ACF#3 Gran Torino

 

The movie podcast is back! @flaggtaylor and I are talking about the film Gran Torino, about Clint Eastwood’s last turn as actor-director, and his last great character, Walt Kowalski, an American with a legacy. We’ve got lots to say about who he is and how he deals with the world around him, what he says about America and what Americans are meant to learn from his story. It’s something we should have recorded during the election — it’s one of the few movies about making America great again that’s both serious, popular, and compelling.

This is the essay I mention in the podcast, over on National Review, about Clint Eastwood as a teacher Americans should learn from, about civic responsibility and manliness. And this is the book I mention on the podcast: Totalitarianism on Screen, about The Lives of Others, the great movie about East German communism. Flagg edited it and wrote it with our common friend Carl Eric Scott — who will also join me on the podcast as soon as I can get hold of him.

What’s next for Flagg and me? Jeff Nichols’s greatest success, Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey. We’ll be back.

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There are 22 comments.

  1. Thatcher

    Do you have a website where this can be downloaded? It makes it easier to put together a playlist if I can download it.

    • #1
    • June 12, 2017 at 6:41 pm
    • 1 like
  2. Inactive
    MLH

    Percival (View Comment):
    Do you have a website where this can be downloaded? It makes it easier to put together a playlist if I can download it.

    Agree. There must be a way to download from Sound cloud and then upload to a player. . .

    • #2
    • June 12, 2017 at 6:54 pm
    • 1 like
  3. Member

    Wow. That’s the first time I’ve seen a kindle book offered for 2.75 times the price of a new hardcover version.

    One thing makes me skeptical about The Lives of Others (which I’ve seen three times): The Stasi officer Wiesler seems to lack the supervision and cross-checking that would take place in a well-ordered totalitarian state. How could the East Germans have governed if they really allowed that much individual freedom of action to their best Stasi agents?

    • #3
    • June 12, 2017 at 7:26 pm
    • 1 like
  4. Member

    Please don’t mix the audio for a “stereo” effect…unless it was just easier to do it that way. I normally listen with just one earphone, so it’s just a personal preference.

    As an addition to your thoughts, the movie seems to ask and answer, “What good are Walt’s faculties and traits in today’s world?” The answer for his children is that they are not of use. They removed themselves from this grittier life struggle he sees and the Hmong family experiences. The neighbors see and experience the value of the traits that drive Walt’s actions.

    And so, Eastwood seems to be saying we still need men like Walt to, as you say in the podcast, protect the innocent. Those that step forward to shoulder the responsibility do so at a cost to themselves. In that, there is a common thread with how American Sniper plays out. Walt or Chris can protect this world, but it is difficult for them to be a part of it once they walk the path of protector.

    You guys brought back the joy of this movie. Good, good stuff. I have it in my library and will have to give it a watch after this!

    • #4
    • June 12, 2017 at 7:26 pm
    • Like
  5. Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    Chris O. (View Comment):
    Please don’t mix the audio for a “stereo” effect…unless it was just easier to do it that way. I normally listen with just one earphone, so it’s just a personal preference.

    You’re right about the mix–it’s done by the recorder of the skype conversation–it records the voices as left & right on one track… It’s not a happy thing, I’m trying to find a way around it!

    As an addition to your thoughts, the movie seems to ask and answer, “What good are Walt’s faculties and traits in today’s world?” The answer for his children is that they are not of use. They removed themselves from this grittier life struggle he sees and the Hmong family experiences. The neighbors see and experience the value of the traits that drive Walt’s actions.

    Yeah, & there’s an implicit diffference between communities that recognize, they need some manliness, protection, & heroism–& communities that do not, but instead treat men as though they were mad or crippled…

    And so, Eastwood seems to be saying we still need men like Walt to, as you say in the podcast, protect the innocent. Those that step forward to shoulder the responsibility do so at a cost to themselves. In that, there is a common thread with how American Sniper plays out. Walt or Chris can protect this world, but it is difficult for them to be a part of it once they walk the path of protector.

