Like the aging Eastwood, the aging Kincaid can still get the girl, and the same dynamic of artistic and commercial power carries over to the description of his sexual prowess. After an encounter in which Robert "did nothing to dominate her yet dominated her completely," Francesca tells him, "Robert, you're so powerful it's frightening," (105-6) and then later, "you own me" (113). Ultimately, this masculine sexual power is conflated with Kincaid's mass-mediated/artistic point of view. In a four-page description of the lone piece of evidence of their affair, a Kincaid photograph of Francesca, much detail is devoted to how he had managed to frame her sexuality: "...her body was full and warm, filling out the jeans just about right....Her nipples were clearly outlined where they pressed against the cotton T-shirt," etc. (24-6). Her sexuality can only be retold as the object of his particular mass-mediated gaze.
So for a self-reflexive filmmaker, one who uses his work to examine the politics of both his own mediated model of manhood and the implications of his medium, The Bridges of Madison County was a natural. Not only does it allow space for a narcissistic examination of the main character's manly sensitivity, but it was phenomenally popular among women. Waller himself became a celebrity for a brief period of time, appearing on an Oprah Winfrey show next to the actual covered bridges in Madison County, Iowa. On the show, Oprah and a largely female audience listened to a denim-jacketed Waller, looking a lot like the description of Robert Kincaid in the novel (and a little like Clint Eastwood) play his folk ballads on acoustic guitar. The women also repeatedly asked him if he was married. To Eastwood, this must have looked like the ultimate vehicle for a cleaned-up, aging movie star looking to transform himself into something like Cary Grant--dashing, respectable, tough, smart, sexy.
In the movie itself, it is Eastwood's portrayal of Kincaid that is framed in the most interesting way. Throughout the movie, we watch Meryl Streep's Francesca watch him--through windows, through the slats in the covered bridges, as he drives, as he peels carrots, as he sleeps, as he stands in the rain, as he drives away.
Similarly, the dialogue mostly gives Eastwood's Kincaid the chance to perform for Francesca across her kitchen table, and as he begins to talk about his philosophies of life and "making pictures," it is difficult not to see Eastwood through his character. Whereas Dirty Harry never changes, Kincaid states that "most people are afraid of change, but if you look at it like it's something you can always count on, then it can be a comfort." Whereas Will Munny has always been lucky killing folks, Kincaid thinks his "old dreams were good dreams. They didn't work out, but I'm glad I had 'em."
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