There's rip-offs, and then there's an item like Steel Gaze: An Unauthorized Story on Clint Eastwood--a blatant cash grab that strings together existing materials into a faux-documentary without a trace of artistry or scholarship. We get a ton of these "unauthorized biography" jobs here at DVD Talk, and I've sat through plenty of them (I've even enjoyed a couple, for what they're worth). This one--whose existence I can only attribute to a desire to confuse consumers seeking out the far-superior Richard Schickel documentary The Eastwood Factor--contains an astonishing dearth of information, relying instead on lots of video of Eastwood attending stuff. The program makes Eastwood's A&E Biography seem positively penetrating in comparison.
The first few minutes cover, as shallowly as possible, Eastwood's early years: Rawhide, the "Spaghetti" Westerns, the Dirty Harry films. Our first clue that something might be awry is when writer/producer/editor Tim Nelson has already made it to 1997's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil less than 10 minutes into the 48-minute program. What the hell is the rest of this thing going to cover? Ten minutes on his first 60+ years, and 38 minutes on the past 13?
That is, indeed, the math. The tip-off is that several minutes are spent on Midnight (one of his least-remembered pictures), because they happen to have several minutes of footage from that film's premiere. Nelson then skips ahead to Space Cowboys (no mention of the films between them), because he's got some red carpet footage related to that movie. And this is the pattern for the rest of the running time: the film (and I use the term loosely) is basically just an assemblage of footage from press conferences, awards presentations, press junkets, and red carpets. If Eastwood was at an event, and they've got video of it, then they just slap in all in. When they run out of that stuff, it's over.
To say that the program is poorly paced and less than compelling would be a gross understatement. There's no form to it, no thrust, no insights, and most of all, no selectivity--if someone else's camera caught an actor you might recognize at an event, and they were asked about Eastwood, then it goes in. And then we move on to the next film or the next award ceremony, and they run all of their footage related to that.
So we get Ben Stiller, Josh Brolin, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, just rambling about how awesome Clint is, even though he's never worked with any of them. And we get endless B-roll at the AFI Awards, where apparently Helen Mirren enjoyed her meal. And we get a long chunk of interview with author James Bradley about the book of Flags of Our Fathers --very good, yes, but what does that really have to do with Eastwood as a filmmaker, as an actor, or as a person?
There's more information on these throwaway events and photo-ops than on his actual career, and the narration is often cavalierly presumptuous (Eastwood is casually referred to as a "serial womanizer" early on, with no explanation) or downright inaccurate (there's this thing called IMDB, where you can find out that, actually, Changeling was released before Gran Torino , and is not titled The Changeling). Oh, and it's usually a good idea to get a narrator who can actually pronounce words and names. This one tells us that Play Misty for Me was Eastwood's directorial "deboo," that he often worked in the "Westin" genre, that Dirty Harry was one of his most popular "charactahs," that Changeling was produced by "Ron Howid" and, most uproariously, that Invictus was the true story of "Nelson Mandeller." The uncredited narrator's strangulated pronunciations, along with the clumsy title (shouldn't that be The Unauthorized Story of Clint Eastwood?), the frequent references to "U.S. dollars," and the production credit to "World Wide Entertainment," indicates that perhaps this is some kind of a badly-made import. Whoever made it, they should've kept it to themselves.
Your indication of the care and attention paid to the video presentation comes in the very first frame, when a shot of Eastwood in the Dirty Harry trailer is presented in the wrong aspect ratio--the 2.35:1 shot is squeezed down into the 1.85:1 frame. Nice! These errors occur frequently in the trailers which make up the bulk of the first few minutes; they're all badly compressed as well, carrying the distinct look of video downloaded from YouTube. In (I guess) an attempt to give some uniformity to the slapdash footage that follows, an odd fuzzing effect has been added to much of that video, giving all of it a mushy, badly aged look. Simply put, the video quality is a mess.
The 2.0 surround audio is slightly better, though also at the mercy of the source materials--an red carpet interview with Steven Spielberg, for example, is filled with ugly clipping and clicks. The music and clunky narration are decently mixed, but that's about all to be said here.
The four bonus features--"Letters from Iwo Jima" (5:01), "Invictus" (5:02), "Globally Renowned" (5:03), and "Flags of Our Fathers" (5:00)--are basically extended and deleted scenes, amounting to more of the same: even longer stretches of red-carpet interviews and junket sound bites about Eastwood and whatever film he was promoting at the time. The feature is intolerable; these are the sections that even the filmmaker thought were unnecessary, which should tell you something.
Steel Gaze: An Unauthorized Story on Clint Eastwood is just plain terrible, a sloppily-assembled mess with the production value of a YouTube fan video and the depth of a particularly sparse Wikipedia entry. Even Eastwood fans (and I'm one) will want to pass on this junk.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their two cats in New York and holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.