The title of Gayle Pemberton's essay "Do He Have Your Number, Mr. Jeffrey?" comes from an offscreen line in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. The speaker was a babysitter, but the character's infantile drawl -- the old stereotype of black people as dawdling, servile simpletons -- makes her sound as if she could use a babysitter herself. The 1991 essay is, among other things, about what it means to be a black fan of classic Hollywood movies. Pemberton isn't a breathless, gushing movie buff. Hers is a canny love, beneath which lies the needling reminder of a history that stereotyped and demeaned black characters more often than it treated them straight, and that mostly just plain ignored black performers.
Among film critics, there seems to be a longing for a filmmaker who can assume the mantle of American master. And for many of them, Clint Eastwood is just the man. Choosing Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima as the best movie of 2006, The New York Times' A.O. Scott wrote that with the death of Robert Altman, Eastwood became the greatest living American filmmaker. That's a depressing prospect: It's as if, with Altman's maverick crapshoot approach to filmmaking out of the way, American movies can return to the static genre familiarity that his films made look unutterably square.