Richard Schickel laughs that he has "no objectivity about Clint."
It isn't merely because the film historian and longtime Time magazine critic has written extensively about Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood.
"He's a great guy to hang out with, to have dinner with, talk about all kinds of things not necessarily movie stuff," says Schickel, who has created "The Eastwood Factor," an intimate documentary about the filmmaker-actor that is part of the extensive new box set "Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros.," which will be released Tuesday on DVD.
For more than 50 years, Eastwood has had a tough-guy image but the author says a lot of fans don't "know a great deal about Clint in a funny way." They're still
Schickel paints a portrait of "true likability. I don't think they get the intelligence of the man, the wit of the man. ... There is nobody on the planet that I'd rather have dinner with than Clint," he laughs. "He's just fun to be with and unpretentious. I mean he's a cool guy."
Cool guy, yes, but as Schickel points out, the star has always been aware of "the dark side of masculinity," which is a theme that has come out in a number of his films going as far back as the "The Beguiled" (1971), which was directed by Eastwood's mentor, Don Siegel.
"When he was doing movies like `High Plains Drifter' (1973), he was largely playing a fairly toughish sort of guy," says the author, "but I think at that very time he was questioning the value of the characters he was playing in these genre movies."
Throughout his career that issue came to the fore and became urgent for the filmmaker.
This is evident in the later "Dirty Harry" films and in "Tightrope" (1984), a film he produced. "So by the time he's making `White Hunter Black Heart' (the 1990 film about a movie director's obsession with killing an elephant on safari), there's a real questioning of macho values," says Schickel, which has continued up through the Oscar-winning "Unforgiven" (1992) and "Gran Torino" (2008).
Another theme Schickel sees in Eastwood's movies is "the rescue and resurrection of shattered families." It begins with "The Outlaw Josey Wales" (1976) - a much underestimated film by critics and one of Eastwood's favorites - and is a large part of the story of "Gran Torino."
Why the subject is so important to Eastwood is a puzzlement to Schickel.
"Clint's own family - mother, father and sister - were close-knit. They had no visible problems in their relationships. He was very, very close to his mother and father - his father died prematurely but his mother lived on into her 90s. I don't know why this (theme) preys on his mind."
The only Warner Bros. Eastwood film not included in the box set is the recent "Invictus." Last Friday, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art began a month-long Eastwood film retrospective, and the director will be at LACMA Wednesday evening with Schickel after the screening of the new documentary. (For information on the LACMA festival go to www.lacma.org.)
And while Eastwood will turn 80 on May 31, Schickel doesn't think the filmmaker is going to stop making films.
"Clint has said to me: `I like to play golf, but I don't want to have to play golf.'
"He's really a gentle, ironic, humorous guy but he's also intellectually active. He's a reader, a guy who's always looking for a script to do or a book to adapt. Unlike many people of his age he's still interested. He just doesn't want to sit around.
"He's a healthy man and he doesn't see any reasons to stop and he sees a lot of reasons not to stop. He likes to be busy and be part of the world."
Schickel believes Eastwood will slow down on the acting part of his career because it becomes arduous to act while also directing a movie.
"Torino" - especially with all the young and inexperienced actors - was a challenge, and Eastwood hasn't acted in either "Invictus" or "Hereafter," the film he's currently shooting in Europe, starring Matt Damon and described as a supernatural thriller about three people touched by death.
At this point Eastwood will do pretty much what he wants even if the studio isn't always enthused. When he first brought Warner Bros. "Million Dollar Baby," the studio thought it was "a girls boxing picture" says Schickel. "And he kept saying, `It's not. It's about a surrogate father and a surrogate daughter coming together to form a little family. That's the movie I'm going to make."'
Eventually, the studio reluctantly took half the movie, which went on to win four Oscars, including best picture, and make more than $100 million on a reportedly $30 million budget. "A big mistake," laughs Schickel, "because (the studio) could have made even more money."
"Incidentally," adds the author, "as a guy, Clint never disappoints you. He's a very dutiful man. He will do what he says he's going to do. ... If he says he's going to have dinner at 7:30 with you, he's going to be there.
"And that goes to larger things. If he says he's going to do a movie because he wants to do a movie, he's going to do that movie."