Skip to comments.Clint Eastwood on Flags of Our Fathers
Posted on 10/15/2006 5:52:28 PM PDT by Mr. Blonde
Legendary actor and director Clint Eastwood was greeted by a packed room of journalists, applauding him as he entered the ball room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles to talk about his latest film, Flags of our Fathers. Wearing a pressed powered blue suit, Eastwood stood at the front of the room and allowed reporters to take pictures. After a few photos he laughed and said, "Okay, that's enough of that. Well, thank you for coming here at this ridiculous hour. At least it was for me." And after surveying all the mics and recorders, "I keep feeling I'm at Sharper Image and they have a little display."
Eastwood's new film is based on the bestselling book of the same name by James Bradley with Ron Powers. The island of Iwo Jima was the location for one of the most crucial and bloodiest battles of World War II, culminating with what would become one of the most iconic images in history: five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi. The novel and movie chronicle the battle of Iwo Jima and the fate of the flag raisers and their brothers in arms.
Eastwood talked to ComingSoon.net about adapting the book and making his Japanese companion film, Letters From Iwo Jima.
ComingSoon.net: You've often said that you pick your films based on subjects that interest you on a personal level. So why this?
Clint Eastwood:: One, there's never been a story on Iwo Jima, even though there have been pictures that have been using it in the title , but the actual invasion, it was the biggest marine corps invasion in history, the most fierce battle in marine corps history, but what intrigued me about it was the book itself and the fact that it wasn't really a war story. I wasn't setting out to do a war movie. I'd been involved with a few as an actor, but I liked this because it was just a study of these people, and I've always been curious about families who find out things about their relatives much after the fact and the ones who seemed to be the most in the front lines and have been through the most seem to be the ones who have been the quietest about their activity. It's a sure thing that if you hear somebody being very braggadocio about all their experiences in combat, sure thing that he was probably a clerk typist somewhere in the rear echelon (laughs). But there seems to be a commonality with these kind of people like James Bradley was, that they came back and it was a time in history when you didn't have a lot of psychiatric evaluation and coddling. When they came back they were just told to go home and get over it. And if they didn't have wives or loved ones to help them, they had to adjust on their own, or else they didn't adjust on their own. So it's just those experiences of being a young man thrown into the ultimate celebrity and the picture I hope makes a comment on celebrity, of being treated like a president. Maybe not always a president, but being treated like a celebrity, and they didn't feel that. They felt very complex about being that, especially when so many of their companions were killed in this ferocious battle. And this was the only famous photograph, the Joe Rosenthal photograph, was taken four or five days into the battle. It was not even a fourth of the way there yet, but it signified a unity that I've always been curious about. So that's it.
CS: Could you describe briefly the discussions you had with Paul Haggis early on... to montage it rather than go linearly.
Eastwood:: We talked very much about that, but it's a difficult book to translate into a screenplay. Paul likes to joke. After our first meeting, he said, I have about an 11 per cent chance of being successful with this. And I said, "well, it's going to work out. Don't worry. Just keep things straight ahead" and we would talk every day or so over the phone and talk about philosophy. It was a way to get started. He had a trouble getting into it and we talked about doing it like you were suggesting - doing it in various acts - but the trouble is, to show the impact that it has on the three soldiers and their recollection is that it's very difficult to work with, because you'd go from present day, which would be 1994 in this case, and back to one period of time and up to another period of time and back, and then up to the present day, and the only other time I've done that - I did it with a picture called "Bird" years ago and I had difficulty in going into flashback, then a flashback within a flashback, and then having to unwind and come back and keep the audience only moderately confused. To get back to the present day of that particular picture [which] present day was in the '40s as well. But, we finally decided this was the way to do it - through a journalistic - and because James Bradley wrote his book as he was researching - doing literally a detective story - going around and talking to people - it laid out that way. It just seemed like a logical way to do it. Otherwise it's a very big sprawling book, and it covers a lot of chapters on a lot of various items. You have to sit there and figure out, well what story do we want to do? Just the bond drive or the battle? But you have to have the impact of the battle to show the complexities of the bond drive, of the emotions of the guys, and I guess Adam Beach's character sort of sums it up when he's on the train, and says, "We shouldn't be here." There's a lot of little key places that guide you back - that is one of them.
