Clint Eastwood tells the Wall Street Journal he was attracted to Dustin Lance Black's J. Edgar Hoover script because it "didn't quite go down that road" exploring the FBI chief's sexuality. Although the director says "If you're doing a biography, you try to stay as accurate as possible to reality," he appears ready to ignore a central aspect of Hoover's life -- especially odd given that Hoover himself was obsessed with exploiting people's hidden sex lives. He spent the bulk of his career illegally amassing his infamous "secret files" detailing the private acts of notable people. WSJ interviewer Michael Judge writes:
"The Hoover screenplay was written by Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning writer of the 2008 film "Milk" about the life and 1978 murder of gay-rights activist and San Francisco City Councilman Harvey Milk. When I ask if the screenplay addresses reports by former FBI employees that Hoover was a cross-dresser and perhaps a closeted homosexual, Mr. Eastwood says not really. In fact, what attracted him to the screenplay was the fact that it "didn't quite go down that road."
"As with all his films, Mr. Eastwood didn't rely on others to do his research. "I went back and read probably all the material that [Mr. Black] had read. . . . I went and visited with the FBI in Washington, D.C., and tried to find out as much as I could about people who had worked with Hoover."
"Mr. Eastwood's main interests are the workings of a sprawling, crime-fighting bureaucracy and how a young man—Hoover was 29 when he was made director of the Bureau of Investigation in 1924—survived to serve eight presidents, from Calvin Coolidge to Richard Nixon. Hoover was, in many ways, "the most powerful guy in the country," says Mr. Eastwood, "at a time when America was by far the most powerful country" in the world.
"The film spans Hoover's entire career, from the 1919-20 Palmer Raids, which saw thousands of suspected anarchists, socialists and other radicals detained or deported; to the Gangster Wars of the 1930s that resulted in the shooting deaths of such arch-criminals as John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson; to the wiretaps and secret dossiers of the 1950s and '60s on "subversives" that included leftists and Communist Party members but also political rivals, celebrities and civil-rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.
Hoover's name is synonymous with abuse of power, yet Eastwood seems to want to flit over that and focus elsewhere, like his "great ideas." He says:
"I'm sure he had his excesses. . . . He was obviously a very detailed guy all his life, starting as a very young man. He had some great ideas—modern-day investigative techniques [like fingerprinting and forensic science]. But he also liked the glory of it all."
Some questions: Could the writer of The Journey of Jared Price, Pedro, Milk, and the narrator of 8: The Mormon Proposition really have wanted to explore Hoover's life and ignore his closeted pathology? Or did Eastwood degay it? Or is he engaging in publicity spin, downplaying that part of the film so it won't be perceived as a gay movie?
(Image by Terry Shoffner for the WSJ)