BE CAREFUL what you knock. Yesterday's junk could turn into today's art. And no career illustrates this better than Clint Eastwood's.

Who could foresee that 26 years after "A Fistful of Dollars," Eastwood would travel to the tiny Colorado town of Telluride to receive a tribute at the festival's 17th edition?So here's Eastwood, in an Izod shirt and tan slacks, strolling onto the deck of the Manitou Lodge and talking about the difficulty of resisting the raspberry tarts the hotel's proprietor had prepared as a midmorning repast. Before we sat down, Eastwood, known to millions as a master of machismo, revisited his room to put on some sun block.

Eastwood not only thinks on his feet; on screen, he has opposed all manner of ogres. In his newest film, "White Hunter," Eastwood confronts two different kinds of foes: his character's inner demons and an angry elephant.

You can tell a lot about a movie star by the way people behave around him. Eastwood's staff is friendly and approachable; they don't seem overly anxious to protect him from the world. For his part, Eastwood seems to have few pretensions, talking easily about almost any subject.

But while festivals may have taken to honoring Eastwood, he doesn't sit around contemplating his triumphs.

"I'm not a great nostalgia buff. `Play Misty For Me' (the first film Eastwood directed) was a little film. It was made in five weeks for $730,000. It was a pretty good bargain. I've liked the branch-out films - `Bronco Billy' and `Honkytonk Man.' But I also love a good action film where the audience participates with you."

That's certainly Eastwood's forte. The "branch-out" films, as he calls them, remain asides in a career built on deadly force and the slow, agonizing push toward commitment by characters who'd rather be left alone.

"I suppose there's none of me in any of the characters I've played and some of me in all of them. When I first got the part in `Rawhide' (the TV series that launched Eastwood's career), people asked me if I wasn't afraid of type-casting. I was just happy to be working. I said, `I'll worry about untyping later.' I guess that's what I'm doing 35 years down the line. I'm getting untyped."

Eastwood doesn't seem to enjoy talking about his personal life, but he'll do it.

On having been mayor of Carmel, Calif.: "I was mayor for one (two-year) term. I enjoyed it, but it's not the kind of thing you'd want to mire in year after year. It takes a certain mentality. I don't think I have it."

On his palimony suit with former live-in lover, actress Sondra Locke: "Matrimony is recognized by the state, by the government and by every church in the world. If palimony makes the same relationship, does that mean there's no matrimony? Nobody seems to know the answer to that. I guess we'll find out."

On the current flap over movie ratings: "The rating board has been a disappointment to me. When Jack Valenti (head of the Motion Picture Association of America) asked me to support it, I said, `By all means.' But I've had him threaten me with Xs. I've had to cut films. The thing that's disappointing, of course, is many of today's movies contain violence 80 times anything I've ever perpetrated on screen. I think they'd better get it together and be consistent."

Amazingly to those of us who spend our days basking in the timeless glow of movies, Eastwood is 60. It probably shouldn't bother us, because it doesn't seem to bother him.

"Aging is fine - if you enjoy it, if you keep yourself in fairly decent shape, and if you allow maturity to expand your horizons, to make you more tolerant. I don't think I feel any worse now than I did at 30. In fact, I probably didn't feel as good then."

And, no, Eastwood has no plans to hang up his spurs, holster the magnum and ride quietly into the sunset. Later this year, he'll begin shooting a western.

"Someone once suggested that I retire, but what would I do? I love to play golf, but I don't want to have to play. I feel good. In fact, I feel great. Sixty is a good age."