the original g-man, j edgar hisself
Clint Eastwood's new film, J EDGAR, the story of J Edgar Hoover, the FBI thug who ruled Washington DC with a fascist grip through the 50s and 60s, is up there among Eastwood's best. Hoover had the goods on everybody active in government, and everybody knew it. Go up against Hoover and your entire life is destroyed with a smear campaign and labeled a communist. In his day, nobody wanted to be called a communist, even in jest, and everyone knew phone-tapping was their way. It was common in the 50s and 60s to make remarks on the telephone to the people listening in. This came up whenever talking on the phone and saying something critical of government. The people I talked with were not people to be wire-tapped, but entities like law enforcement, FBI included, really don't know the difference between somebody really subversive and somebody not. It shows in the police treatment of Occupy demonstrators, and the people in demonstrations in the late 60s, early 70s. They arrest you and torture you (yes, torture is American policy) until you confess to what they want you to confess to. Doesn't matter to them whether you did it or not. The confession is all they want.
We had the same kind of paranoia with both the Reagan and Bush administrations, imagining G-man ears hearing us. Hoover created a situation where anti-communism became at least as big a menace as communism. Worse, because Hoover's way is the way of destruction of our own "freedoms," the way of Cheney, Rummy, Rice and W, Reagan and Nixon before them. Mind control of the population through fear has been republican strategy ever since J Edgar. Communists have evolved to terrorists. The difference between the Vietnam war and the war on the Iraqi people is the Vietnamese were communists and the Iraqis are terrorists. Same thing: not us. At home, it's liberals, the educated portion of the population, the people not so easily hoodwinked. Hoover was also of the mind, whatever it is, I'm against it. Like now with the Supremes, Scalia and Thomas, in lifetime appointments, all we could do in Hoover's time was wait for him to die. His death date sent a wave of relaxation throughout the land, on the order of Mao's death date in China.
I'd been curious to see how Eastwood handled Hoover's life since I first heard he was making it, or had already made it. My respect for Eastwood as a director has been a stair-step progression. After Unforgiven, I put Eastwood aside as a director of interest. It was well made, looked good, good idea, but was emotionally dead. Devoid of feeling. That's what I found with Eastwood films, emotional stasis. He must have caught on at the same time I did, because by the time he made Million Dollar Baby, he had begun to solve the emotional issue in his film making. It was an emotional powerhouse. It also had the mental, logical progressions. I felt like he'd brought his imbalance to balance. Gran Torino was even a greater emotional powerhouse. Legitimate emotion, too. Strong feeling. After Gran Torino, I hold Eastwood up among the great American directors of past and present. He understands the American male perspective, like the writer Russell Banks, in a non-sensationalist way. Steven Seagal's idea of a man and Eastwood's are not far apart, except that Seagal's is sensationalist and Eastwood's is not. In Eastwood's stories the man is just a man.
Eastwood's treatment of Hoover was just a man. He left off the public persona, the multiple suicides he'd inspired, the multiple murders, the assassinations, framing innocent people, all the reasons We The People wanted him dead. Of course, republicans were happy with him, but not all. In a way, Eastwoods presentation of Hoover was without context for people who did not live in that time. References are made to the public context of his life, but Eastwood kept it close to the heart. He looked at Hoover subjectively instead of objectively. Subjectively, the context of his life was as he, Hoover himself, interpreted it. I even had the impression that Eastwood was following Hoover's autobiography, his life as he saw it. He showed that Hoover was wound up tight as a banjo string inside. His affection for a man kept him paranoid, which appeared the foundation of his paranoia about communists. His loving, unto doting, mother and his indifferent father, Eastwood shows us to give an idea of the context Hoover came from within. He shows Hoover's homosexual persuasion sympathetically, while at the same time showing the nature of his relationship with Clyde Tolson domineering until Tolson became a ghost of himself. That showed Hoover's character as much as his obsession with Eleanor Roosevelt's affection for another woman.
Toward the end, I'd become sympathetic with the man J Edgar Hoover, cared somewhat about his fate, just by the dramatic device of making a character understandable. Understanding is the quick way to getting to know somebody. By the end I had to remind myself this guy was a monster. Justin came in about 10 minutes before it was finished, cutting some firewood in the woods across the road. When it finished, I had to tell Justin right away what a low-down, despicable piece of shit we had in DC as the top dog at the FBI, terrorizing American citizens with draconian law enforcement. By the end, I was liking Hoover, feeling like I understood him, and had to remind myself that sympathy for Hoover equals sympathy for Stalin, or like the Rolling Stones song, Sympathy for the Devil. I briefed Justin on his terrorism of the American people, ruling by fear, having the goods on everybody with any degree of power, such that he controlled them. All in Congress, Senate, all who worked in government in DC knew Hoover had the goods on them and they walked his line. It's not like this behavior is unprecedented. And it's not like it died with Hoover.
I came away from this film all the more inspired with Clint Eastwood as director and Leonardo diCaprio as actor. DiCaprio was the actor for the role, the actor with the acting ability, but sometimes all the makeup and masks it took to make his flawless doughboy face look like an old man with bulldog jowls was stretching the unbelievable unto fantasy. The zombie mask they put on Tolson was a bit extreme too, but it definitely got the message across that his relationship with Hoover had drained his life energy. Theirs was a sad, severly dysfunctional relationship, not a great deal of joy in it. Not even much feeling. I was wondering if the cause could be in giving up spontenaiety, not allowing it, their lives utterly devoid of it. Artists know the importance of spontenaiety, but lawmen seldom do. I was grateful to Clint Eastwood for his rendering of Hoover. It was balanced and subjective. I liked the subjective most, because, like me, Eastwood has only known the objective Hoover. He wanted to get behind all the externals into the internal man. I feel like I have a good biographical understanding of Hoover now. I'm sympathetic with him the first time, to some extent, after seeing the film. It amused me that at the end I was feeling so much like I understood Hoover's inner motivations, I had to tell Justin right away that this man, from my point of view, is a mass murderer and all that goes with it. He was dead before Justin was born. I still didn't talk myself out of feeling a certain empathy for him. His role was made by the context of his time. He suffered mightily within. Anybody wound up as tight as J Edgar Hoover has serious mental/emotional issues. And he did.