12 Surprising Facts About Unforgiven

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Unforgiven, released on August 7, 1992, was Clint Eastwood's 16th movie as a director and his 34th as a lead actor. But it was the first one to earn him an Oscar nomination—three of them, actually: for Best Actor, Best Picture, and Best Director. He won the latter two, and was at the time the oldest person to ever take home the director trophy. Despite decades of popular success, both as an actor and a filmmaker, it wasn't until Unforgiven that Eastwood began to be recognized by the esteemed members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Of course, one could argue that it wasn't until Unforgiven that Eastwood deserved Oscar attention. We'll leave that for you to discuss. In the meantime, here are a dozen tidbits to enhance your appreciation for what remains one of Eastwood's greatest movies on the 25th anniversary of its release. Never mind whether you deserve them; deserve's got nothing to do with it. 

1. FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA ALMOST MADE IT.

The director of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now optioned the screenplay in the early 1980s, but couldn't get the movie financed. When his option on the script expired in 1985, Clint Eastwood picked it up ... and kept it for another several years before he finally made the movie. 

2. THE SCREENPLAY HAD BEEN KICKING AROUND SINCE 1976.

David Webb Peoples was a film editor in the '70s, writing scripts on the side. His first big break in that field came when he was hired to co-write Blade Runner for Ridley Scott, and he subsequently worked on Ladyhawke and Leviathan. (His post-Unforgiven work includes Hero, Twelve Monkeys, and Soldier.) Originally, Peoples' Unforgiven screenplay was alternately known as The William Munny Killings and The Cut-Whore Killings, which might go a long way toward explaining why nobody wanted to make it. 

3. TAXI DRIVER CONVINCED THE SCREENWRITER TO GO MEGA-VIOLENT. 

The jury's out on how much movie violence inspires real-life violence, but there's no question it inspires more movie violence. Case in point: David Webb Peoples, turned off by the way film deaths tended to be unrealistic and devoid of consequences, had intended to write something murder-free. Then Taxi Driver changed his mind. He later explained: "All of a sudden I see Taxi Driver, and people are getting killed, and the characters maintained how they would be in real life. But at the same time, it's an entertaining movie, and that was always important to me ... I wanted to write entertainment. Taxi Driver opened up what entertainment could be. It said, 'Yeah, you can write this kind of stuff and it'll be entertaining.'" 

4. EASTWOOD WAS INITIALLY STEERED AWAY FROM THE MOVIE.

Sonia Chernus, a longtime associate of Eastwood's (and screenwriter of The Outlaw Josey Wales), read The Cut-Whore Killings in the 1980s and was appalled by it. She wrote Eastwood this memo: "We would have been far better off not to have accepted trash like this piece of inferior work ... I can't think of one good thing to say about it. Except maybe, get rid of it FAST." (It may be worth noting that Chernus was in her seventies at the time, and the script was full of profanity and violence.) Eastwood took her advice and didn't read the script. Then, while looking for someone to rewrite a different project, he read The Cut-Whore Killings as a sample of Peoples' work, not realizing it was the screenplay Chernus had warned him away from. 

5. EASTWOOD PUT OFF MAKING THE MOVIE BECAUSE HE WANTED TO BE OLDER.

True, he had other irons in the fire in the second half of the 1980s—plenty of other movies to work on—but he has said that part of the reason he kept pushing Unforgiven back was that he wanted to wait until he was old enough to play the lead himself. 

6. IT WAS FILMED IN CANADA BECAUSE EASTWOOD GOT A "FAMILY" DISCOUNT. 


Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Eastwood is famously loyal to his crew, with a few dozen technicians, designers, and other cogs in the moviemaking machine having worked with him for decades. His longtime cinematographer, Jack Green, was shooting a non-Eastwood project in Canada once when an official for a filmmaking union asked whether Clint was ever going to make a movie in the Great White North. Green told him never, "because he can't bring his 'family.'" (Normally, if you're going to shoot a film in a foreign country, you hire a local crew for all but the most crucial positions.) The Canadian union offered a deal: They'd waive the normal work rules for any Eastwood crew member who could prove he or she had worked on at least five Eastwood movies. That turned out to be most of them—around 50 people. "And that," said Green, "is how Unforgiven came to be shot in Canada." 