CS: Talk about decision to cast lesser known actors and what do you think of Adam Beach's performance?
Eastwood:: We're using lesser-known actors because the average age of people sent to Iwo Jima was 19 years old. Except for some of the officers. I talked to one of the officers who was there the day before yesterday, he retired as a general but he was a captain then and he was 24. So the oldest in our group who was Mike Strank, 26 years old, and the other Marines called him "The Old Man." It's hard to be called an old man at 26, but because of his leadership qualities, he was sort of viewed that way. I think because of the age and we had to use young people it lent itself to using lesser-known actors. And also if you have big name actors coming on the screen in a situation, sometimes it takes a while to adjust and see someone who's well-known and then adjust to them as a character and it's up to that actor to romance you over into thinking that he is that character. I remember years ago seeing "Rio Bravo," in a theater and they made the decision to cast Ward Bond as a wagon master and have him ride into town and go "Wagon's ho!" and this was during the time that "Wagon Train" was on television and a very popular show, and when he did that the whole audience all came apart and it took another 15 minutes to get back into the movie. But just the presence of somebody that's well known, and also people are going to the movies to see their favorite actor, in this case, that may be the case in this movie or any other movie, but this time you can kind of accept in a faster fashion the fact that these people are the characters. Adam Beach, the story of Ira Hayes has been told before. But Adam Beach is a North American Indian, so we don't have a Caucasian playing it or somebody of occidental background. I had seen him do some other smaller roles but he came and he did a reading on tape and it was very good. You could see a lot of possibilities there. I hired him. He turned out to be even better than I expected because Ira Hayes was a complex person, a person who did sharecropping, a kid from Arizona who went to the Marine Corps, suddenly he's in the Marine Corps and he's got a uniform and he meets a lot of friends. He found sort of a family in the Marine Corps. He liked it to the point where he wanted to stay there. Everything in this picture is true. Sometimes that's an advantage and sometimes it's a disadvantage. But everything happened. He did threaten Gagnon that he'd kill him if he told them he was on the flag. He didn't want to come back to the states after combat and do what they're doing. He had a problem with alcoholism and everywhere they went, they were serving him drinks. That could be not conducive to a good situation for a person with his feelings, attraction to alcohol. The Keyes Beach character also had attraction to alcohol and he was assigned to Ira Hayes, which made it worse because he was the liaison for the three boys. The other boys seemed to be able to handle it. But Rene Gagnon had problems on his own.
CS: What was it like filming in Iceland?
Eastwood:: I loved filming in Iceland. When it was first suggested that we work in Iceland, I could not understand how it [would] work, but really there's a lot of similarities between Iceland in the summer and Iwo Jima in the winter time. Iwo is a geo-thermal island, a lot of volcanic activity, a lot of sulphur minerals coming out of fissures in the mountains and what have you. Iceland is not necessarily that way, but it does have some of that and it has tremendous black beaches, black sand beaches, which are very hard to duplicate. We looked at black sand beaches all over the world - next to the Four Seasons in Hawaii (laughter) - comfortable places. Certain parts of it on Iwo Jima that were not too sensitive because it is considered a shrine, and the Japanese don't have tourism there. Nobody can go there without the Japanese government's approval and the Japanese government feels it's a sacred place because there are still almost 12,000 of their men unaccounted for on that island. So we couldn't do the pyrotechnics that we would have to do to actually recreate the invasion, so we went to Iceland, and Iceland was very cooperative, and then we came back and did the various cities here in the States.
CS: Would like to know your thoughts on the difference of being a marine in a war where the purpose is clear, like the Second World War and the whole country is behind you and being a soldier today where many people don't seem to know the purpose of the war in Iraq.
