Even if you're a longtime fan of an actor or filmmaker, it's often difficult to see all or even most of his or her work. For example, I spent most of the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college trying to watch every movie Woody Allen had anything to do with, went to the lengths of tracking down a couple of titles from VHS recordings on A&E (this was '94, mind you), and still missed a couple of them. Suffice it to say this seems more difficult with older performers than contemporary ones, where there are fewer opportunities to see new entries in theaters, at least initially. But sometimes even the most devout cinephiles can't find the time or just the titles to get through an entire filmography.
Last week, Warner Home Video offered Clint Eastwood fans (and soon-to-be-fans) at least a partial solution to this problem: 35 Films 35 Years collects virtually all of the actor-director's films over the past four decades at the studio, and packages it according to subject matter, theme and Eastwood "era." And even if the set (understandably) skips many of the seminal works Eastwood made for other studios, there have been few collections released in the history of home video that offer a more expansive and thorough look at any filmmaker's body of work.
Truth be told, the set actually only includes 34 films; the 35th is an excerpt from film critic Richard Schickel's forthcoming documentary The Eastwood Factor, where he and Eastwood tour the Warner lot and reflect on his filmography. But going back to 1968's Where Eagles Dare and assembling Eastwood's work between then and 2008's Gran Torino, itself a sort of coda on Eastwood's longtime screen persona, the set reveals a remarkable breadth of interesting roles and projects that pushed him as an actor and director to takes chances, explore different ideas, and elevate himself beyond the ranks of craftsmen or even run-of-the-mill movie stars. (That the set excludes his MGM, Universal and other studio work, including the Man With No Name trilogy as well as more recent efforts like Changeling, is slightly disappointing for true completists but understandable, since some of those title are themselves available in box sets, and others are forgettable enough to not need to be included.)
Specifically, there are entire threads of films for virtually any kind of Clint fan, be you a follower of his Dirty Harry character and subsequent cop iterations, his turn as a beautifully craggy landmark in the landscape of westerns, his run as a director and sometime star of dramas in the late '90s and '00s, or just an appreciator of the collective variety he produced from one year to the next. It's safe to assume that even the most dedicated fans of his work won't find at least one or two movies among the 34 here that they haven't seen whether by accident or design.
Moreover, what I really like about this set is that it doesn't flinch away from the films considered less successful in his filmography, or ones that might seem less flattering to his legacy in retrospect; 35 Years includes both of Eastwood's monkey movies, Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can, not to mention Pink Cadillac, The Rookie, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, True Crime, and Blood Work, some of which were among the most critically-reviled in his career. The effect of this is not only a more complete portrait of Clint as an artist, it allows fans to revisit some of his more forgotten films and see whether they were as deserving of derision, or even praise, as they have since come to be remembered.
For example, Every Which Way But Loose is a film I'd never seen, but it was the second-highest grossing film of 1978 after Richard Donner's Superman (Warner had a good year, apparently), and yet was generally dismissed among Eastwood's spaghetti and subsequent westerns, the Dirty Harry films, and his more "serious" work in the last two decades. Perhaps not surprisingly to some, that film is one of the funniest, most absurdly entertaining films I think I've literally ever seen, and it's unlikely that I would have gotten around to seeing it any time soon without this set to provide me an opportunity.
In terms of the presentation of the films, they're all standard-definition, and some of them (such was the "Which Way" films) are presented two to a disc. The question becomes, do you need The Rookie to be in high definition? I'd say no. But Warner's catalogue is among the best-maintained in Hollywood, which means that a few exceptions notwithstanding, even the original presentation of many of these films on DVD is more than suitable for screening purposes, since again some of these are titles one wouldn't own or make a "destination" release were they not included here. Not to mention the fact that many of them are available individually on Blu-ray, which means if you really want to see Clyde give some bikers the bird in stunning HD, you still can, and without have to shell out some extra shekels to see Blood Work that way as well.
But if you like Blood Work? There's the entirety of Eastwood's output during that era to see it in context. Or, again, to fill in that space in your mental move database left empty when you chose not to see Absolute Power. But there's a pretty stunning portrait of an artist here to behold, not the least of which because Clint is so iconic and so recognizable that it would be easy without all of this evidence to forget he was a sophisticated, ambitious moviemaker who continued to push and challenge and redefine himself, as much because he wanted to raze perceptions of him as the fact that he knew exactly what those perceptions were.
For example, those aforementioned comedies trade directly on Clint's persona as a tough guy, not so much making him a wimp or softie but showing a sensitivity both in character and performance that many might forget. Moreover, as a director he showed that he wasn't just revisiting past glories for easy box office rewards; after helming a series of truly eclectic projects, such as Bird and White Hunter, Black Heart, he returned to westerns to completely galvanize and immortalize himself on screen as a cowboy in Unforgiven, showing the destructive end of a character and characterization he'd created decades ago, not to mention one that he was now interested in imagining in a more complicated and compelling context – namely, after he rode off into the sunset.
While it doesn't appear that any new bonus content was created for any of the individual films, most of them which already included extras still have them here, at least if they were all initially contained on a single disc. Unforgiven, for example, jettisons the Disc-Two bonus materials but does feature Richard Schickel's commentary track and some modest text extras (among them a look at Eastwood's western legacy); Dirty Harry, meanwhile, features another Schickel commentary as well as a collection of featurettes.
Then, of course, there's The Eastwood Factor, which unfortunately is not included in its entirety, but reduced to a series of vignettes about his most iconic films, especially the ones released most recently or most recognizable to modern audiences. Indeed, what's disappointing about this disc's inclusion is that it fails to provide a complete narrative, a throughline between Clint's various career incarnations, which presumably any person who purchases the set would want to see in as much detail possible, even if it promises to include that information in the full-length version.
Additionally, the massive, multi-disc set is packaged in a beautiful book-style box that comes with a short text excerpt from Schickel's Eastwood Factor companion book, as well as a small collection of reprinted photographs as well as some studio correspondence. But for anyone who really wishes to immerse themselves in Eastwood's filmography, examine his history film by film and find those thematic connections or uncover his motivations and aspirations purely by watching his pictures, this is a must-have set. Ultimately, Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years is true, capital-C collector's material – an entertaining and informative compendium of his materials, whether you've love the actor and filmmaker for decades or are just discovering his work.