Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.
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A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
Dirty Harry (1971)
The Bridges of Madison County (1995)
Adapted from Robert James Waller’s best seller, this is Eastwood’s finest combined acting/directorial entry in a lengthy and often distinguished oeuvre. Only my opinion of course, but since this is my website I’m sticking with it. At the very least, I’m not alone in my view.
A deeply moving film, the Streep/Eastwood relationship remains its centrepiece. Whilst the film demands little in the way of intuitive interpretation – Robert and Francesca meet, fall in love and part forever – the central issue remains that they must part. The emotional peak of the movie is the renunciation, when Francesca does not open the door of her husband’s truck and run to Robert. This moment, and not the moment when the characters first kiss, or make love, is the film’s passionate climax. I was personally impressed that Eastwood would have chosen to visually portray himself in such an unflattering light, cutting a forlorn figure, emotionally torn in two, as the rain lashes down on him. Streep’s white knuckle as she clings to the truck’s door handle hints at the fire raging within her, like a car chained to a wall with the accelerator ‘full on.’ With her world turned upside down within the space of a few days, one remains acutely aware of the heavily skewed emphasis on her new relationship – there’s little to know of her husband beyond his capabilities as a solid provider – whilst Eastwood’s character remains essentially nomadic by nature.
The premise is simple enough. Robert Kincaid is a photographer for National Geographic, shooting a story on the covered bridges of the county. Francesca’s husband and children have left home for several days to go to the Illinois State Fair. Photographer and housewife meet, and an awkward but friendly conversation leads to an offer of iced tea; then she shyly asks him to stay for dinner.
One of the story’s mysteries is just when each of them becomes erotically aware of the other, and there is a moment, when he goes out to get beer from the car, and she pauses while preparing salad, when she not quite smiles to herself. She seems happy; there is a lift in her heart. In another scene, she answers the telephone and, standing behind him, adjusts his collar, brushes his neck with her finger, and then leaves her hand resting on his shoulder. Very quietly.
There’s a lesson in life to be learned here. Years later, after their mother’s death, Francesca’s adult children discover her treasure chest of Kincaid mementos – camera equipment, photographic albums, magazine covers featuring his work and of course, love letters – and are forced to reassess the warm and emotionally cocooned existence in which they grew up. Their concerns are unduly magnified, for in the final analysis, Francesca did not wholly trust to the ‘heat of the emotional moment.’ Perhaps Robert’s rootless existence – an obvious impediment to Francesca’s ongoing access to the children – a commitment to the family unit, and her feelings for a kind, considerate husband, all coalesced to thwart the obvious inclination to run off into the sunset.
The marketing blurb for “The Bridges of Madison County” says it all: -
If you’ve ever experienced the one true love of your life, a love that for some reason could never be, you will understand why readers all over the world were so moved by this small, unknown first novel that they made it a publishing phenomenon and #1 bestseller. The story of Robert Kincaid, the photographer and free spirit searching for the covered bridges of Madison County, and Francesca Johnson, the farm wife waiting for the fulfillment of a girlhood dream, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY gives voice to the longings of men and women everywhere-and shows us what it is to love and be loved so intensely that life is never the same again.
Since a blurb is little more than a short summary, or promotional piece accompanying a creative work, it can create a false impression of the true acts of consequence in a person’s life.
The fictional affair between Robert and Francesca would last a mere four days, more than sufficient time upon which to base a ‘lifetime of longing,’ since human beings have infinite capacity to relieve the monotony of their everyday existence with fanciful notions of an alternate life. As both readers and viewers of ‘The Bridges of Madison County,’ we are unconcerned with what Francesca did next, yet her actions lie at the heart of a fulfilled life. She nurtured her marriage and domestic environment, distilling her guilt into something wholly positive, spared her husband’s feelings over ‘a blip’ in her adult life, and sought solace in an album full of press cuttings. In time, the constant click of Robert’s shutters might well have driven her to distraction. Francesca would never discover this for herself, thus allowing life to play another one of its little tricks.
Clint Eastwood has consistently been amongst the top five most popular actors in America for more decades than even he would care to remember. Add in his position as a highly respected director, he’s also an accomplished musician, freely giving of his time to guest on numerous documentaries about his favourite artists. At eighty three years of age, he shows no sign of slowing down, the rapport he enjoys with his fellow actors rejuvenating his muse in surprisingly diverse ways.
His life has also involved public service, his two year period in the 80’s as mayor of Carmel focused on improving the town’s amenities rather, than as a launching pad for a wider political career. A popular figure therefore, except perhaps amongst a group of women who have been romantically linked with him. As his track record testifies – eight children by six different partners, it’s been a life of hedonistic indulgence.
