Thursday, November 23, 2006

ROBERT ALTMAN & WHAT HE LEFT US

ROBERT ALTMAN’s death this week comes right at the time that I was preparing to post a big thing on his “THREE WOMEN”, one of my all-time favorite films. In fact two of my Top 10 films ever are from Altman, with the other being “NASHVILLE” – and I’d make a case for “McCABE AND MRS. MILLER” being near the top as well. His 1970s work is absolutely peerless, and I say this as someone who still has yet to see some of his more acclaimed 70s films, like “M.A.S.H.”, “CALIFORNIA SPLIT” and “IMAGES”. The ones I have seen, though – including the creepy and hilarious “A WEDDING” – are as rich & complex and ground-breaking as film can be while still being a total blast of bizarro entertainment. What Altman was able to bring out of his casts – especially Shelly Duvall & Sissy Spacek in “Three Women”, or Warren Beatty in “McCabe” – were quirky & masterful performances that are so great they continue to be studied and written about to this day. He also was the first director that I know of to make a multi-dimensional, interlocking-story film with an ensemble cast like “Nashville”, a formula he repeated quite well in the early 90s with “THE PLAYER”. This formula is now copied many times over on TV shows like "The Wire" and "Six Feet Under", and by directors far & wide. I missed most of his films from the past 15 years because they were reviewed so poorly, but the aforementioned “The Player” and “GOSFORD PARK” had flashes of the early, 70s-style brilliance, and are definitely worth seeing on their own. I don’t typically write obituaries because they usually maudlin & full of fake “we will miss him so much”/”we have suffered such a loss” sentimentality, but Altman was truly one of the greats. I’ll write that thing on “THREE WOMEN” later, after I’ve watched the recent Criterion Collection DVD again.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Maybe check out Jean Renoir's "Rules of the Game" (1939) for someone who made a decent stab at making "a multi-dimensional, interlocking-story film with an ensemble cast."

McCabe and Mrs. Miller is great, all Leonard Cohen songs, great lighting, and Julie Christie!

Anonymous said...

And don't forget "Short Cuts", one of the great films of the 1990s. Have you ever seen "Popeye"? It's staggeringly weird and awful: worth watching for those factors. Still can't get my head around "Nashville", much to the disgust of various friends of mine, but I promise to give it another go... one day.

- Dave Lang

Armen Svadjian said...

I'm not so sure about Altman being "truly one of the greats", Jay. Intermittently great, sure, but he made stinkers throughout his whole career, not just later on. No doubt his desire to be a "film artist" in the European mold resulted in his interesting use of the zoom lens, long takes, etc., but I think it also kept him from mustering much affection for his characters (that would be too Hollywood). Any rate, I'm certainly with you on 3 Women, and what the hey, I'll also put in a good word for The Long Goodbye.

Armen Svadjian said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John R said...

The Long Goodbye is one of my favorite films ever -- totally brilliant and as much a recasting/reimagining of the American detective movie as McCabe was of the American western. Highly, highly recommended (Elliot Gould's best performance by far).

Anonymous said...

hey jay, thanks for the new blog... check out california split when u get the chance, you can usually catch it on encore/flix/ etc..mike kelly

Anonymous said...

Hey, my kids liked "Popeye" and so did I! It is odd and somewhat inaudible, but it has a pleasurable vibe after about 3-4 viewings. My older son watched it over and over when he was about four. And "Everything is Food" is a great song -- a classic cover song waiting to happen!

Anonymous said...

I'll second California Split, but I have a thing for desparate gambler movies anyway (see also The Gambler with Jimmy Caan). Ups also for MASH, Nashville, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye and Gosford Park (a double-feature with Rules of the Game would be a treat).

Saw Three Women the other day and it is perhaps my new favorite Altman flick. Look forward to your upcoming post.

Anonymous said...

I'll just have my double whiskey
and a raw egg.

-McCabe

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that California Split is now out of print on DVD. But there are still new copies on ebay for under $10. Great deal.

TyrannaFoe said...

'Three Women' was the first Altman film I saw and remains my all-time favourite. I personally found it especially amazing for displaying the art (in the emptied swimming pools) of Marti Klarwein who, famously, did the cover art for Miles Davis' seminal 'Bitches Brew' LP.