This collection of previously unpublished, exhaustive interviews from three decades ago has a conversational intimacy that reveals as much about the journalist as they do about an actor-director he obviously worships.
The late Paul Nelson was a prescient critic, from his 1960s advocacy of the evolving Bob Dylan through his championing a decade later of the New York Dolls as pre-punk avatars and his late-’70s assessment of Clint Eastwood: “as imaginative and as different as any American director I can name.” This was well before critical acclaim and Oscars started flowing toward Eastwood, who was regarded as a spaghetti western star of limited range (a reactor rather than an actor) and reviled by the left as a Dirty Harry fascist. Readers who associate the veteran Rolling Stone editor-critic so strongly with music might be surprised to learn that his first love was film, and that Eastwood matched him reference for reference as their discussion ranges from Bergman to Kurosawa to Pauline Kael (the influential New Yorker critic who was particularly anti-Eastwood). “This book is a miracle,” says the introduction by Jonathan Lethem (who based an indelibly obsessive character in Chronic City on Nelson), and it’s a miracle that Nelson was unable to perform. Despite 17 hours of interview tape, he never made it past page four in the manuscript for his aborted cover story. Contributing to his writer’s block was his admiration for the artist. Editor Avery, who did a yeoman’s job of making the transcript flow chronologically, writes that Nelson was “as much a fan as he was an objective journalist”—though, in the case of Eastwood and others, Nelson was plainly much more of a fan than objective. Paralyzed by what his subject might think of the story as well as the daunting prospect of way too much material, he wrote little from this and published nothing, leaving the tapes for posthumous discovery.
There are better books on Eastwood, from a more recent perspective, but these fan’s notes reflect extraordinary access and frequent illumination.