Robert Altman, 1925-2006

Yesterday one of the great masters of cinema passed away at 81: Robert Altman, a filmmaker who throughout his career distinguished himself as an independent. Altman's films are trademarked by the scope of the ensemble cast; not since RULES OF THE GAME has the ensemble been so richly explored and thoroughly interconnected. It makes sense then that to my knowledge there is no other director who has a more loving reputation with his actors. About his Academy Award nominated "comeback" GOSFORD PARK, Altman joked that he was on set merely to turn the lights on and off for his actors.

I'll never forget rediscovering NASHVILLE at film school, with its unforgettable scene "I'm Easy," sung to Lily Tomlin by its songwriter Keith Carradine. I immediately went home to learn it on guitar. 2001's GOSFORD PARK was a wake up call, asking me why I hadn't yet gone back to experience M*A*S*H, THE PLAYER, or SHORT CUTS (cited by many as Paul Thomas Anderson's model for MAGNOLIA. This year, Altman's A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION simply takes on an entirely new life after Altman's passing; an artistic troupe's final send off, led my a master of ceremonies, with the angel of death patiently looming backstage. It would be silly for me to take more time reflecting on Altman's career; I've now hardly made it through a third of his broad catalog. Instead, I'll direct you to GreenCine's long list of Altman tributes, and below, Altman's timely acceptance of the Academy's honorary Oscar this past February.

1 comment:

jason.jackowski said...


It's funny that you should mention our introductory viewing of NASHVILLE in your post. A couple weeks back, MZS's blog had a post about 180s -- meaning, films that you've 180'd on on subsequent viewings. NASHVILLE will always and forever be at the top of my 180 List.

Upon first viewing I found the film to be boring, the characters self-involved, and-worse yet-the film doesn't bring all of the characters together at the end. Its classic car-crash, pile-up was my choice analogy for the film. Oh, what a naive NYU-Cinema Studies student I was back then!!

My strong disliking for the film lead to my first final paper on the film, where I found myself defending parts of the film and against my better judgement praising its stunning use of Bazinian "realism." I would then claim respect for the film, while not admiting to liking or enjoying it.

Third time's the charm. Upon my third mandatory viewing of the film, I came around 180 degrees from where I started. I can say the film is not just a resounding success, but that Altman's NASHVILLE may even be the definitive American, post-war portrait.

His loss is enormous. But, let us not mourn the death of Robert Altman, let us celebrate him. After all, he told us only months ago, "It's not a tragedy when an old man dies."