Friday, March 24, 2006

Where Did Bronco Billy Go?

Commentary by Martin Kelly
March 2, 2005

On February 27 Clint Eastwood, 74, joined the select band of movie-makers who have won two Academy Awards in the category of Best Director of a Motion Picture. He is the first actor to achieve the distinction, awarded for his direction of ‘Million Dollar Baby’.

He is a giant of the culture, a lone wolf who wandered for years in the critical wilderness, massively popular with his public but ignored by the movie establishment before being warmly welcomed into the fold in his 60’s.

For the duration of his career, Eastwood has shown an ability as actor and director to thrill, delight and surprise in equal measure, from producing classic westerns like ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ and ‘Unforgiven’ to political thrillers like ‘In the Line of Fire’, to intimate, personal projects like ‘Breezy’ and ‘Bird’. Although his acting became stylised, if not lazy, in the ‘60’s, re-runs of ‘Rawhide’ from the ‘50’s show a keen, capable and expressive performer who finally re-surfaced from beneath the weight of his public image in the ‘90’s.

It’s a pity that, at this stage in his career, one has to ask – where did Bronco Billy go?

Released in 1980, ‘Bronco Billy’ is easily his most joyous and uplifting movie. Its whimsical story, about the owner of an old-style Wild West show, could not have been better timed at its release, daring to re-affirm the wholesomeness of American values and patriotism at the end of the dark Carter years. It was pure cinematic Reaganism, and although it’s outstanding as a whole it deserves to be shown forever for just two scenes – Eastwood’s final soliloquy; and for its very last shot, which is probably one of the reasons he was frozen out of the Hollywood establishment for so long.

Bronco Billy McCoy would be all at sea trying to figure out the director of ‘Million Dollar Baby’.

The members of the Academy seem to have decided that 2005 should be the year in which the full force of their guiding values should be unleashed and they aren’t the values of ‘Bronco Billy’.

It shouldn’t really be surprising that the Academy should have seen fit to honour two projects dealing with the practice of euthanasia in a way that is at best morally neutral while the plight of Terry Schiavo is still in the public eye, but it galls one nonetheless. As well as awarding Best Picture to ‘Million Dollar Baby’, its members awarded the Best Foreign Language award to Spain’s ‘The Sea Inside’, a biography of a quadriplegic campaigner for the right to die ‘with dignity’.

In any debate about the ‘right to die’, it is only honest to remind its advocates that if any such right exists, it is of very recent origin – until a few short decades ago, to attempt suicide was still a crime in many jurisdictions. It is one of the last taboos – anybody who knows anyone whose friend or loved one has taken their own life knows it is not a subject they will readily discuss. Many such suicide survivors feel crippling guilt that they were unable to share the suicide’s burden, or assuage their despondency.

In some parts of the world, suicide is a serious social problem – in the Republic of Ireland, the suicide rate among young men has grown massively throughout the years of ‘Celtic Tiger’ growth, perhaps fuelled by a sense of alienation from the increased prosperity they see around them.

To promote euthanasia is to promote a cause that says that suicide is good if it feels right, the ultimate act of moral relativism. By releasing ‘Million Dollar Baby’, Clint Eastwood has trampled on all the suffering attached to suicide - if you’re paralysed, then clearly you have nothing to offer. You are an embarrassment to a culture that celebrates physical vitality, and your very existence is an uncomfortable reminder of how fragile our own bodies and egos are. Those quadriplegics who cling to life for its own sake, the pro-life champions determined to keep on living in the knowledge that their life has been spared through their own will and the efforts of others, have no voice in the movies of Clint Eastwood.

If Bronco Billy saw ‘Million Dollar Baby’, he’d probably ask just when The Man With No Name became the man with no heart.
He might even call him a billion dollar loser – because, like, dude, just when did you become an ‘artist’?