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Maybe Eastwood was on to something.

Look, three days of droll speech after droll speech with musical interludes from the Oak Ridge Boys can't possibly be anybody's idea of a good time.  I think an experienced thespian such as Clint Eastwood realized at some point you need to kick it up with a skit, some drama, a one-man show.  Something with characters, a protagonist and antagonist, a storyline, a plot, building tension.

I have read several astute opinions that equated Eastwood's gutsy performance of "The Chair" to The Theater of the Absurd, that genre of 20th century drama that gave the world Ionesco, Beckett, Brecht, Genet, Pirandello, Pinter, and others.  Indeed, maybe Eastwood's genius escaped us all.

Absent characters are nothing new to The Theater of the Absurd -- indeed, they are more common than you would think.  For instance, in one of Luigi Pirandello's plays six characters spend the play looking for an author who doesn't exist..

http://en.wikipedia.org/...

And in one of Samuel Beckett's plays two characters spend the entire play waiting for someone who never shows up.

http://en.wikipedia.org/...

Harold Pinter wrote a play in which one of the two main characters might as well not be there -- he's silent and motionless the entire play as his wife does all the talking.

http://en.wikipedia.org/..._(play)

Eugene Ionesco wrote a play with the eerily Eastwoodian title of "The Chairs" in which two characters frantically set up chairs for guests who never arrive.

http://en.wikipedia.org/...

Eastwood's problem is that he gave his performance in front of a Republican audience who couldn't possible grasp the existential dichotomies presented by classical absurdist theater.  The Oak Ridge Boys, not Pirandello and Pinter, were more their style.

My principal complaint of Eastwood's "The Chair" revolves not around the Speaker's halting style, his disheveled look, or the sense that the performance did not appear to be either rehearsed or scripted, indeed at its most base level that is where Eastwood's genius lies.  

There had been three days of glib and smooth, combed and styled, scripted and practiced performances.  "The Chair" essentially dropped the car in reverse while it was gliding down the interstate at 60 mph, and nearly home.  It was the jolt that woke people up and re-oriented and re-focused their thinking after three days of droll speeches that were starting to sound droningly alike.  And none too soon as Rubio and Romney waited their turns back stage.  

In fact, many considered Rubio's speech the best of the convention, and the astute observer knows why: the audience was alert and responsive because after "The Chair" there was a buzz, even an expectation, that anything might happen.  As if men were nudging their wives and saying "Keep your eyes on the stage, Bertha, I think something's about to happen."

There's a maxim in theater that if a gun is shown in Act 1, it has to go off by Act 3.  Eastwood showed that gun and loaded that gun and placed it on the fireplace mantle for all to see.  The expectation, then, is that the gun might go off in Act 2, during Rubio's speech, but it never did.  Nonetheless the drama had built and the tension had heightened as Romney took the stage for Act 3.  But as Romney droned on it became apparent the gun, loaded with safety off, would stay on the fireplace mantle even as the curtain dropped.  People were checking their programs to confirm that there was no Act 4.

Indeed, Eastwood risked his reputation to set the stage for what could have been the most explosive ending to any political convention in US history, but Romney could not grasp Eastwood's genius and could not adapt his performance to the electrified atmosphere in the hall and the edge-of-the-seat anticipation of what might happen, and in the end it was Romney, not Eastwood, who failed to deliver the explosive ending.  A better politician, a more practiced and astute politician, would have made the necessary adjustments to take advantage of the stage that Eastwood had set.

After watching a play by Pirandello or Pinter or Ionesco, or any of those post-war, mid-20th century dramatists, you walk around in a daze wondering what that was all about.  But you're haunted by what you've just seen for days, and slowly you put the pieces together.  "Waiting for Godot" is not a 2-hour performance, it's a 2-day performance with the last 46 hours played out in your head.  If Godot does show up, it'll be in your final-piece interpretation of the play as you wait in line at Starbucks two days later.  If you want to drop in and watch a play then walk out satisfied, go see a Neil Simon play.  

