Play Misty for Me
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Wednesday, July 18 at Film Forum's Universal Centennial
Movies starring their directors can become pretty revealing as years go by; whatever Clint Eastwood has been trying to tell us each holiday season about overcoming apartheid, about Western revisionism, about J. Edgar Hoover, about being Japanese during World War II, about the impossibility of a black man finding a good lawyer, or the callousness of the government's abandonment of NASA, it all shrivels pretty pathetically when you press it up against his 1971 directorial debut Play Misty For Me. If movies had abs, this one's would be preternaturally, defensively taut; if the title weren't clue enough, it's club-footed to the point of unintentional brilliance, a classic work of Hollywood insider-outsider art. Abrasive, staccato, very loud, turgid, hate-filled and stupefyingly white, it is nearly everything that its namesake, Errol Garner's "Misty", isn't.
Eastwood stars as Dave Garver, a freewheelin' smooth jazz DJ who touches the ladies' hearts with his tongue from every night perched by the Pacific, sans weed (Not Cool, man) but maybe packing some poems when he's sore for inspiration. His almond-eyed, fetching #1 fan—Jessica Walter, just before the 30-year career exodus that concluded with her role as Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development—shows up at his favorite after-hours bar to consummate her crush; longtime caller, first-time lover. For Dave it's no big deal—he has a fridge full of Heineken and does his sleeping and eating between sets of bosoms—but Evelyn gets a little too attached, and soon poor Dave is being smothered by his own waywardness. After meeting Evelyn, Eastwood's token work buddy—imagine a black, straight, West Coast version of Truman Capote and you're on the right track—opines, "that's what I call a good smotherin', cousin."
The film just does these things. It's a ripe artifact from that bygone yesteryear when there was no design problem a sherbert palette and some gold paint couldn't solve, no relationship woes some Roberta Flack records couldn't streamroll—more mystique than mistake. From the hot seat in his convertible here, to the rusty Detroit cross he strung himself up on for Gran Torino, it's hard not to be impressed by the sheer persistence of Eastwood's narcissism. (The first scene is him listlessly watching the sun rise from his beach house, only to turn around and stare even harder into an oil portrait of... himself.) It makes Misty, while jitter-inducingly schizoid, also one of the more ideologically honest pictures in the craggly maestro's canon: at least this once, the lovably inconvenient ape and the waifish girlfriend are the same person! Soon Evelyn is making big plans—picnics, weddings, etc. —and when Eastwood finally breaks her off, she tries, unsuccessfully, to slash her wrists.
After that, things can only get awkward, and the movie, if not exactly kicking it up a notch, decidedly enters "chiller" territory as Dave has a change of heart and tries, now scared shitless, to rekindle a lapsed relationship with Toby, his last serious girlfriend. "I can think of a thousand reasons why we should try again," he says. Of course it's too late, but... I've said enough. There's a wisecracking police detective, untold hours of oceanic b-roll, an Impressionist sex scene in a dang lagoon somewhere, a sagacious housekeeper named "Birdie", a Don Siegel cameo, tons of awful overdubbing, the California nights, and Clint's rage—always—choking the day-glo frames for air, his anime-face maniacally begging a kindred viewer dude to break the fourth wall, jump into the picture, and deck his ladyfriend in the mouth. Drink too many beers, see it with some good friends, and laugh—but if you're a woman, please hurry home afterwards and cry yourself to sleep.