In 1988, I saw Clint Eastwood’s Bird knowing absolutely nothing about Charlie Parker or his music. All I knew at the time was that ever since Play Misty for Me I liked how Clint Eastwood directed. He could take average materiel and elevate to something special, High Plains Drifter being a great example. I sat down and was introduced to Forest Whitaker as Charlie Parker. I had never seen him previously but was immediately drawn into his take on a complex character’s struggles between musical genius and the demons of ordinary life. I read later that the actor, to prepare himself for the part, had sequestered himself in a loft with only a bed, couch, and saxophone after taking lessons. That focus showed in a performance that, for me, set a standard few other actors have achieved.
Clint Eastwood’s direction was a revelation to me with a lightness of touch and a musicality in the camera movement. I saw Bird, the film as a metaphor for the artist’s music. It was delicious and I remember going to see it again just to listen and take in that flow all by itself. The film is at its strongest as a dark and haunting mood piece. Bird created a seemingly contradictory reaction in me, a sadly familiar story line balanced by a sense of elation from Eastwood’s love for the character and music which permeates every frame of the film.
Eastwood would continue to direct and star in many forgettable films that provided the opportunity to make films about things he cared about. Bird was that outcome, and we are all better for it.
Raconteur of useless trivia, most awkward hugger possible. I co-founded this. Pauline Kael stole the name of my upcoming autobiography…