All that said, my problem with "The Chair" was not its delivery, that was spot-on, it who was "sitting" there.  I think Eastwood short-armed the performance by putting Obama in the chair.  Perhaps he dumbed it down knowing that he was risking enough with that audience by what he was about to do -- dramatic homage to Ionesco and Beckett -- but going full-Pinter on these people could disorient them to the point that they might become unresponsive, even catatonic.  Or perhaps the Southern state delegations might became so agitated that they would rush the stage and declare secession from the Union.

No, Eastwood must have thought to himself, let's keep this easy for them to understand.  These are not New Yorkers.  These are not gay people or people from Hollywood who understand this kind of stuff.  These are the kind of people who believe in Noah's Ark and the Parting of the Red Sea, so they're comfortable with literalism.  If "Obama" is in The Chair, well they understand that, although they may stand tippy-toe to see if he's really sitting there.  But put Saul Alinksy, or Rev Wright, or Obama's mother, or Thomas Jefferson, or a revolving cast of characters in that chair, then he loses them and the gun never gets shown or loaded.

Imagine for a minute if it were Jefferson and not Obama in that chair, and Eastwood engaged Jefferson on the Separation of Church and State and how its modern-day liberal  implementation has repressed good Christian morals and ethics and kept them from becoming the foundation of American society.  Then Chief Justice Warren Burger followed Jefferson, and Eastwood engaged him on how Roe v Wade, a decision really about privacy, has led to millions of fetuses being brutally murdered in utero, generations washed away before they even drew a breath.  Then Saul Alinsky and Rev. Wright with how their radical socialist agendas have poisoned the pure water of America's wellspring.  Then finally, the demurely maternal Stanley Ann Dunham who, more than anybody, best knows the stuff that Pres Obama is made of, what motivates him, what his dreams and fears are.  Obama's source and still his blood.  To really know your enemy, you must first know your enemy's mother.

Indeed, Obama could have been the evasive Godot that everyone thinks they know but no one really knows, and who we all wait for, but who never arrives.  He's a rumor, a whisper, a wispy savior who disappointingly stays off-stage even as the curtain drops.

And two days later, while standing in line for a double-latte extra hot, it dawns on them, and the essential core of their conservatism is strengthened, and their belief in Romney solidified.

But it didn't work out like that.  But don't blame Eastwood.  Eastwood is a genius.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Eastwood reminded me... (8+ / 0-)

    ...of people I visit in the nursing home who have a difficult time finishing a sentence.

    I was embarrassed for Eastwood. He made a fool of himself.

    •  I love old people. I see them as people who (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama, MKSinSA

      are to be loved, honored, pampered and made to feel beautiful.
      I see an old woman and I immediately think of my grandmother. I don't think being old and suffering from those challenges associated with advanced age should be the punchline in any joke.

      •  if the way you run a campaign or a convention (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JoanMar

        is presumed to indicate how you will run the country, the republicans deserve to lose simply for not having eastwood's hair combed.  that was disgraceful, a glaring lack of attention to detail which is now playing into the notion that somehow eastwood is senile.  i don't think he is, but they sure weren't looking after his interests, as well as their own and their candidates.

        KEEP YOUR MITT OFF MY MEDICARE! (-9.75 / -9.05)

        by doesnotworkorplaywellwithothers on Sat Sep 01, 2012 at 10:18:31 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Delightful interpretation and literary references (10+ / 0-)

    ...but you're giving way too much credit, IMO.  I think Mr. Eastwood tried to pull some semi-comic ad-lib out of the hat and it went awry.  Not as badly as most make out or would like to think, but unquestionably awry.

    I agree fully with your assessment of the receptivity and auditing ability of the audience.  Anything remotely as deep as Pinter would have left every eye in those seats glazed over after five minutes max.

  •  Imagine (7+ / 0-)

    Had Clint done this at the Dem Convention.  Change a few words here and there, come to a different conclusion.  Voila.  People would have loved it.  Seriously, Clint stood up in front of repub's, told them they did not own the country, that something needed to be done to help the unemployed, that we ought to get out of Afghan tomorrow and told Romney to go f himself and the Repub's cheered.  How great is that.  I vote for genius.