    Yeah–I’m looking forward to the new one, The 15:17 to Paris–about the American servicemen on the train in France, who stopped a terror attack on their vacation. That’s supposed to be less tragic than American sniper. I wonder whether he’ll show a way for men to live as part of the societies they protect. These guys are literally just part of the crowd until the moment comes…

    You guys brought back the joy of this movie. Good, good stuff. I have it in my library and will have to give it a watch after this!

    Thanks!

    • #5
    • June 12, 2017 at 9:54 pm
    • 2 likes
  6. Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    MLH (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    Do you have a website where this can be downloaded? It makes it easier to put together a playlist if I can download it.

    Agree. There must be a way to download from Sound cloud and then upload to a player. . .

    Done! It now can be downloaded!

    Thanks for noticing this–the way the upload works disables the permission to download, I have to go find it, which I have. I’ll know to pay more attention to future episodes…

    • #6
    • June 12, 2017 at 10:03 pm
    • 1 like
  7. Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    Wow. That’s the first time I’ve seen a kindle book offered for 2.75 times the price of a new hardcover version.

    I don’t get why that would be. Maybe it’s a skew because the book isn’t doing well in sales otherwise? It’s a shame, because Flagg & Carl have done a great job…

    One thing makes me skeptical about The Lives of Others (which I’ve seen three times): The Stasi officer Wiesler seems to lack the supervision and cross-checking that would take place in a well-ordered totalitarian state. How could the East Germans have governed if they really allowed that much individual freedom of action to their best Stasi agents?

    Well, I think I can find a way to get the authors of the authoritative account of the movie’s art & politics to answer that on a new podcast!

    • #7
    • June 12, 2017 at 10:06 pm
    • 1 like
  8. Member

    Here’s my take on the film in my Movie Churches Blog.

    • #8
    • June 12, 2017 at 10:47 pm
    • Like
  9. Thatcher

    Good podcast, Titus and Flagg.

    • #9
    • June 13, 2017 at 4:40 am
    • 1 like
  10. Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    Thanks a bunch!

    • #10
    • June 13, 2017 at 4:57 am
    • 1 like
  11. Moderator

    Still only partway through it, but I do have to nitpick a bit on the early segment where you are talking about Walt’s relationship with his own family. There is something left unsaid in there (and maybe you cover this later, I’m only about 20 min in) about him and his kids: he paid for them to not live in that same neighborhood and life as him (by sending them to college instead of factory work like him) and either he or his wife taught them to not choose the same path he followed. In so doing he also failed to teach them what to value in their old life, so they’re worldly in their new one. It’s a dynamic familiar to American families where a blue collar family encourages its kids to leave its economic roots without making them hold onto their cultural ones.

    The one son we really see is substantially better off than his father ever was, and his own kids are even more spoiled. They’re embarrassed by their old ethnic blue collar life, with its cramped houses and ordered lifestyle, and this too is a social observation by Eastwood. His sons likely don’t even have any knowledge of what most of their dad’s tools do because he made it possible for them not to even need them. It’s a common dynamic in American life, one that I saw played out from my grandparents’ generation (the only slightly older WWII generation) to my parents’ generation. Toledo, Ohio was once known as “Little Detroit” for its many industries, and had its own broad ethnic mix. Now, like Detroit, it’s a shell of what it once was, with the boomer generation and then my own largely moving out and away, both for social and economic reasons, and simply because the jobs weren’t there anymore anyway. Their street was much like Walt’s (minus the immigrants), with street after street of the elderly WWII’ers living in decaying houses they could no longer keep repaired, and businesses and schools closed and shuttered.

    So Eastwood is also noting that by and large they taught their kids to go move on and upwards and now wonder why they’re alone.

