ACIDEMIC Journal of Film and Media

An American Rohmer: Clint Eastwood's Breezy
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Erich Kuersten
If you were ever a girl on a date with Clint Eastwood and he wanted to sleep with you, chances are--based on his rep, artistry and ouevre--there wouldn't be a much you could do to resist. He'd play the perfect music at all the perfect times, on the piano, himself; he'd get the door for you, hold out your chair; speak huskily of Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus, and when he finally smiled wide enough to show his teeth, you'd find yourself making the first move, despite your best judgments, or maybe because of them. After all, he believes in everything he's saying and feeling, at least tonight. But he also knows that the morning is bound to bring a whole different Eastwood, one who wants you gone right after breakfast, and don't call him, he'll call you.

As a director, Clint seemed to never quite recover his sense of the romantic after the whole Sondra Locke thing, but prior to then he had at least two romantic classics, only one of which is a slasher movie.

In order to find an American director/auteur who captures that pre-Locke longing, the slow rhythm by which real seduction occurs, one must go as far back as Nicholas Ray and Frank Borzage. Or one could just go to France, to Eric Rohmer. Rohmer wouldn't break his Bazin-influenced naturalism by playing a '70s soul-folk ballad over a beach at dawn holding hands montage, or setting a languid park-side tryst to Roberta Flack's "The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face)" as Eastwood does in Breezy (1973) and Play Misty for Me, respectively, but the potency would be the same. It would be 'real' in a way that makes you weak at the knees, even sitting down. But where angels fear to tread, Eastwood just advances more slowly and inexorably, like a mongoose on a cobra. His Flack montage works because he really is a romantic, and feels these things listening to Roberta Flack. You can tell by how fine and deeply it sits in your gut that it's not just groupthink treacle. There's a world of difference between manipulation--trying to make an audience feel some emotion--and the art of pleasing oneself. What makes Eastwood or Rohmer swoon? No one needs to ask such a thing, for we have their films.


If Eastwood's romantic films are at all autobiographical, I think he must be a bit of a player lady-wise -- smooth and not disillusioned til the morning after -- and maybe he dislikes this part of himself. He has an insider's grasp of how society and his own maleness make new love fade to guilt when the hangover and harsh California noonday sun dispels the Roberta Flack of the eve before. This advanced playa conscience is the sort of thing sexually frustrated film school dudes never really get a chance to experience, and as a result seldom capture in their screenplays, which is why so many 'chick flicks' seem so sadly clueless, the fantasy is all they have, the reality of the hungover morning after is lost to them. But Eastwod was a chiseled young buck TV western star before he was anything else. He was and is a tall, handsome specimen, more used to girls falling in love with him than the other way around and so he knows deeply and to his bones how shitty it is to find yourself spending what should be a magical night figuring ways to politely ditch your current conquest just so you can go off and play piano with the local bebop combo at 3 AM, and you don't want her coming with you, hanging all over you.

Clint's instinctual wariness of the clingy tendrils of young, spontaneous, slightly crazy chicks doesn't mean he's afraid of them, or doesn't desire them, it's just that he hates that his wariness is often right. As befits a twin sign (he's a Gemini), Eastwood seems to have the ability to embrace two directly oppositional views at once. Breezy (1973), his tale of a May-December romance between a grizzled old lasies' man (William Holden) and a free-floating runaway (Kay Lenz) isn't afraid to bring ambiguity to its romanticism. Breezy may bring some validation to his existential midlife crises, but she's also a homeless mooch, 30+ years his junior, looking to affix herself to an easy sugar daddy, but then again, why not? The Gemini sees both shades, the love/redemption and the mooching, and tempers one with the other.

Both views are right, but only one isn't jaded and self-destructive. Which one is art? Eastwood pretends to anguish on the off-ramp like he doesn't know which way to turn, but the truth is he just wants to stay right there, on the off ramp, where all good artists live.


Clint himself starred in his previous film, Play Misty for Me, as a womanizing DJ forced to tangle with the catastrophic effects of his tom-catting on the sensitive female psyche of one of his one-night stands. For Breezy, Eastwood amends the damage, even sidesteps a few of the muddier plot-holes that can strand films like this in rote quirkiness and conservative cop-out endings. Like Nicholas Ray and Rohmer, Eastwood's a cynic who nonetheless will go to toe-to-toe against all other cynics, anytime, in the name of love, even if he knows full well that said love will inevitably wane by Sunday evening. And thus the true artist embraces disillusion like the true surfer embraces being sucked under. It's all one wave, in the end.


Breezy's tone of cautious admiration mixed with fatherly concern over the recklessly openhearted runaways of LA should be familiar to fans of the late 1960s-early 1970s Hollywood: How can we understand this wild generation? It's kook meets square. Invariably an uptight older white guy like Peter Sellers, Holden, Hudson, Hope, or Grant falls for Jo Van Fleet in I Love You Alice B. Tolkas, or Goldie Hawn in There's a Girl in My Soup or Julie Christie in Petulia, or Shirley MacLaine in Two for the See-Saw and much growth, goofiness and tacky Lovin' Spoonful songs accrue. All the older unhappily married guys looking out their dusty old windows as cute young runaway girls hop into cars with passing dirtbags wanted to maybe live out this fantasy. Free love was "the style of the time." Why not me, they'd ask? The cinema would give them answers, kooky answers.