7. THEY BUILT A PRETTY CONVINCING WESTERN TOWN.

Eastwood's production designer, Henry Bumstead, and his team built the main set for the 1880s town of Big Whiskey, Wyoming on a lonesome prairie in Alberta from which no signs of modern civilization could be seen in any direction. The nearest big city was Calgary, 60 miles away. For authenticity—and since so much of the movie was to be shot on this set—all of the buildings were fully functional (and expensive), not just facades.

8. NO CARS WERE ALLOWED ON THE SET.

Eastwood wanted the painstakingly built set to maintain its Old West feel, so no modern vehicles were permitted. 

9. GENE HACKMAN WAS INITIALLY TURNED OFF BY THE FILM'S VIOLENCE.

"I swore I would never be involved in a picture with this much violence in it," he said in a DVD interview. "But the more I read it and the more I came to understand the purpose of the film, the more fascinated I became." 

10. HACKMAN'S PERFORMANCE WAS BASED IN PART ON FORMER L.A. POLICE CHIEF DARYL GATES.


Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Gates, a 40-year veteran of the LAPD, had been criticized for what many considered to be a heavy-handed, militarized, and racist approach to policing. It came to a head with the Rodney King beating in March of 1991, followed by the acquittal of the officers and the ensuing riots a year later. Hackman saw parallels between Gates and Sheriff Daggett, especially since the character most abused by Daggett was to be played by a black actor (Morgan Freeman).

Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel, who was on the Unforgiven set, wrote that Hackman referred to the scene where Daggett oversees Ned Logan's torture as "my Rodney King scene." (Gates resigned from the LAPD about six weeks before Unforgiven hit theaters and passed away in 2010.) 

11. THE FINAL PRODUCT SHOWS ALMOST NO CHANGES FROM THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT.

That's a rarity in Hollywood, where even the best screenplays are tinkered with as they're converted from words on a page into images on a screen. Eastwood had some ideas for revising Peoples' script, too, only to discover that "the more I fiddled with it, the more I realized I was screwing it up." All he ended up changing was the title. According to Peoples, Frances Fisher—who plays Strawberry Alice—told him "that this was the first time she saw a shooting script that was entirely in white. Most of them are multicolored, full of blue and red pages or whatever representing various changes in the screenplay." 

12. EASTWOOD HELPED WRITE THE MUSIC.

Though the movie's beautiful score is attributed to frequent Eastwood collaborator Lennie Niehaus, who indeed did most of the heavy lifting, the main melody came from Eastwood. The director has subsequently written the scores for several more of his movies entirely by himself. 

Additional Sources:
DVD/Blu-ray commentary and special features

13 Great Rockumentaries Every Music (and Movie) Fan Should See

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

More people are watching documentaries these days, which likely means that more people are rocking their faces off with nonfiction. Far from Ken Burns’s soothing tones, these music-filled films demand amplification and an unseemly amount of perspiration.

Rock documentaries are tricky beasts. Though they often have the built-in advantage of following around famous people, they aren’t immune to boredom and eye-rolling faux depth. Keeping it simple by showcasing the music can be good, but it’s no way to be great. The best of the best manage to deliver a stellar soundscape, offer a backstage pass to the real humans who make it, and hold our ears even if we aren’t already devoted fans. If a little history gets made in the process, even better.

Grab a seat next to Penny Lane on the bus. Here are 13 of the best documentaries that every music—and film—fan should add to their Must Watch list.

1. WHAT’S HAPPENING! THE BEATLES IN THE U.S.A. (1964)

A singular piece of filmmaking where nonfiction talent met transcendent musical genius on the threshold of gargantuan stardom, this is the best Beatles documentary ever produced. Directed by legendary documentarians Albert and David Maysles, the film captures the band’s first frivolous jaunt through America, where they raised the screaming decibel level in The Ed Sullivan Show theater and goofed off in hotel rooms. It’s an explosion of youth before they changed music forever.

