Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Robert Altman, one of a kind

Prolific director Robert Altman (1925-2006) has died, making "A Praire Home Companion" (2006) his last feature film. Altman's body of work is marked by his willingness to experiment/gamble. He was one of the generation of directors, WWII vets that learned their craft in 1950s television, who moved on to the Big Screen. My five favorite Altman movies are as follows:

"MASH" (1970)
"McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (1971)
"Nashville" (1975)
"Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" (1982)
"The Player" (1992)


A.O. Scott for the New York Times:

"The films of Altman, who died Monday at 81, often end on a similar note, or rather on a dissonant, troubling chord, with a moment that is at once grand and deflating. His crowded, complicated climaxes tend to gather up loose ends and then fling them in the air. You get the big, rousing spectacle: the naked supermodels on parade in 'Ready to Wear'; the concert and the gunfire in 'Nashville.'

"But you also get doubt, equivocation, a sly, principled refusal of the neat and tidy rituals of closure. At the end of 'The Player,' we are glad to see the hero drive off into the California sunshine, even as we know that he has gotten away with murder. When murder or other mysteries are at issue - as in 'Gosford Park' or 'The Long Goodbye' - the solution to the crime is pretty much beside the point.

"In narrative art, nothing is more artificial than an ending - life, after all, does go on - and Altman's endings often serve two purposes.

"They bring the artifice to a dazzling pitch of virtuosity while exposing it as a glorious sham. They revel in plenitude, in throngs and spectacles, but there is a throb of emptiness, of incompletion, in the midst of the frenzy.

"Altman thrived on the shapelessness and confusion of experience, and he came closer than any other American filmmaker to replicating it without allowing his films to succumb to chaos..."

CBS News:

"Either you were in awe of his style or found it maddening - the intricately woven story lines, the dizzyingly large ensemble casts, the plots that sometimes seemed defiantly plotless. Regardless, Robert Altman was one of the most distinctive, influential voices in American cinema..."

Photo: Sara Krulwich/N.Y. Times


Anonymous said...

Those are definitely among his finest. But don't forget "California Split" - the best movie about the gambling life ever made!!

Or "Thieves Like Us."

Or "The Long Goodbye"

Or "3 Women"

Or "Vincent & Theo"

Or "Short Cuts"

Or "Gosford Park"

The guy was incredible.

F.T. Rea said...


Thanks for mentioning those titles. With his death, it will be interesting to see a new generation discover Altman's films.