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HONKY TONK MAN

USA, 1983 (MIFF 1985)

Director: Clint Eastwood

A slightly off-handed way of reviewing Honky Tonk Man would be to write which is true anyway - that after having been taken for John Wayne, Clint Eastwood can now be taken for John Ford himself. One could list very quickly the telling signs, point to the exact quotations, recall the beginning of the film, the dust-storm which refers explicity to The Grapes of Wrath. Yes, one could say all that, and then stumble on the now undeniable fact that Clint Eastwood is a filmmaker in his own right If previously one could only see him as a gifted actor who by inclination became a talented filmmaker, after Honky Tonk Man, one must recognise that he is more than that. In the past few years, he has alternated his personal films with simple projects designed to maintain his box office image. Following the failure of Bronco Billy, there was Any Which Way You Can and Firefox, and after Honky Tonk Man he is preparing a fourth episode in the adventures of Dirty Harry (i.e. Tightrope). The stubbornness which makes Eastwood films pure and simple anarchisms, aimed at no particular audience and ostensibly taking the opposing view of all that Hollywood values highest, is not that of an egocentric actor, a bitter filmmaker or an avenging producer. This inglenook family drama, vaguely elegiac and totally absorbed with the American landscape, is not for polemical use, nor for teaching lessons or for the nostalgia of the former Hollywood, it is quite simply his own. And, it is abundantly clear, from the way in which he has chosen not to disown the fate of Bronco Billy but on the contrary to examine it more deeply, that all of his other activities, sometimes mercenary but never cheap, are destined only to protect this little piece of territory. This corner of the land. This tip of soil, like Cimino. Eastwood speaks only of that. And Honky Tonk Man, which opens quite rightly with the land filling the entire space, is a film totally dedicated to the movement of the dust, air and the elements. His magnificent and sole aim is to show how the land gives birth to the music How the soil fashions the soul. A country singer accompanied by his nephew, a young adolescent, travels across the heart of America from Oklahoma to Nashville, where he has to audition for the popular television show 'Grand Old Oprey'. With his lungs ravaged by tuberculosis for more than 30 years, he gathers together all his strength to make the trip ...

- from a feature by Olivier Assayas, Cahiers du Cinema

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