Eastwood:: All wars have their problems. It was a different time in history, of course. We had been fighting in the European theatre, we were at war, but when it was brought to us in Pearl Harbor, it became a reality that if we weren't careful, that if we didn't fight this one out, we might be speaking another language today. So it was sort of simple. A lot of the women went to work in factories and had to give up their life. Most of the men gave up their lives or gave up their everyday life to go, but most of them were skinny kids out of the depression. Most of the kids, the average age was 19 years old. You figured they were probably all born in 1928 or 27 or in the late 20s early 30s, and they were over there, but they all had the spirit. And it was important to tell this story for that reason. It told of a time in our history when there was a lot of spirit. I think the icon itself of the flag-raising - a candid shot which was sort of a manufactured shot at the time . . . it didn't have any significance at the moment because it was a separate flag-raising but it was just a shot that was very rare. It's a work of art. It's a work of art because it's people not looking into the camera and smiling at their aunt in Des Moines. It shows the unity of people working towards a common cause. The hands reach out, sometimes just hands just being seen, and that itself showed a time when people felt they had to - we had to be victorious in this war.
How it compares to today - I suppose war is war whenever you're in there. If you're in the front lines, there are always various problems you have to deal with that are hard for us to understand who are in a non-combat situation unfortunately. As this picture shows, the politicians are still running a certain amount of things. The men obviously were almost as much affected by the bond drive as they were by the combat. But the bond drive was a very strenuous thing for young men to be sent out and treated like kings and then to have to all of a sudden, the rug's out from under them and they go back to civilian life and there's nowhere to go. Except for James Bradley who had a profession in mind. They just drifted off into the sunset so to speak. It was time of great effort in the country. I am probably one of the few people in the room here who were around at that time. And I remember the feeling, I remember the Seventh Bond Drive, I didn't know too much about it because I was only 15 years old. You read newspapers and saw a lot of the activity on it. Everything was bonds, bonds, bonds. People would give you bonds. Your parents would give you a bond for your birthday or something. Younger kids were disappointed because they didn't get a toy, but they would get a bond that would be worth something later on. So it was a great moment in history as far as American unity. The country seems much more - I'm sure it wasn't - but it seems in hindsight certainly much more unified than it is today, because the war we're in today excluding the Iraq War in the front lines is a different kind of war. Ideology, religion - there's a lot of factors coming in to it that may make the next war much more difficult. But this one was much more cut and dried.
CS: How challenging was it making "Flags of our Fathers" and "Letters From Iwo Jima" at the same time?
Eastwood:: It goes in waves. Sometimes you think I'll take some time off, and it goes in waves. I did "Mystic River," and I was going to take some time off after that project, then I read "Million Dollar Baby," and said, boy, I gotta do that. So I went right into that. I had tried to buy this book sometime earlier and DreamWorks bought it and I ran into Steven Spielberg and he said why don't you come over and direct this film. I [told him] I liked [the book] very much. We shook hands and I said, "yes, I'll do that." He didn't have a screenplay he was happy with so we had to kind of start from scratch. I was working with Paul so I brought Paul in, and the rest is where we are. Part way into the research for the book and how to do it, I started getting interested in Lt. General Kuribayashi and I was kind of wondering what kind of person he was to defend this island in a ferocious way but also in a very clever way by tunneling the island and putting everything underground. Doing it differently than most of the Japanese defenses were at that time. Most of them were beachhead defenses and using a lot of artillery from the sea. You couldn't do that effectively with this particular battle. This particular battle by the way, had its intelligence problems as we've seen in recent times. They estimated far fewer troops than was on the island so they sent the Navy off figuring they could take it fairly easily. They thought they could take it in maybe four or five days, and it didn't quite turn out that way. I sent to Japan and got a book about General Kuribayashi. It was a book of letters, and the letters were to his wife, his daughter and his son, and a lot of them were mailed from the U.S. when he was here as an envoy in the late '20s and early '30s. He was a very sensitive man, very family-oriented, missing his family very much. In those [letters] you got a feeling for what he was like. Later on, we found out some stories, some fact and some up to a point, and then the island gets lost, because there were no survivors that we could find that knew exactly what happened at the end. But Gen. Kuribayashi was a unique guy, he liked America, he thought it was a mistake to go to war with America. He thought America was too big an industrial complex, from a practical point of view. He had a lot of resistance among his own troops about his defense of the island. A lot of his fellow officers thought he was crazy doing this whole tunneling thing. But he turns out to be an interesting person. And in our research, we found out there were many other interesting people that were there, and the young Japanese conscriptees that were on the island were very much like the Americans. They didn't necessarily want to be in the war. They were sent there being told, don't plan on coming back; something you could not tell an American with a straight face. That would be a tough sell. Most people go into combat thinking, yes, it could be dangerous and I could get killed, but I could also make it back and go back to normal.
