400 Screens, 400 Blows is a weekly column that takes an in-depth look at the films playing below the radar, beneath the top ten, and on 400 screens or less.
I suppose everyone knows by now that Gran Torino (218 screens) was Clint Eastwood's final screen appearance as an actor, and that he plans to concentrate on directing from now on -- though the film's nearly $150 million gross and a spot at #77 on the IMDB All-Time Top 250 will probably result in many phone calls begging him to reconsider. But this raises an interesting question: was it Eastwood's appearance onscreen make the movie such a popular favorite? Does he still have all the right stuff, 40 years later, to rank as one of the all-time great movie stars? Or was it his skill as a director that paid off?
Any actor who also decides to direct must eventually face the choice of whether or not to direct his or her own performance. There's a long list of people who chose one side or the other with varied results. But though it's probably the more difficult choice, I think any actor would agree that it's easier to sell the film with his or her face onscreen. Even Spike Lee admitted to this when he acted in his first three films, up to and including his masterpiece Do the Right Thing. And certainly when someone like Woody Allen initially decided not to appear in his films, his fans did not take it well.