    • #11
    • June 13, 2017 at 5:42 am
    • 6 likes
  12. Member

    skipsul (View Comment):
    Still only partway through it, but I do have to nitpick a bit on the early segment where you are talking about Walt’s relationship with his own family. There is something left unsaid in there (and maybe you cover this later, I’m only about 20 min in) about him and his kids: he paid for them to not live in that same neighborhood and life as him (by sending them to college instead of factory work like him) and either he or his wife taught them to not choose the same path he followed. In so doing he also failed to teach them what to value in their old life, so they’re worldly in their new one. It’s a dynamic familiar to American families where a blue collar family encourages its kids to leave its economic roots without making them hold onto their cultural ones.

    The one son we really see is substantially better off than his father ever was, and his own kids are even more spoiled. They’re embarrassed by their old ethnic blue collar life, with its cramped houses and ordered lifestyle, and this too is a social observation by Eastwood. His sons likely don’t even have any knowledge of what most of their dad’s tools do because he made it possible for them not to even need them. It’s a common dynamic in American life, one that I saw played out from my grandparents’ generation (the only slightly older WWII generation) to my parents’ generation. Toledo, Ohio was once known as “Little Detroit” for its many industries, and had its own broad ethnic mix. Now, like Detroit, it’s a shell of what it once was, with the boomer generation and then my own largely moving out and away, both for social and economic reasons, and simply because the jobs weren’t there anymore anyway. Their street was much like Walt’s (minus the immigrants), with street after street of the elderly WWII’ers living in decaying houses they could no longer keep repaired, and businesses and schools closed and shuttered.

    So Eastwood is also noting that by and large they taught their kids to go move on and upwards and now wonder why they’re alone.

    Those are excellent insights. Hadn’t thought about this.

    • #12
    • June 13, 2017 at 7:28 am
    • 3 likes
  13. Thatcher

    My mother’s father was an engineer, just like my dad — similar lifestyles, houses, etc. But my mom and dad regularly took me to the farm where my father grew up. They dropped me off there for summer vacation sometimes, with my grandmother sending me out to climb in the haymow “because little boys are supposed to climb in the haymow.” I helped my uncle stretch wire, feed the cows, bale hay. I valued that as much as anything I have ever done and I can’t imagine being embarrassed by it.

    • #13
    • June 13, 2017 at 8:01 am
    • 5 likes
  14. Moderator

    Percival (View Comment):
    My mother’s father was an engineer, just like my dad — similar lifestyles, houses, etc. But my mom and dad regularly took me to the farm where my father grew up. They dropped me off there for summer vacation sometimes, with my grandmother sending me out to climb in the haymow “because little boys are supposed to climb in the haymow.” I helped my uncle stretch wire, feed the cows, bale hay. I valued that as much as anything I have ever done and I can’t imagine being embarrassed by it.

    I’ve seen it happen though. My best friend’s father (Boomer generation) was a siding contractor all his life, and the son of the same. Compared to the family patriarch (a WWII vet), the boomer generation fell a couple of rungs on the economic ladder due to some major mistakes, and they worked hard to instill in their kids (my generation) the notion that they had to move on an up. So my friend and his brother went through college and are doing considerably better. They haven’t forgotten their roots at all and remain close with their parents in no small part because they were always on the worksite with their father in the summers. But the brother married into a very white collar family, and they are very embarrassed by their “redneck” connection, and that has put an enormous strain on the family. They consider themselves too genteel for the rough work and rough humor.

    • #14
    • June 13, 2017 at 8:22 am
    • 1 like
  15. Thatcher

    skipsul (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    My mother’s father was an engineer, just like my dad — similar lifestyles, houses, etc. But my mom and dad regularly took me to the farm where my father grew up. They dropped me off there for summer vacation sometimes, with my grandmother sending me out to climb in the haymow “because little boys are supposed to climb in the haymow.” I helped my uncle stretch wire, feed the cows, bale hay. I valued that as much as anything I have ever done and I can’t imagine being embarrassed by it.

    I’ve seen it happen though. My best friend’s father (Boomer generation) was a siding contractor all his life, and the son of the same. Compared to the family patriarch (a WWII vet), the boomer generation fell a couple of rungs on the economic ladder due to some major mistakes, and they worked hard to instill in their kids (my generation) the notion that they had to move on an up. So my friend and his brother went through college and are doing considerably better. They haven’t forgotten their roots at all and remain close with their parents in no small part because they were always on the worksite with their father in the summers. But the brother married into a very white collar family, and they are very embarrassed by their “redneck” connection, and that has put an enormous strain on the family. They consider themselves too genteel for the rough work and rough humor.

