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Another top role for Clint: honoree

Hollywood's brightest turn out to praise -- and tease -- Eastwood, who receives a Spirit award.

June 30, 2007|Rene Lynch | Times Staff Writer

The setting was the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum, the scene was the Los Angeles Film Festival awards, intended to honor independent filmmaking as well as Clint Eastwood, an icon who manages to represent both A-list talent as well as movie-making underdogs.

But Dustin Hoffman had other ideas when he took the podium Thursday night and began berating one of Hollywood's biggest directors: "You never used me."

It was one of several light moments that contrasted with the often-poignant presentation of the Spirit of Independence filmmaking award to Eastwood, who was also honored by Kevin Bacon (who starred in Eastwood's "Mystic River") and Ryan Phillippe ("Flags of Our Fathers"), Terrence Howard and singer Tony Bennett, who is the subject of a documentary being produced by Eastwood. In addition to film clips recapping Eastwood's career, there was also footage of Tim Robbins ("Mystic River") and others paying tribute to Eastwood, as well as a riotous clip from Denis Leary, also berating the Oscar-winning director, this time for hogging yet another award.

Mostly though, the celebrities talked about Eastwood's legendarily relaxed sets, his reluctance to spend too much time rehearsing, his willingness to let actors find their own way and his unwillingness to dumb things down for audiences.

Bacon told of shooting a scene at the end of the heart-wrenching "Mystic River," when he was asked to use his hand like a gun and pull the "trigger." Bacon asked for direction: "How am I supposed to play this?" "Play what you want," Eastwood responded. "What's the audience thinking?" Bacon asked, trying yet again for some direction. "That's for the audience to decide," Eastwood responded.

"That's my idea of courage," Bacon said.

Eastwood was watching from the honorary chair in the theater set aside for Wilder. When he took the stage, looking relaxed in a blue suit, shirt and tie, he joked that he was a little worried about hearing himself referred to as "the last of a kind" and the solemnness of the evening, and called it "overwhelming to sit through."

"It makes you feel insecure," he added. "When you get a little cough.... "

Eastwood downplayed the accolades ("Everything you've heard tonight is a lie") but told the audience that he used to lament not having worked during Hollywood's Golden Age. No longer, he said. If he had come of age as a filmmaker during that time, when the studio system was all powerful, he would not have been able to make his own movies. "I've been very lucky," he said.

Other honors were also given out Thursday. The Target filmmaker award for best narrative feature went to Chris Eska's "August Evening," a drama about an undocumented worker and his estranged children. The winner of the Target documentary award went to Jennifer Venditti's "Billy the Kid," a sensitively handled tale of a teen from Maine who has emotional problems and is struggling to fit in, and the likelihood that that might not happen.

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