2. DON’T LOOK BACK (1967)

Another marriage of style, skill, and subject, Don't Look Back helped shape how the rockumentary genre could provide insights into the people who shape our popular culture. That so many iconic moments emerged from D.A. Pennebaker’s watershed work, which strolled with Bob Dylan through England in 1965, is a testament to the legendary musician's infinite magnetism. The cue cards, singing with Joan Baez in a hotel room on the edge of breaking up, the Mississippi voter registration rally, and on and on. Since it portrayed fame’s effect on the artist, the art, and the audience, most every other rock doc has been chasing its brilliance.

3. GIMME SHELTER (1970)

The rockumentary has evolved to be as diverse as the sonic landscape itself, which is why Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping can send up the current scene just like This Is Spinal Tap! did in the 1980s. Still, 1970 feels like the year that defined the rockumentary. Another Maysles joint, this profound doc captured The Rolling Stones touring at a time when they were one of the biggest bands in the world and only getting bigger. The music is powerful and immediate, and the film closes with their appearance at the Altamont Free Concert, which turned deadly when—after a day of skirmishes between concertgoers and the Hell’s Angels acting as security—a fan with a gun was stabbed to death when he tried to get on stage during “Under My Thumb.”

4. WOODSTOCK (1970)

The other 1970 film that helped define the genre allowed thousands to claim they’d been to the biggest concert event of the generation without actually going. If rock ‘n’ roll emerged from unruly teenage years into conflicted young adulthood in the 1960s, nothing stamped that image in henna ink better than Woodstock and the documentary that accompanied it. The bands that appear are legendary: Crosby, Stills & Nash; The Who; Joe Cocker singing The Beatles; Janis Joplin; Jimi Hendrix; and many more. It’s a fly-by of the three days of peace and music that you could play on repeat with summery ease.

5. ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (1973)

Rock doc royalty D.A. Pennebaker captured David Bowie’s final performance in his red-domed sci-fi persona at London's Hammersmith Odeon with a flair that captures the frenetic energy of the room. The crowd is as much a part of the moment as the band is, as the camera places you in the middle of a transitional moment in music history. To see Bowie that close up now is a wonder. And, naturally, the music is out of this world.

6. THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION (1981)

Instead of following the famous, Penelope Spheeris’s debut dug its nails deep into the Los Angeles punk scene at the turn of the decade. Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, and other bands your parents have never heard of perform mosh pit-sparking anthems and show off their living conditions like a grungy proto-version of MTV Cribs. There’s a purity here missing from most music docs—a chronicle of people whose passion far, far outweighs their paychecks, and a screening that led the LAPD to request that the movie never be shown in LA again.

7. SIGN "☮" THE TIMES (1987)

Having Prince at the center of your concert doc is a shortcut to ensuring it’s one of the best of all time. There’s the music, of course. Hits like “Little Red Corvette” and “U Got the Look,” and Sheila E. beating the hell out of her drum kit. There’s also The Purple One's inexhaustible energy and stage presence. As a bonus, the film jumps between concert footage and (instead of candid hotel conversations) a sci-fi narrative where we get to go to Prince Planet. It’s a rocky, disorienting experience that could have only been held so tightly together by a master showman.

8. MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE (1991)

It might be hard to explain to a younger audience just how dominant Madonna was as an artist coming out of the 1980s or the kind of landmark event this film represented because of her status. The travelogue of her Blonde Ambition Tour was like peeking into the insane world of the ultra-famous—not least because Madonna was dating Warren Beatty at the time and part of the film involves her hanging out with Al Pacino, Lionel Richie, and more. There are threats that the Canadian police will arrest her for simulating masturbation in her show, the Pope trying to get the tour canceled in Italy, and a slightly awkward return home to see family. All par for the course for someone whose personal life was carved up for public consumption.

9. RHYME & REASON (1997)

An unparalleled look into the lyricism and lifestyle of rap musicians from the genre’s rise through its global domination of the 1990s, the concert and party footage is fantastic, and the number of interviews is staggering. Peter Spirer spoke with more than 80 rap and hip-hop artists to craft a snapshot of what life was like for a group of musicians who discovered their voices could echo across the world as well as those who followed after to even greater success. Instead of going deep on one person behind the music, it’s a historical document of the culture itself as seen through the eyes of those at its very center.

10. THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (2005)

For those who don’t know Daniel Johnston’s music, this doc is a crash course not only in its stripped-down, anti-folk vibes but the head it all comes spilling out of. Instead of romanticizing or ignoring his bipolar disorder, Jeff Feuerzeig’s movie engages with it directly, drawing beautiful gems from a troubled mind. An absolute masterpiece, it’s less a vision of a musician giving glimpses into his real life than it is a vision of a human being who makes music.

11. AWESOME; I F*CKIN’ SHOT THAT! (2006)

Rockumentaries follow two major formats: the raw concert doc that’s like a ticket to a show you couldn’t attend, and the profile where artists drop quotables in between performances. They’re safe and familiar, which is probably why the Beastie Boys gave both styles the middle finger in favor of a grand experiment. A year before YouTube launched, the rap trio gave 50 fans in their Madison Square Garden audience camcorders to capture the concert. The result is a genuine, fans’-eye-view of the experience, and a chaotic mashup of perspectives.

12. THE PUNK SINGER (2013)

It’s astonishing how much time and ground Sini Anderson’s portrait of Bikini Kill leader Kathleen Hanna covers. It’s so much that labeling her Bikini Kill’s leader is woefully reductive. Artist, pioneer, feminist, activist, and a dozen other titles swirl around Hanna’s sweat-covered brow as we get to know her both as an artist and as a person. It’s also a punk fever dream of riot grrrl greatness, featuring incendiary archival footage and excellent talks with members of Le Tigre, Bikini Kill, and Julie Ruin, as well as Carrie Brownstein and the Beastie Boys’s Adam Horovitz (who is also Hanna’s husband).

13. JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE (2015)

A fairly recent addition to the pantheon, Amy J. Berg’s doc is a stirring tour of archival footage of the gravel-throated songstress. Narrated by musician Cat Power, instead of losing perspective to the fog of history, a blend of modern conversations and ghosts from the past offer fresh eyes and ears to create a heartsick celebration of one of music history's most beloved artists, whose career was cut woefully short.

20 Memorable Elvis Presley Quotes

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

More than 40 years after his death, Elvis Presley remains a rock ‘n' roll icon and has yet to be ousted from his position as “The King.” Yet the Tupelo, Mississippi-born, Memphis, Tennessee-raised superstar never took his fame for granted, nor did he forget his roots. Here are 20 memorable quotes about Elvis’s life and legacy.

ON AMBITION

“Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.”

ON MAINTAINING YOUR VALUES

“It's not how much you have that makes people look up to you, it's who you are.”

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same, but you leave 'em all over everything you do.”

ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

“I happened to come along in the music business when there was no trend.”

“I've never written a song in my life. It's all a big hoax.”

“I don't know anything about music. In my line you don't have to.”

ON THE ARMY

“After a hard day of basic training, you could eat a rattlesnake.”

“The army teaches boys to think like men.”

ON TRUTH

“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't goin' away.”

ON THOSE LEGENDARY DANCE MOVES

“Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can't help but move to it. That's what happens to me. I can't help it.”

“Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do 'em all together, I guess.”

ON KEEPING POSITIVE

“When things go wrong, don't go with them.”

ON STARDOM

“If you let your head get too big, it'll break your neck.”

“I have no use for bodyguards, but I have very specific use for two highly trained certified public accountants.”

“The image is one thing and the human being is another. It's very hard to live up to an image, put it that way.”

“The Lord can give, and the Lord can take away. I might be herding sheep next year.”

ON LOVE

“Sad thing is, you can still love someone and be wrong for them.”

ON THE PITFALLS OF HOLLYWOOD

“I sure lost my musical direction in Hollywood. My songs were the same conveyer belt mass production, just like most of my movies were.”

ON GETTING OLDER

“Every time I think that I'm getting old, and gradually going to the grave, something else happens.”

ON LEAVING A LEGACY

“Do something worth remembering.”

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