There are plenty of volumes out there in biography-land about Mr Eastwood. They range from the ‘kiss’n‘tell’ variety to critical reviews of his lifetime’s work, yet the man himself remains something of an enigma. An understanding of his formative years therefore, might offer some insight into his rather turbulent adult life, and the myriad of female relationships he has had.
The actor had an itinerant childhood, moving around from city to city as his parents tried to find work in the grip of an economic depression. His father, Clinton Sr, was a steel worker, and the daily struggle to support his wife and two children is encapsulated in the following analysis of 30’s US prices .
Like millions around the world, I am fortunate enough to never having lived through a world war, nor to have endured the ordeal of the Great Depression, and the unprecedented depths of economic collapse and social disarray that mired America in the 1930s. If the Federal Reserve made mistakes, matters were compounded by the hoarding of cash by individuals fearful of bank failures, causing the stock of money circulating in the economy to fall by one-third between 1929 and 1933. This “Great Contraction,” had a choking effect on employment, incomes, and prices, unnecessarily prolonging the Great Depression by years.
The search for one true underlying cause for the Great Depression may, in the end, be something of a chicken and egg problem; and certainly one that I have found insoluble. What remains very clear to me though, is that whilst reactive cautionary measures will work on an extremely small scale, any significant magnification will bring even the largest of economies grinding to a halt. American capitalism broke down in the 1930s because of a tragic disconnect between the needs of the economy as a whole, and the rational economic actions of the individuals struggling to survive within it.
When one farmer struggling to make his mortgage payment encountered falling prices for wheat, his perfectly rational response was to produce more wheat to make up the difference. Yet when millions of farmers did this, the resulting overproduction flooded the market, driving prices so low that no farmers could sell their crops at a price that justified the harvest.
Equally, When one factory owner encountered falling demand for his products, his rational response was to cut production and cut costs by laying off workers. But when thousands of factory owners did this, the resulting mass unemployment and poverty drove demand for all their products even lower.
Furthermore, a worker encountering the high likelihood of losing his job, was likely to hoard his money, saving as much and spending as little as he could. But when millions of workers did this, the resulting lack of spending in the consumer economy destroyed markets for goods and thus caused employers to lay off more workers.
Finally, when one depositor learned that his bank might fail, potentially wiping out his savings, his rational response was to withdraw all his cash and put it in a shoebox. But when millions of depositors did this, the resulting runs on banks caused rampant bank failures, and the constriction of the national money supply.
With such a deadly cocktail of factors in place, what IS abundantly clear is that, by 1932, just about everything in the American economy was broken. Steel workers were just as affected as any other industry, hence the perpetual search for work.
Interviewed in 2008, Eastwood would recall:
‘I moved around a lot. I was born in 1930 and lived in various towns in California, up and down: Sacramento Valley, Los Angeles for a little bit, Oakland, all these areas. But I had good parents who I think did the best they could, so I had a reasonable childhood. It was kind of lonely in some ways because you never went to the same school for six or seven months, you were always moving on somewhere. But it was OK.’
The problem of course, is that this type of an upbringing, is never really ‘okay’. The term instability is often used in social science research to reflect change or discontinuity in one’s experience; however, operational definitions of instability vary by field and are often determined by the data and measures available for research. Whereas some literature looks at the effects of change measured broadly, change itself can have both positive and negative implications depending on the context, including whether the change is voluntary, planned in advance, and moving the individual or family to better circumstances. For our purposes, instability is best conceptualised as the experience of change in individual or family circumstances where the change is abrupt, involuntary, and/or in a negative direction, and thus is more likely to have adverse implications for child development. Changes do not occur in isolation, for a disruption in one domain (e.g., parent employment), often triggers a disruption in another domain (e.g., child care) in a “domino effect” fashion. In some cases, the causality of instability is not one-dimensional but a result of a
complicated series of events that compound over time. This domino effect may be most evident among low-income or lower middle-class families who lack savings and assets that they can tap into during temporary periods of transition.
Source :The Negative Effects of Instability on Child Development: A Research Synthesis (Urban Institute 2010).
His mother, Margaret, once said in a television documentary that the rootless nature of Clint’s upbringing meant that Eastwood often invented imaginary friends. This, she thought, was what led to his becoming an actor. The experience also left him with an abiding memory of what it was like to live on a limited income. ‘It seemed like in those days, you had what you had and nothing more,’ he says. ‘In other words, if you had 10 dollars, you had 10 dollars. You didn’t have 1,000 dollars on a credit card that you could just ring up. Nowadays we live in a dream world that offers you something for nothing.’