How it must nag at the craws of older balder uglier dudes, all that free love, since they don't get any. I'm thinking of Peter Boyle as Joe of course, but as our hero is handsome Bill Holden, it seems he's drawn to Breezy more as a variation from his usual weekly trysts with various well-kept divorcees. Kissing off some 'old friend' in the morning, he's like a playa in a poker game who is so weary of playing cards he no longer hides his tells when he has a bad hand. All the boozy social acceptability of his age group is a turn-off to an old-school romantic seeing in Breezy what may be his last chance before the dustbin.

Interestingly, Leonard Maltin gives a four star rating to the much tackier Petulia and two and a half for Breezy, but time has been less kind to Richard Lester's brand of droll "quirkiness" (stealing a tuba out of a store window, returning to her abusive husband played by Richard Chamberlain, Breezy wouldn't stand for any of that). Instead of relying on dull day-glo quirks, Eastwood reaches for real human connection, and a series of well-written monologues, dazzlingly rattled off by Lenz as she sits next to Holden in his big yellow Cadillac, or otherwise tries to win his good graces so she can settle into his snazzy nest. There's almost a snag when Holden puts too much stock in his Joe-ish older friend's lament that such a love is really an exchange of goods, an evil lewd thought that might be true for this obnoxious slob (superbly played by Roger C. Carmel, aka Mudd, from the Star Trek episode "Mudd's Women"), but not Holden, though he's insecure enough about his newfound happiness to be blind to his own A-list charisma and charm. That's his undoing, as it's a charm his less charismatic pals are clearly jealous of, and nothing's more harmful than when your friends are jealous of a quality you can't see in yourself and so don't know to protect. It's tragic to watch his chipper new outlook seal back up, ala Jane Wyman's in All That Heaven Allows.


While other directors would establish this May-December relationship to make some point about the ultimate importance of conservative values (with some sex comedy tag line like "Taming the Breeze!") Eastwood lets his characters do their own marketing. They're the ones who have to decide if this is going to be a love story, a farce or a bitter adult drama. When Holden's older friends see this odd but handsome couple together they all make their obscene judgments--the men licking their lips, the women gnashing their teeth--but are they really judging him, or is Holden paranoid? Maybe it's just a sign of Eastwood switching off the Gemini mode and dumping all the cynical bitterness onto Holden's older posse, leaving him free to live in the sunshine of short-term life planning.

Eastwood holds back like Rohmer (or a good therapist) and tries not to influence Holden's decisions with any corny "looking out the window in the rain" montages, though there are some ominous cues that might make you squirm in unease if you're waiting for some junkie pimp to rush out of the shadow and try to shake Holden down or reclaim his girl.

In the end, however, the only villain here is Holden's own preconceptions, his tendency to mistake mere jaundiced cynicism for adult wit. Breezy is--as her name implies-- above it and past it; she only cares about the real connection. And when Holden finally smiles, finally opens up his tendrils to her sunshine, you realize--maybe for the first time ever--that Holden's really a great, great actor. Fearlessly casting off the set-in-iron visage he's been lugging around since THE WILD BUNCH, Holden gushes forth, not in a corny way, but just showing his persona mask-free and 'true' face. There on the beach in the wind and sun he becomes a whole new actor, reborn, ageless, sporting the sweet guileless smile of a six-year old kid and watching you feel your own heart dissolve into crashing chunks like a globally warmed iceberg.

No wonder Holden was so believable as an old codger clinging for dear life to the hyperactive whirlwind of Faye Dunaway in what could be a sort of Breezy sequel, Network (1976). There Holden is now a younger-woman addict, clinging for life to the speed freak insanity of Faye Dunaway.

And so it goes that love becomes inextricably entwined with the terror of aging, the grave looming closer ever day while the girl in the bed beside you stays the same, ageless as a vampire.

In the end, for all that, Breezy wouldn't add up to much if not for the radiant Kay Lenz in the title role. She's one of those stars who vanished into plain sight through numerous TV guest spots in a steady stream of now forgotten shows over the years (though she won a couple Emmys for Rich Man Poor Man). Overall the movie would make more sense if she wasn't so dazzlingly attractive. Some minor character flaw or deformity would make Holden's initial resistance to her charms more believable... But who, really, is dumb enough to complain? Whether or not you're dating someone half or twice your age, gorgeous as Lenz or ugly as Roger C. Carmel, Breezy shall speak to you. Revel in the way it sets your own inner ambiguities against each other, the wrasslin' twixt polarities of life/death, youth/age, idealism/cynicism, and the way--ala Rohmer--true love ultimately has no opposite, but leads into a sunrise all its own, a sunrise so beautiful you play Roberta Flack and hold hands and end up in bed with Clint Eastwood, just like he knew you would. Now please let yourself out, he's got a big day.

C. 2013 - Acidemic Journal of Film and Media - BFG LCS: 489042340244