    •  People should rewatch it without preconceptions (1+ / 0-)

      I watched it well after the fact - and the only thing that I found 'bizarre' was how people were so dismissive of it

      Yes - the performance was halting and poorly executed ... but the content?  Except for the brief allusion to the idea that romney/ryan had anything to offer - the 'attack's' that Eastwood delivered were, contextually, far more devastating AGAINST republicans, especially romney, than the democrats and Obama

      "I want to keep them alive long enough that I can win them to Christ," - Rick Warren, Professional Greed Driven Scumbag

      by josephk on Sat Sep 01, 2012 at 08:30:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Can you honestly seeing the DNC doing this? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      a2nite

      The world may never know, or wish to know, what Palin had written in her VP concession speech, but give McCain's people credit for not letting her present it with out it's passing through their hands first.

      Granted they weren't going to allow it anyway but even if they had  said OK, you can bet they would have vetted it.

      How can a professional organization run by a man who claims to be an expert in running a professional organization allow this amateur night improve at the neighborhood pub to make it to the stage, and in prime time.

      Mitt and his gang can't run a convention with out massive screw ups and lies, overt racism, assault and who knows what else.
      But they want us to think it is OK for them to run the country.

  •  People don't always (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti

    make the best use of the tools at their disposal.
    Interesting interpretation, thanks for the view
    from backstage.

  •  It was a 12 minute Clint Eastwood commercial (6+ / 0-)

    because he has a new movie coming out this month.

    I will vote for Obama, and every Democrat I can vote for, in 2012.

    by Food Gas Lodging on Sat Sep 01, 2012 at 07:55:45 AM PDT

  •  Their secret weapon fizzled and fell flat. n/t (6+ / 0-)

    Prefers Obamacare over Vouchercare

    by Palafox on Sat Sep 01, 2012 at 07:55:49 AM PDT

  •  Talking down to uppity, foul-mouthed 'boy' Pres. (9+ / 0-)

    Is Unforgiven. Especially after having to listen to four years of despicable racism heaped on by the Rs, I don't forgive it being on 'humorous' display in their biggest, national forum.

    Especially the throat-cutting gesture at the end. Like the maniacs need another incitement to violence.

    (romney)/RYAN 2012 - REPEAL OBAMACHAIR!!!

    by Fordmandalay on Sat Sep 01, 2012 at 08:03:28 AM PDT

  •  The whole thing felt like something much more (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FiredUpInCA

    appropriate (for lack of a better term) for the NRA's annual convention, and - given his acting experience in talking to invisible beings - would indeed have been much more "believable" delivered by Charlton Heston.

    Of course he's dead - but that aspect doesn't seem to put much of a damper on the Republican belief system.

    The danger, of course, with Heston doing what Clint did, would be the inevitable "get your paws off me you filthy ape" reference.

    Then again, given the audience :/

    Romney's campaign strategy: "I'm running from precedent, for Pete's sake!"

    by here4tehbeer on Sat Sep 01, 2012 at 08:07:21 AM PDT

  •  Well he is an actor. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    llywrch

    It would have been neater if he did some lines from Rheinhardt (Paul Newman) in Stone's movie WUSA.

    Americans - remember no matter what anyone says... we're OK! Only in America can a people say, "We're OK!" Now I want you to say that with me. "We're OK!" Say it with me. "We're OK!" Don't whisper it! Say it loud! "We're OK!" I want to feel it! "We're OK!"
    That would have been popular to his audience yet rather ironic and thought provoking to us long-headed liberals.

    The movie WUSA is from Robert Stone's book "A Hall of Mirrors". It centers around Rheinhardt, a right wing radio rabble rouser, who doesn't believe anything that he says; he just does it for the money.  

    We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.

    by PowWowPollock on Sat Sep 01, 2012 at 08:07:38 AM PDT

  •  He had it coming (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite

    He said so himself in his best movie.

    Fuck Eastwood for trying to take so many others down with him - which would be the inevitable result of electing a useless prick like Romney.

    Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore

    by Minerva on Sat Sep 01, 2012 at 08:20:18 AM PDT

  •  Clint who™? n/t (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Zack from the SFV, MKSinSA, a2nite

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Sat Sep 01, 2012 at 08:33:31 AM PDT

  •  He should have put Jesus in the chair. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jnhobbs, MKSinSA

    That would have been perfect for this crowd (even though Eastwood doesn't appear to be particularly religious). Plus, it would have been funnier.

    Clinton Eastwood Talks to Jesus.

    Now that would have been worth watching.

  •  The Old Man and the Seat (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Zack from the SFV

    Jon Stewart's take last night was right on.  At times I found myself laughing so hard.  

    THEATER OF THE EMPTY CHAIR
  •  If this was a theater project (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TenthMuse, MKSinSA

    it would close in less than a week.

    As political staging it was in-effective in promoting the electability of a candidate.  

    I like Clint Eastwood.  I think he has made some brilliant and brave films.  I am a fan of his. However, he is a better director than actor and a better actor than he a political surrogate.  Sadly for the Republicans, the chasm between the last two is too vast for prime time.

    "Out of Many, One." This is the great promise of our nation -9.75 -6.87

    by Uncle Moji on Sat Sep 01, 2012 at 08:54:56 AM PDT

  •  Scott Walker Said "It made me cringe"..... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MKSinSA, a2nite

    It was a bumble.  It bumped the inspirational video out of prime time.  It blew.

    Clint came off like a doddering old crank.  Ann Romney called it "unique".

    Worst of all.....it was unprofessional, unpolished & blotchy.  

  •  Heh. I was the old man in Ionesco's (0+ / 0-)

    "The Chairs" during my freshman year of college.  I still remember the line right before I "threw" myself out of the window committing suicide (speaking to/about the old lady)

    "Above all I had hoped
    that together we might lie
    with all our bones together
    within the same skin
    within the same sepulchre
    and that the same worms
    might share our old flesh,
    the we might rot together."

    I guess I remember that line and no others because I always thought it remarkably romantic, in an Absurdist kind of way.

    I'm one of those lucky homos in a bi-national relationship - at the age of 49, all I had to do was give up my career, leave behind my dying father, my aging, diabetic mother, my family & friends and move to Europe. Easy peasey!

    by aggieric on Sat Sep 01, 2012 at 10:07:22 AM PDT

  •  Some people got it, other people didn't, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    llywrch

    I think you mostly got it.

    The interesting question to me is unanswerable, i.e. because of all the talk of Eastwood faltering on stage, how many people are visiting Youtube in the privacy of their homes, outside the RNC context, to see the crash? And how many of those are seeing one?

    •  Well, I have one answer for you (0+ / 0-)

      There are many copies of Eastwood's speech to the RNC. Views of the 5 most popular copies total over 700K views.

      I don't think those numbers indicate that it has gone "viral" -- whatever that word means -- but people are talking about it & watching it. Likely more than are viewing copies of any of the other speeches from that week.

      I think the defining image people will have of this convention is an old man talking to an empty chair. What that means we may not know for a while; maybe not even in November.

      •  That's fine. The problem arises if they pay (0+ / 0-)

        attention to invective against an "old man", his words, and what he intended the empty chair to symbolize.

        I think the defining image people will have of this convention is an old man talking to an empty chair.
  •  Probably got him out of doing more appearances... (0+ / 0-)

    I wonder if this little episode will allow Clint to get out of doing any more appearances for Romney even though he may vote for him?

    I'm reminded of the classic Bill Cosby stand-up routine about giving the kids chocolate cake for breakfast.  When his wife freaks out, she sends him to his room... which is where he wanted to be all along.  ;)

  •  Don't think "droll" is the word you want here: (0+ / 0-)
    adj. droll·er, droll·est
    Amusingly odd or whimsically comical.
    as none of the speeches betrayed any sense of humor at all, but otherwise a very good and thought-provoking diary.

    Thank you, tipped & rec'd.

    Inside of me are two dogs. One is mean and evil. The other is gentle and good. The two dogs fight all the time. Which dog wins? The one I feed the most.

    by bakeneko on Sat Sep 01, 2012 at 11:22:05 AM PDT

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