    My grandfather (the engineer) set off a bit of a bit of commotion in his choice of a bride. She was a second generation Latvian-American Lutheran, not a “here before Washington’s great-grandfather” WASP Presbyterian — clearly not one of our kind. They made the mistake of expressing this opinion to Grandfather. The very idea of that conversation still makes me laugh. Grandfather was a … um … resolute man. He could change his opinion when confronted with right reason. This was not right reason, and if he hadn’t already proposed, there was no power on Earth that was going to prevent him from doing so after that.

    The punchline is that at the wedding, his widowed father met a woman; the elder sister of the bride. So my mom’s grandmother was also her aunt.

    • #15
    • June 13, 2017 at 8:40 am
    • 3 likes
  16. Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    Some thoughts in answer to Skip. There’s one white boy in the movie, who acts like he listens to too much hip-hop–the black kids, who are already, harsh, lawless, & ready for outrage, treat him like dirt & Walt says, he can’t blame them. The boy’s a sissy. That’s one of Eastwood’s sons.

    Now, to the family issues. Yes, Americans went in for Enlightenment from the beginning. Anyone who reads Christopher Lasch’s True & only heaven–an attack on Progress–can see the Enlightenment doctrine coming up with newer & more Progressive stuff every generation or two. For better & for worse, Americans have tied their destiny to their higher education system. It is part of the American religious-industrial complex. It is also the great betrayal of the social contract in our times. Well, I don’t want to talk a lot about it now, but it’s a big part of my writing on America lately.

    • #16
    • June 13, 2017 at 9:15 am
    • 1 like
  17. Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    Another thing about Walt Kowalski’s kids: They do live near enough him to have a kind of family life. They just don’t want to bother. It’s that they don’t want to enter a world of pain-

    • #17
    • June 13, 2017 at 12:46 pm
    • Like
  18. Moderator

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    Another thing about Walt Kowalski’s kids: They do live near enough him to have a kind of family life. They just don’t want to bother. It’s that they don’t want to enter a world of pain-

    It’s been a while since I saw the film, but the impression I had was that they did live near enough to drive in for an afternoon, but far enough way that it was excuse not to come.

    • #18
    • June 13, 2017 at 1:32 pm
    • 1 like
  19. Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    skipsul (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    Another thing about Walt Kowalski’s kids: They do live near enough him to have a kind of family life. They just don’t want to bother. It’s that they don’t want to enter a world of pain-

    It’s been a while since I saw the film, but the impression I had was that they did live near enough to drive in for an afternoon, but far enough way that it was excuse not to come.

    Yeah, they live in some part of Detroit that’s really suburban! They don’t want to go back to where they were born & raised-

    • #19
    • June 13, 2017 at 1:36 pm
    • Like
  20. Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    I wonder whether he’ll show a way for men to live as part of the societies they protect. These guys are literally just part of the crowd until the moment comes…

    That would be a wonderful circle to close. Thanks!

    • #20
    • June 13, 2017 at 7:57 pm
    • 1 like
  21. Member

    There was something else in the movie that I was wondering if you had thoughts about. There is a strong similarity in my mind between this movie and The Outlaw Josie Wales. They are both movies about community and reconciliation. Walt and Josie Wales are men who find themselves alone near the start of their respective movies. Loner isn’t the right word, but neither is looking for company. Over the course of the movies, community finds them and wants them there. In a way, it is a response to The Searchers, where Ethan Edwards can return his niece, but can’t cross the threshold back into the house at the end.

    • #21
    • June 16, 2017 at 10:49 am
    • 1 like
  22. Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    That’s a nice connection. That would put Walt in-between the two. He seems ready for community, willing; but he’s run out of life…

    • #22
    • June 16, 2017 at 3:15 pm
    • Like