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wanat kiwanis
June 03, 2014 : OUL Assistant Professor Talks “Dirty Harry” at Kiwanis
- Cheri Russo
Communications and Marketing Manager


Lancaster – Matt Wanat is an assistant professor of English at Ohio University Lancaster, but he studies Clint Eastwood on the side.  Wanat recently co-authored a chapter in a book called “New Essays on Clint Eastwood.”  He spoke about his research last week at a meeting of the Lancaster Kiwanis Club while showing portions of one of Eastwood’s most famous movies – “Dirty Harry.”
“When ‘Dirty Harry’ came out, it was somewhat controversial,” said Wanat. “Some saw it as a violent response to the 1960s counter-culture. What interested me about it is that the film aligns the Clint Eastwood character with the bad guy --the serial killer.  They are actually very similar.”
Wanat has studied how Eastwood changed the films produced by Don Siegel, a legendary director. Wanat believes Eastwood’s iconic nature and screen presence changed the plots of Siegel movies.
“Don Siegel made movies about what it’s like for people to be stuck in a system and figure out how that works,” said Wanat. “The theme transforms radically when Siegel starts working with Eastwood. The movies are no longer about all of the characters.  Because of his iconography, the movies become all about Clint Eastwood. Being a good commercial film maker, Don Siegel realized that he had gold. The movies become about how cool looking Clint Eastwood is.”
Wanat also spoke about how “Dirty Harry” changed the way cop movies were made.  A formula was developed after “Dirty Harry” that all similar films followed.  In “Dirty Harry,” the serial killer is a sniper. Wanat said what makes “Dirty Harry” unique is that by the end of the movie the predator becomes the prey.
“In the beginning of the movie, the serial killer has mastery over the city by shooting his victims from high places like rooftops,” said Wanat. “The Clint Eastwood character takes that away by shifting the mastery of high places. The guy who is most equipped to catch the serial killer is the one equipped to think the most like him.”

Wanat’s scholarship examines intersections of narrative, genre, and culture in the areas of twentieth-century American literature and cinema studies, and his scholarly interests range from western American literature and film to Appalachian studies to localism and sustainability. Recently, his pedagogical interests have included coordination of campus sustainability curriculum and events, including a campus vegetable garden worked by students, the produce from which helps to feed the hungry in Fairfield County, Ohio.