Understandably, Clint has eased off the pedal a bit when it comes to acting—over the past decade, he’s starred in just two films, Trouble With the Curve and The Mule.
While some auteurist film critics have worked overtime to make cases for the continued value of the work of certain revered directors as they entered their dotage—those championing the hidden virtues of late-period Ford, Cukor, Preminger, et al.—the fact is that strength fades, complacency can set in and one loses touch with the currents of contemporary life.
Back in 1980, M-G-M saw fit to defy this belief by hiring two of Old Hollywood’s most celebrated directors, George Cukor and Billy Wilder–81 and 74, respectively– both at stages of their careers when they counted themselves fortunate to get any work at all.
Action was the operative word where Wilder was concerned; he was constantly on his feet, cracking jokes with old cohorts Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthew and seemingly happy to be back in his element (he hadn’t made a film in Hollywood in seven years).
The creative and financial failures of both Wilder’s and Cukor’s films simply confirmed the conventional wisdom of the time that the remaining golden-era Hollywood directors were over-the-hill, plain and simple, the victims of diminished physical energy and intellectual focus; certainly, this applied also to Chaplin, Ford, Wyler, Hitchcock, Hawks, Lang, Minnelli, Preminger, Walsh, Kazan and Zinnemann, among others, several of whom I knew and/or watched work toward the ends of their careers.
Whenever I’ve watched Clint work, the set has been unusually quiet and lacking in the fuss, bother and neuroses common on many locations; everyone’s there to get the job done quickly and efficiently and the boss isn’t going to tolerate anyone who isn’t in synch with this goal.
Among still-living-and-working major American directors, the only one who surpasses Clint in terms of productivity is Woody Allen, who, at 84, has directed (and written) an incredible 50 features in 51 years.
Given that Clint is entering essentially uncharted territory when it comes to the outer limits of age among working Hollywood film directors, it might be worth taking a look at the few others who have had the physical and creative wherewithal to continue their careers into what is normally called one’s dotage.
Jean-Luc Godard, who will turn 90 in December, nowadays makes rarified self-reflexive works for a highly select audience; Alain Resnais had a late-life blossoming with a rush of films that culminated in Life of Riley, released in 2014, when the filmmaker died 91; Chris Marker passed at the same age in 2012, having just made Aimer, boire et chanter; Alejandro Jodorowsky made The Dance of Reality at 85, while Eric Rohmer finished his final feature, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon in 2010, when he was 89!
It’s just that this has lately worked out far better in Hollywood than in Washington, D.C.
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