Don’t Pave Main Street: Eastwood as Host and Narrator of Docu

Invaluable information about Carmel’s history as a literary and artistic community is conveyed in Don’t Pave Main Street: Carmel’s Heritage, a documentary about a fascinating, largely unknown subject that is treated in too conventional manner.

Carmel’s long-time resident and ex-mayor Clint Eastwood, who serves as docu’s host and narrator, should elevate its visibility and perhaps even facilitate limited theatrical release before landing on PBS and other venues.

Most people think of Carmel as a California town of outstanding natural beauty and unique charm, but they don’t realize its rich cultural heritage. One of the themes that consistently runs through the documentary is Carmel being forever at the crossroad between retaining its tradition and geographic landscape and the inevitable push toward urban development.

The filmmakers have wisely decided not to make a National Geographic travelogue about Carmel. Through research based on published books, private journals, photographs, archival footage, and interviews, scripter Cartwright constructs a most colorful collective biography of Carmel and its pioneering residents. Among the leading figures to be examined are renowned poets Robinson jeffers and George Sterling and novelists Jack London, Upton Sinclair, and Sinclair Lewis.

The sequences dealing with photographers Edward Weston and Arnold Genthe, and the one on Lincoln Steffens, one of the country’s most influential hournalists and radical social thinkers are particularly illuminating. For a while docu follows an historical approach, but what makes it interesting is its selection of figures and then following them to their death, defying a narrower, if more accurate chronology. Chief problem, however, is the impersonation of these figures’s voices by actors, which inevitably creates a distance between the viewers and the stories.

Ending somewhere in the l950s, what’s missing from docu is some overview of the last three decades, during which Carmel–and America–landscape has rapidly changed. A guest appearance by Doris Day somehow enlivens matters, but more primary info about Eastwood’s involvement in the community whose mayor he was would have resulted in a more personal and emotional work; all actor says is that he fell in love with the town while shooting his directing debut.