The Ticket

In defense of Clint Eastwood: He was weird, but fantastic

Go ahead. Vet my day. A fistful of incoherence. High slurs rambler. Every which way and loose.

Clint Eastwood, the 82-year-old movie star and director, inspired what seemed like enthusiasm inside the Republican National Convention's Tampa Bay Times Forum—and disbelief outside it and on Twitter. He also spawned puns, based on the titles of Eastwood's movies—a filmography that runs from 1955 ("Revenge of the Creature") to the present ("Trouble with the Curve").

But in Tampa tonight he may have hit on the performance that will live on forever, as long (at least) as YouTube bloopers endure.

Eastwood took on a role made famous by Jack Palance in 1992: geriatric tough guy freestyles surreally on live TV. At that time—during the Oscars broadcast—Billy Crystal chastened Palance, who was determined to show Crystal up by doing a one-armed pushup on stage, by saying, "Decaf, Jack, Decaf."

If Palance needed less caffeine, it wasn't clear what Eastwood needed. A script? A director? Red Bull?

Eastwood seemed to speak without notes, without a Tele-Prom-Ter and without a clue of what he wanted to say. He shadow-boxed with Obama in a bizarre piece of stagecraft that involved an empty chair. He rambled about how America needed a businessman in charge. He came very close to using the f-word, making several feints at it. And he ran some ongoing gag about how he'd talk as long as he wanted to.

The weirdness seemed to discomfit the audience, but also charged them with adrenaline. Weirdness, maybe, was just what this convention needed—a reminder that, however closely choreographed, the conventions are still live events.

When Eastwood finally made it off stage—as Twitter called for a hook or a gong to hasten his exit—it seemed he'd gone over time. That might push Romney past 11 pm, which would be disastrous. (The Republican nominee is on as I type.)

Commenters initially called it a catastrophe for Romney. But for decades voters have complained that there's no spontaneity at the conventions. Eastwood brought the spontaneity, with the crazy. Who vetted his speech—or failed to? Who cares? He woke up a flagging crowd just in time for Romney's acceptance speech.

He may have been incoherent. But live TV is set up exactly for the Good, the Bad and the Spacey. And Eastwood knows how to win attention Every Which You Can.

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