November 28, 2006

More on Altman.

Filmmaker: Robert Altman With this entry about to fall off the front page and tributes and related news items still coming in, it's time to open up another one for Robert Altman, and Michael Atkinson's career assessment for IFC News is a fine way to start: "His lapses in judgment seem to flow from the same source as his wisdom. Compare the surgeon's grace inherent in Gosford Park to the soused baboonery of Prêt-à-Porter (1994), and you glimpse a restless and conflicted intelligence plunging into the combat of cultural intercourse without the benefit of superego."

Also: The IFC News team looks back on their favorites.

Letters to the WSWS.

Updated, 12/4.

Then, of course, there's Lindsay Lohan's "adequite" eulogy.

Christopher Campbell reports on last night's screening of A Prairie Home Companion at the Film Society of Lincoln Center for the Reeler.

The cinetrix's take on that one: "[T]hanks, Mister Altman. I thought the bits with Virginia Madsen were mostly awful, but you got me with Chuck's passing. And I needed it right then, Garrison Keillor be damned."

Update: The Voice brings back Andrew Sarris and Molly Haskell's dialogue on Nashville. Haskell, the Southerner, is the more enthusiastic of the two.

Updates, 11/29: "Although Robert Altman is being justly celebrated for the great movies he left behind in his large artistic wake, it‘s worth remembering that the maestro had established himself as a major force in television long before the breakthrough success of M*A*S*H." But trying finding that work on DVD, writes Gary Dretzka for Movie City News.

Altman on "What I've Learned," as told to Esquire's Scott Raab in 2004. Via Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog.

Time Out's Geoff Andrew reflects on "on four decades of 'knowing' Altman one way or another." Interviews, set visits, casual meetings over the years.

A remembrance for Newcity and a Cookie's Fortune-era interview from Ray Pride.

Updates, 11/30: Jim Ridley in the Nashville Scene:

Watching Nashville now... it's hard to see why the movie bitterly polarized people here 31 years ago - a reaction that had as much to do with Altman's not hiring the city's hit mill to provide the soundtrack as with any perceived slight. The director allows his alleged "rubes" to surprise us again and again with new facets of feeling and depth, as when Barbara Baxley's hitherto comic character delivers a tearful, sincere reminiscence of the fallen Kennedys. Henry Gibson's Haven Hamilton may be a pompous elder statesman of country, but he's also quick to shout down a heckler's racist taunts (in a plausibly complex way) and to stand up bravely when an assassin's bullets riddle the Parthenon at the climax.

Altman may have loved to come on like the maverick outsider who knew more about the inside than the insiders - a tone that gives his 1992 Hollywood expose The Player its edge of breezily nasty score-settling. But his best movies convey the bitter indignity of being on the fringe, and none does so more painfully than Nashville.

Steve Vineburg in the Boston Phoenix:

He was my hero, from the time I saw McCabe & Mrs Miller, his rapturous vision of the final days of the Old West, with its mix of poetry and vaudeville, in 1971. Not the first time I saw it, when it eluded me, but the second time, when I returned to catch it again at the urging of a friend and fell into its cockeyed lyricism, its unorthodox way of building character and narrative, and especially its melancholy, wintry mood. And I never fell out again: after three and a half decades and countless viewings (I teach it every year to my film students at Holy Cross), I still find that opening pan of the drenched-green Pacific Northwest landscape, as Warren Beatty's McCabe rides into the scrappy, burgeoning town of Presbyterian Church to the lonely strains of Leonard Cohen's vagabond music, as stoning as Mrs Miller's opium. And since Altman was devoted to keeping his filmmaking fresh - not only by continually shifting genres but also by burrowing underneath their conventions, by experimenting with new approaches to unfolding a story and bringing us into the world of the characters, and by marrying and clustering disparate tones - I've had that second-time-revelation experience far more often with him than with any other director.

Update, 12/1: "[A]long with Peckinpah and Jean Renoir and a very, very few others, his special ability, when he was working at the top of his game, was to make movies that seemed to be pulsing, living things, movies that were alive and going on right in front of you," writes Phil Nugent. "In the end, I'll stand by what I wrote in that piece I did for the Hat: his movies just feel more alive than most. To the end of his life, he kept trying to capture, in an image, whether it was of a crowd singing along at a vast outdoor concert or a bitter little man ranting alone late at night in his study, everything he felt and thought about life. Not comment on it or categorize it or reduce it or label it: but, capture it."

Updates, 12/3: In Stop Smiling: Michael Joshua Rowin on A Wedding, Nick Davis on 3 Women, Nathan Kosub on McCabe & Mrs Miller and James Hughes tells a story from 1976.

Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat: "Altman represented the indie spirit, before 'indie' was even a word."

"How can two critics see (or remember) the same movie, and have such contradictory interpretations of how it works and what it means?" Fascinating entry from Jim Emerson contrasting two reviews of Bobby that measure it against Nashville.

Update, 12/4: Altman "began his career in television," Alessandra Stanley reminds us in the New York Times, "perhaps most memorably bringing his cinematic style and dark vision of war to the first season of Combat!... On Monday AmericanLife TV, a cable network that caters to baby boomers, will begin showing five of Mr Altman's Combat! episodes as a tribute."

Bookmark and Share

Posted by dwhudson at November 28, 2006 8:43 AM


Hi, let me try again: was hoping you can include Phil Nugent's tribute in your list. Thanks.

Posted by: Noel Vera at November 30, 2006 10:45 PM

Many thanks - sorry for not catching that the first time around.

Posted by: David Hudson at December 1, 2006 1:34 AM

It is sadly ironic that in France The Prairie Home Companion is called (in English) The Last Show.

Posted by: ronald bergan at December 2, 2006 8:03 AM