Whereas sensational murder trials have electrified audiences from the days of
Sacco and Vanzetti down to the O.J. Simpson case and that of our own British
nanny, the trial in Clint Eastwood's adaptation of John Berendt's Midnight
in the Garden of Good and Evil is just part of the local color of Savannah.
According to Eastwood, the new film has nothing to do with the current rage for
courtroom melodrama or inquiries into the validity of American justice. It's
just good storytelling.
"Whether it has anything to do with other trials, I don't know," he asserts.
"They are sensationalized at the moment, but I don't think they'll have any
bearing one way or the other. You might compare the tampering of the evidence
and the shoddy police work to the way the defense tried to handle the O.J.
case, but that's about the only comparison I can see.
"I was trying to show the quirkiness of John's [John Berendt's] book and not
make it into a trial movie. Today we're raised with a lot of quick images on
MTV or stories that are totally subservient to special effects, so I thought it
was nice to go back to old-fashioned storytelling where you deal with
characters. And in the case of John Berendt's characters, he seems to have made
everybody very curious about Savannah.
"I tried to talk to a lot of the people who were characters in John's book.
For instance, the guy with the flies tied to strings, I got to meet him, and he
no longer does that. We all change. But he did do that at one time, and those
kind of oddities are what make the book unique. There's a worldliness that is
kind of crazy. But there's also a tolerance, and that's interesting too."
Tolerance and serenity loom large in Eastwood's life these days. Does the fact
that Dirty Harry has made a movie sympathetic to gays and drag queens indicate
"You mean, am I wearing lip gloss and eyeshadow? I've always considered myself
tolerant of other people's lifestyles. But it's also fun to tell stories about
things you don't understand. And there's something about the kind of people in
Savannah who do their own thing, whether it's wearing flies or whether it's
being a drag queen, whatever you want to do."
With tolerance comes peace of mind, and in Clint's case, a new family -- he
and his second wife recently had a baby. Perhaps that's part of the reason
Eastwood cast his daughter Alison in a small but pivotal role in
"I did make her audition," he points out. "When I did Tightrope some
years ago, I thought about what happens if your daughter wasn't good in the
picture and you had to fire her? What effect would that have on a child growing
up, or on the father-daughter relationship? But it turned out she was excellent
in that movie, and I felt she would be good in this one, but I wanted to make
sure she went through the ropes."
If firing her would have been traumatic, how was it directing her in a love
scene with John Cusack?
"It's nice to be there to chaperone the whole thing. We did it all in one
take. That's part of the chaperoning."
Not all is serene in Eastwood's life, however. Former girlfriend Sondra Locke
lacerated him recently in a tell-all memoir. Eastwood shakes off this and other
"A friend of mine the other day, who is about my age, said, 'There's one great
thing about being in your 60s -- what can they do to you?' It's like you've had
good things said about you and you've had bad things said about you, and so at
some point you become very philosophical and say that's an individual opinion.
Even the people who said something good about you might be wrong, so you never
Like those who describe you as an icon?
"When you keep coming back after 40 or 50 years, I guess they figure they've
got to call you something."