CS: Can you talk about the recurring theme of deconstructing the hero myth?
Eastwood:: Yeah, that's very important in this movie because we, in the era we live in now, everybody's being considered a hero. In that particular era, the '40s, heroes were people of extraordinary fetes. They're people, human beings, that Americans do heroic deeds every day. You probably all read and saw that news last night where that fireman jumped out of the car and he saved these two people who were burning in the car. He was on his way back from work. People do deeds like that all the time. People also, some people say, "Well, it's not my problem." There are exceptions, but growing up, I'm trying to think of who's heroic? Joe Lewis, maybe in the war, there was General Patton of course. Maybe Eisenhower, the head of the allied forces. Gary Cooper. There were a few people, there was a handful. Movie actors that were celebrities were a handful, a handful of men and a handful of women that were names. Now you have to decipher everything because everybody's a star so you have to have superstars. But people are stars who are just heiresses or something now. [Laughs] I don't have an example of that. [Laughs]. But it's a much different era. They didn't have that sort of thing then.
CS: What was your message about propaganda in the film?
Eastwood:: I think what we tried to tell is that the propaganda, we tried to show the propaganda machine as it actually appeared. Yeah, growing up, we watched all the war movies. War movies always were very propaganda-istic. There's always the bad guys and the good guys. Most of the servicemen were portrayed by actors who were at least in their 30s, sometimes in their 40s and on up. That is inaccurate because the majority of them were in their teens and early 20s. I think the oldest person in the campaign, the oldest guy was Howling Smith who was 60 years old. He was the oldest officer, but most of the officers were probably in their 20s and most of the infantry people were in their teens.
Flags of our Fathers opens October 20th and Letters From Iwo Jima on February 9th.
It's a good book. I recommend it from the historical perspective.
That book, with "The Greatest Generation", opened so many questions of my parent's young life. To me, that is what a good story should do, not answer all.
I am hoping this movie will do the same.
I will approach Eastwood's film with some caution. He seems to have a penchant for revisionist trash -- artificially 'debunking' the legends that have made America great. Could he have a hidden motive to tear down America's myths? Recently, I saw Scorsese's "The Departed" and was disgusted by his attempt to blur the line between good and bad, right and wrong, cop and crook. Eastwood is easily put in Scroses's boat! Be careful with any film he produces or directs.
Who was Manila John?
Gunnery Sergeant Manila John Basilone was the only Marine in WWII to receive both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross.
As far as, 'The Greatest Generation' I don't necessarily think so. That generation gave US what we have today. They allowed without fighting...a society of socialism. They love those entitlement programs. We are having to undo what they gave us.
Now their parent's generation that was a great generation much greater than the one their kids left us.
Brokaw is nothing more than an eastern elitist, who doesn't really have a clue.
Just curious, what revisionist movies did he make?
"The Unforgiven" comes to mind.
Really? In what way did he "revise" history with his fictional western movie?
Did he revise it more than John Ford? John Wayne? Was that the "history" he revised?
The Classic American Western, sometimes called the Traditional Western, played upon myth and higher spiritual aspirations. In essence, it was an allegory, dramatizing the conflict between good and evil. And in that western and in that conflict, good always emerged triumphant. No, you are right, there is no attempt here at realism, but, in those really good traditional westerns, the filmmakers succeeded in making their efforts convincing. "The Unforgiven" played to a cynic's realism and achieved what it set out to achieve: a sad and serious diminishing of our highest aspirations and our noblest dreams. By reducing myth to commonplace pandering, that film sought to reduce us all to the most common level, the level of petty self-seeking and amoral actions. The Classic American western sought something better in all of us.
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