lot to do with the fact that you usually don't see an artist have a relationship with a studio for 35 years like Clint has had with Warner Bros.
Richard Schickel: Not anymore. These people have their seven-year contracts and I guess some of them might have been renewed once or maybe twice, but certainly 35 years is a lot.
It almost seems that it could be one of the most successful marriages in Hollywood history.
Richard Schickel: Yeah, I guess so. Yeah.
Among the films in this set, do you have a personal favorite or a film that you think might be his most important film? Perhaps a guilty pleasure of yours?
Richard Schickel: I have probably at least a half-dozen of his movies that I like a lot. I'm very fond of the spaghetti Westerns, going back to his earliest days. I think they were major, truly revisionist Westerns. I obviously liked Unforgiven, I liked Mystic River a lot, I liked Million Dollar Baby, I liked Letters from Iwo Jima. There are other movies I think are underappreciated movies such as A Perfect World, which I think is just an excellent movie. I think The Outlaw Josey Wales is a terrific movie and I'm pretty fond of, actually, Dirty Harry. There are certain themes that come up with Clint. One is troubled families, families that are facing a hugely difficult situation, such as True Crime, which I think is an underrated Clint movie also, or Josey Wales, you know, he loses his family and gathers a surrogate family around him. There's a lot of movies and he's almost never made - he's made two or three movies that I'm not hugely fond of - but it's a pretty good batting average, I must say.
Oh, I would definitely agree. It's also odd that this set is coming out now because there was a recent Harris Interactive poll that listed Clint Eastwood as America's favorite movie star.
Richard Schickel: Is that a fact?
Yes, I just read about it in the trades.
Richard Schickel: That's funny because I don't think that Clint is going to do a great deal of acting from here on out. First of all, it's arduous to act and direct in the same film. It's tiring, it's difficult, especially so maybe on Gran Torino, because he basically had a cast of amateur actors, so he had to do more hands-on directing. I think that he likes directing more than he likes acting. He has a way of directing. It's very casual, his sets are very good-natured. He said to me that he noticed early on, probably when he was back doing Rawhide, that everything comes to the director. He's the central body in the creative process of the movie. He likes being in that position. He doesn't like being an actor, being told, 'Stand here, do this.' He wants to be the main man. That satisfies him.
You mentioned Gran Torino and I was really impressed with his performance there. Some might have thought it could've been his last shot to get an acting Oscar that he's never got. Do you think he might take one more shot to get an Oscar for acting?
Richard Schickel: I don't know. Actually, Morgan Freeman and I were talking about that last week. Morgan is perpetually pissed off that Clint didn't get the Oscar nod for Million Dollar Baby and I agree. I think it's a terrific performance by Clint. I think it's a slight frustration for him, that he not as fully acknowledged as the actor that he is, but in a funny way, it's because he kind of makes acting look easy and natural and unstrained, so people kind of overlook him as an actor but I think as an actor, he's become more and more subtle and more and more interesting. I mean, that's an interesting performance in Gran Torino and a really interesting performance in Million Dollar Baby. I wish, for my friend, that he had gotten more official acknowledgment as an actor. He deserves it.
This set also includes an excerpt from your book. Can you talk about what's included in this excerpt and what we can expect from the book itself?
Richard Schickel: I haven't seen that booklet so I don't what they're using (Laughs). I have no idea. I'll have to check that out. The book will be out in February. I have the first bound copy here. It's a nice looking book, pictorially. I can't talk about my stuff in it, but pictorially, it's a very handsome book. It's an oversized book, lots of pictures, a long essay by me in there and an essay on each of his movies, shorter, 600-word essays, but it's a very handsome book and it's advancing very well. We're going to have at least 75,000 copies of that book in the stores by March 1.
As a critic, I was wondering if you had any Oscar predictions for this year?
Richard Schickel: Oh geez (Laughs). I don't know. I never go and I really don't care. You know, the Oscars, two days after they're over, I don't remember what won. I usually remember Best Picture or maybe the Best Actor or Actress. I don't think, in the long run of history, Oscar movies, by and large, are the ones we love best or remember best or go back to the most on Turner Classic Movies, or what have you. There are exceptions, of course. Annie Hall is an exception, Unforgiven is an exception, but a lot of Oscar movies, in the long run of history... I mean, do you ever want to see Gandhi again? I don't, but it was the Best Picture that year. Let's assume that Avatar wins, because it's so popular. I don't want to see it again. It's what it is, but I don't think it's a great movie.
