Still (detail) from Revenge of The Creature, Clint Eastwood’s film debut.
The following is the foreword and two selections from the first chapter of Conversations with Clint: Paul Nelson's Lost Interviews with Clint Eastwood: 1979-1983, by Kevin Avery, published by Continuum on September 22nd, 2011.
I NEVER SAT IN A movie theater with Paul Nelson. We watched movies he'd taped off late-night television broadcasts, from neatly hand-lettered VHS tapes. He often had two or even three old movies on a cassette, many with sequences of static, and vintage late-night commercials, intact. Later we watched laserdiscs, but those never supplanted his tapes. For Paul, I suspect that when we met — I was nineteen — I struck him as a remedial case. I liked Godard and Truffaut and Kurosawa, directors who'd taken a lot from classical studio-era Hollywood, but I'd seen little of the real thing. My taste, shaped by my parents' viewing habits, leaned to foreign films and counterculture classics like King of Hearts and Harold and Maude. The only western I'd seen was Blazing Saddles.
Fortunately, I don't think Paul found my prodigiously confident opinions (some, in retrospect, wrong, and some right) unworkable, but he wanted to rewind my viewing habits, like one of his treasured tapes, and start me over again. I remember that we screened Hawks's Red River in slow motion, as Paul stopped the film at various points to describe what he found remarkable or characteristic in a given sequence, or just wanting to linger over details. We did the same thing with Welles's Citizen Kane and Lady From Shanghai. Other movies — Ride The High Country, The Long Voyage Home — we'd just put on and watch, and I'd feel the force of Paul's regard, the extraordinary pressure-field of his devoted gaze, guiding my own. Certain other films I never saw in Paul's company — Heaven's Gate comes to mind —yet no matter how long it was until I finally saw them, when I did they were enclosed in the terms with which Paul had described them to me, his projections and insights, his abiding gaze. I watched them with Paul even though Paul wasn't with me at the time.
We never discussed Clint Eastwood. I'm guessing now, having read Kevin Avery's terrific reconstruction of Paul's conversations with the actor-director, that this was more than happenstance. Given the size of Paul's engagement with Eastwood's work, and seeing the extent and intimacy of their friendship, the way it tested the bounds of journalist-and-subject, and understanding the disappointment of the encounter's failure to find a home in the "real world" of publication, I suspect it was too sensitive a matter for Paul to want to acknowledge by the time he and I were spending time together. There were zones of silence in Paul. Some covered what you'd have to guess were the most important pieces of his life. I could barely get him to mention Bob Dylan, for instance. I never knew he had a son.