Robert Altman

April 7, 2011

I think he has more misses than hits. But his hits so far out class what everyone else was doing, he gets a pass. He was a one of a kind American filmmaker. No one can do what he did. P.T. Anderson tried in Magnolia and it was an utter failure. No one can use a pan and zoom like Altman. I generally don’t like zooms (they’re like cheap dolly shots), but he makes them beautiful. Altman also pioneered multiple dialogue recording. He often has many characters speaking at once, and much like at a party, you can filter out who you want to listen to. No one does this like Altman did.

M.A.S.H. – I had to watch this several times in order to view it without the TV show entering my head (Altman was not a fan of the show). Great anti-war movie. And I believe the first use of the work “f*ck” in an American film (thanks John Schuck). It differs quite a bit from the book it was based on.
McCabe & Mrs. Miller – The anti-western. This is great. Altman plays with Western stereotypes. Vilmos Zsigmond introduced Altman to “flashing” and gave this film a unique visual style. This should be the only film allowed to have Leonard Cohen songs (everything he did from the 80’s on sounds exactly the same, like Randy Newman).
The Long Goodbye – The anti-noir. Took me a couple viewings to appreciate it (like most Altman films), but give it a chance. Pay attention to the music by Johnny “Star Wars” Williams. All the music is a variation of the same song. When Marlowe is driving to the store in the middle of the night, the theme is playing on the radio and when he arrives in the store the music changes to a Muzak version of the same song. The theme appears in many guises. Also look for a young Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Nashville – Arguably his greatest film (I wouldn’t argue). Lotta people in this one. Look for a young Jeff Goldblum riding around on a chopper. Much like the P.A. system motif in M.A.S.H., there is a loudspeaker motif from a candidate from the Replacement Party, Hal Philip Walker. He’s talked about, and has influence, but is never seen. You need to watch Altman films several times to pick up on all the little things.

Then he stopped making great stuff for about 15 years. He did some stage based films for cable. I need to check out Secret Honor (I’ve had the Criterion for years, just haven’t cracked it open). And Tanner 88 is pretty good; it just looks terrible because it was shot on VHS. And who the Hell thought of Robert Altman when it was time to do Popeye?

The Player – This was a good comeback for him. A lot of folks had written him off. He himself didn’t seem to care for this one too much. It was something to do while preparing for Short Cuts.
Short CutsNashville light. There’s some really good moments in here, but some weak ones too. A few too many characters that felt redundant in their unlikability. Am I the only one who thinks Mathew Modine’s best role was in Demme’s Married to the Mob? And hey, I’m pro nudity and all but when half the female cast has to drop trou and the only male nudity the female audience gets is Huey Lewis going potty, it seems a tad misogynist Bob.
Gosford Park – Great script. Great cast. Great film. I wish this had been his last hurrah. It’s a shame he had to go out on A Prairie Home Companion. My only complaint is that Jeremy Northam plays one too many old timey songs on the piano. This one has a couple other crushes of mine – Emily Watson and Kelly Macdonald (hubba hubba).

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