You look at the Oscars and then you look at lists like the AFI Top 100. Citizen Kane didn't win Best Picture but it's consistently the #1 movie.
Richard Schickel: Yeah, it's almost like a convention, with Citizen Kane, when you're talking best picture. I mean I admire Citizen Kane. I haven't revisited it in quite awhile but I've certainly seen it at least a dozen times in my life. It's a very good movie. Is it the best movie of all time? I don't know, I don't think so. But what would be the best picture of all time? Do you know? Being a critic, which I was for 40-odd years, you really have 50 or 100 really favorite movies, movies you just think are great. Citizen Kane would certainly be amongst them or Casablanca or Chinatown. I don't think there's a lot of percentage in choosing your absolute, best movie. I think it's an amateur question. It's not a question for people like you and me who spend a lot of time thinking about movies and going back to them and reconsidering them and all that stuff.
If I had a dollar for every time I've been asked what my favorite movie was, I probably wouldn't need a job.
Richard Schickel: Yeah, yeah. I know. It's true. People are very earnest about that. They think you must be sitting around making lists all the time (Laughs). I don't do that.
(Laughs) Neither do I.
Richard Schickel: It's funny because nobody, at this stage in movie history, can have seen every movie. For example, last spring at the Los Angeles County Museum, they had a terrific series of French film noir and it included a bunch of titles I had never seen. A couple of them, I was saying, 'Wow, these are really great movies.' They kind of get added into your mental list of really excellent movies that you hadn't seen. There must be - I mean, I don't have a list - but there must be probably 100 movies that are widely regarded as distinguished movies and I haven't actually seen. I'm always kind of catching up with them. It's kind of the pleasure of it, in a way, there's always something out there that you really want to see and for some reason you never have seen. I find that's true of other critics too, who guiltily say something like, 'I never saw Last Year at Marienbad,' which I actually finally caught up with this year, and I think it was terrible, but, you know, it's a famous movie that I had never seen (Laughs).
(Laughs) Very nice. Is there anything else you're currently working on, with new films or new books or anything else?
Richard Schickel: I have a book that will come out next year sometime. It's a book of conversations with Martin Scorsese. I think it will be interesting. He was quite open with me and you see a bunch of stuff he says about his own movies and I have Marty being Marty with a lot of other people's movies as well. That's a happening thing and I'm under contract to do another book about movies. I think I'll get started on that this year, but I don't think I'll finish it this year. I'm keeping busy (Laughs).
Does the Scorcese book have a title yet?
Richard Schickel: Yeah, it's just Conversations with Martin Scorsese. It's a series for Knopf. I did one on Woody Allen and I did one on the architect Frank Gehry that came out last fall. It's an occasional series of books that I do with that publishing house.
Just to wrap up, what would you like to say to fans of Clint in general about what to expect from this amazing DVD set?
Richard Schickel: I would think it would be successful. As you just said, he's America's favorite movie star, so it's coming out at the right moment. Clint always says, 'I make movies mainly because they're movies I might like to see, even if I didn't appear in them or direct them.' That's kind of the way he goes and that boxed set contains a huge number of his best movies. It doesn't have all of his best movies, for example, I'm very fond of Escape from Alcatraz and that's a Paramount picture. I'm fond of In the Line of Fire and that's a Columbia picture, so it doesn't contain absolutely everything he's ever made that is terrific, but it is a really great sample because about 95% of the movies he's made have been at Warner Bros.
Well, that's about all I have for you, Richard. Thank you so much for your time. It was a real pleasure to speak with you.
Richard Schickel: Thank you, Brian.
You can watch Richard Schickel's documentary The Eastwood Factor on this enormous 19-disc boxed set Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros. hits the DVD shelves and will be available for download purchase on February 16. You can CLICK HERE for more information on how to buy this set via download and you can also find more information on the films in this set, biographical info on Clint Eastwood and Richard Schickel and much more.