When I read that Clint Eastwood had allegedly embarrassed everybody by staging a conversation with an imaginary President Barack Obama in an empty chair at the Republican Party convention last week, I thought I would point out he wasn’t the first actor to have such conversations.
For instance, Shakespeare’s Bottom the weaver in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, playing the role of Pyramus in a play within a play, addresses a wall, played by Snout the tinker, thus: “Thou wall, O wall, O sweet and lovely wall, Show me thy chink, to blink through with mine eyne.”
And in the movie Shirley Valentine, Pauline Collins talks to the kitchen wall, on the basis that it is no less responsive than her husband. “Hello wall,” she begins. Later, on a Mykonos beach, she also has a chat to a rock.
At one point Eastwood was reported to have told the chair (actually more of a bar stool): “You’re crazy. You’re absolutely crazy.”
The chair doesn’t answer back, but if it could, it might well have retorted: “Me crazy? Look who’s talking to a chair.”
That’s the advantage of berating a chair. You know it can’t argue back.
But then I watched the entire video of Eastwood, and was delighted by the 82-year-old’s unscripted tongue-in-cheek performance, not slick at all like the speeches of the professional pundits, but cheeky and off-the-cuff. In effect he was saying, a pox on all politicians, though maybe a change might be a good thing.
The audience loved him, rising again and again to give him a standing ovation. He began by describing how everyone cried the night Obama was elected president: “Oprah was crying (laughter)… even I was crying.” But Obama hadn’t solved the country’s problems, so perhaps it was time for someone else to try to solve them.
To the chair: “Mr President, how do you handle the promises you made while running for election? People are |wondering.”
Then he cupped his ear to the chair: “You don’t, oh I see.” A moment later he interrupted himself and snapped back at the chair: “What do you mean, |shuddup?”
He got a bit confused about the war in Afghanistan, accusing Obama of supporting it while forgetting it had been promoted by Mitt Romney’s fellow Republican, George W Bush. Obama, via the chair, must have pointed this out, because Eastwood suddenly told him: “I’m not going to shuddup, it’s my turn.”
He thought it would be nice to have a change from presidents who were attorneys, able to argue all sides: “Maybe it’s time for a businessman.” (more uproarious applause). To the chair: “If you step aside, you could still use the plane ... but a smaller one.”
The chair having apparently told him to tell Romney what he should do to himself, he informed the chair: “I’m sorry, I can’t do that to myself, either.”
Then the best line of all: “Politicians are just going to come round every few years and beg for your votes.” But someone had to do the job, and “if someone doesn’t do the job, we gotta let him go”.
“Make our day,” shouted someone in the audience. Dirty Harry smiled: “I don’t say that word any more” – then relented. “Maybe one last time.” Together the convention centre roared in unison: “You want to make my day.”
I could understand why Romney felt miffed. Eastwood, rather than he, had made everyone’s day, leaving him upstaged by a chair, even if his opponent wasn’t actually in it.