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NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND

  And, indeed, I will ask on my own account here, an idle question: which is better—cheap happiness or exalted sufferings? Well, which is better?---Fyodor Dostoevsky ---Notes from Underground There are certain people of whom it is difficult to say anything which will at once throw them into relief—in other words, describe them graphically in their typical characteristics. These are they who are generally known as “commonplace people,” and this class comprises, of course, the immense majority of mankind. Authors, as a rule, attempt to select and portray types rarely met with in their entirety, but these types are nevertheless more real than real life itself. For instance, when the whole essence of an ordinary person’s nature lies in his perpetual and unchangeable commonplaceness; and when in spite of all his endeavours to do something out of the common, this person ends, eventually, by remaining in his unbroken line of routine—. I think such an individual really does become a type of hi

FILM DIRECTORS--ROBERT ALTMAN

 


Filmography

From The Long Goodbye to Short Cuts, Altman’s innovative movies have influenced a generation of film-makers.

Robert Altman is 80 years old in February 2005. He is the director of 33 feature films since his first major Hollywood film in 1967. He is a notorious renegade from the standard operating procedures and finished products of the motion picture industry, and he has been critically acclaimed as one of the most pre-eminent directors in American cinema during the last quarter of the twentieth century.

In 2001, at age 76, Altman mounted his most recent big scale movie production. Gosford Park employs a huge cast, including practically the entire first echelon of contemporary British actors; location shooting at an elegant old English manor house; the lavish set designs and costumes of the heritage film; and an intricately crafted (Academy Award winning) screenplay. Gosford Park will stand as one of Altman’s best films. Moreover, it simultaneously represents the most salient features of his films and reasserts the parameters of the American art cinema.

Like Mozart accused of composing music with too many notes, Altman directs too many characters. The organisation of the film makes it clear that Altman “became quite lost when trying to sort and order this batch of footage. Gosford Park’s structure is evasive, at best, and it is devoid of rhythm.” (6) The schizophrenic gulf here is amazing and typical. Despite the overwhelming acclaim for this and other films and their director, practically every positive perception of Altman’s craft throughout his career has been countered elsewhere by a negative reaction.

These reviews summarise the 36 year critical reaction to Altman’s idiosyncratic, pessimistic, ironic, exuberant and experimental films. Significantly shaping this reaction is the films’ participation in the modernist discourse of the international art cinema. They substitute structure for story and form for representation; they depict debilitated individuals living in constrained circumstances of powerlessness and subservience. They display a cynical view of the commercially motivated idealism of contemporary culture. They reflexively indict the entertainment industry as complicit in the malaise of contemporary American culture. These patterns of discourse in Altman’s films have constantly offended the audience for post-classical Hollywood’s high concept form of entertainment. And they simultaneously define the emergent form and style of the “Americanized art cinema” . Altman’s art-cinema narration systematically displays an open and poetic mode of storytelling; a continuing perception of social identity as fragile, fractured, and fragmentary; and a critical self-consciousness about the nature of narrative communication itself.





Modernist Narration

Classical narrative cinema assumes the possibility of social discourse and asserts a unified social identity grounded in the secular humanism that optimistically posits “man” as the position of intelligibility, meaningful action, and ethicality. Modernist cinema presupposes on the other hand the world as splintered and centreless, meaning as imprecise and indeterminate, morality as divisive and illusory. It asserts that the human being is neither an autonomous individual nor a meaningful unity, but a process of divergent and contradictory forces, both internal and external. It suspects the power of communication in the face of human greed, alienation, estrangement, and self-destruction. Rather than encouraging viewer identification with a coherent character psychology, it delineates a variety of contradictory subject positions that critique privileged intelligibility.
A central strategy of modernist cinema is its effort to represent a true rather than an idealised reality. Its human figures are ordinary “people”, not literary “characters.”

Robert Altman calls the art cinema’s blend of subjective and objective realism “subliminal reality” . It recognises the unspoken and unspeakable dimensions in human interactions. It employs lyrical and metaphoric style to suggest connections in inexplicable human associations. It arises from anxiety and doubt about ultimate meanings and value. 

The films of Robert Altman everywhere reflect these modernist qualities. Their fractured and fragmentary narratives are not logically and causally inflected conflicts and resolutions but formal, lyrical designs that conceive social identity as multiple and unstable and frequently shaped by the debasement of contemporary values in popular entertainment. Altman’s films may be best understood in terms of three particular aspects of art-cinema narration: its interrogation of classical Hollywood storytelling and popular genres, its representation of debilitated and ineffectual social individuality, and its reflexive analysis of the entertainment industry as complicit in cultural alienation.


Story and Discourse

One of the most salient characteristics in Altman films is the narrative with a large cast of characters. From MASH to Gosford Park his films repeatedly set numerous stories in motion – with so many actors that it’s hard to count them: 40 in Nashville, 48 in A Wedding, another 40 in Short Cuts, over 60 in both Prêt-à-Porter and The Player, with many “playing themselves”. In these films he paints large canvases with motion that results more from the edited interconnections among scenes in different stories than from the logic of any overall story development. Altman has consistently expressed his hostility to narrative causality and closure, and his films dramatically display an antipathy to straightforward, clearly delineated, and causally logical narratives. 
 Throughout his career Altman has relegated motivation to the “subliminal reality” of conflicting, indeterminate, vague, inexpressible characterological desire. We look for explanation of human action, he says, “But there doesn’t have to be one” . These films ultimately asked to be read not as realistic fictions but as expressive portraits and murals of modern life.

A central characteristic of the art cinema is its liberation of the visual and spatial systems of film from the logical system of narrative. Altman’s large casts and diffuse stories actively assist in this process where he says that story itself asks to be read in 3 Women (1977) like a dream, in Kansas City like jazz, in The Company like a pas de deux, in Gosford Park like a tapestry.

I look at film as closer to a painting or a piece of music; it’s an impression…  an impression of character and total atmosphere… The attempt is to enlist an audience emotionally, not intellectually





Social Subjects

The multiple strands and fragments of fiction in Altman’s films generally depict contradictory, powerless, isolated and fragmented identity. When they construe social subjectivity as situated within a larger community – in MASH, in Health, in Secret Honor (1984), in The Player – the individual appears as a dependency of group need or is subsumed by the coercion of others. In particular these representations of the self appear as functions of socially constructed gender roles. 
Most of Altman’s films challenge the dominance of masculinity in American culture, whether in the unusual manipulation of iconic star personas like Paul Newman, Warren Beatty or Richard Gere or in the reconstruction of generic formulations to assert the inefficacy of male action. Nixon (Philip Baker Hall) is mastered by elite treachery in Secret Honor. Jack Lemmon lives as an emotional cripple because of his infidelity in Short Cuts. 

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Robert Altman 20 best films 
(Source GUARDIAN)


 That Cold Day in the Park (1969)

The ad campaign declared this “the ‘post-Graduate’ you’ve been waiting for!” Er, no. Mrs Robinson may have been bitter but she wasn’t homicidal. And even before Sandy Dennis is nailing the windows shut to prevent her pretty hippie houseguest (Michael Burns) from escaping, it’s clear that this eerie thriller, later dismissed by its director as “pretentious”, will be no walk in the park.







 M*A*S*H (1970)

This Palme d’Or-winning Korean war comedy, rejected by Stanley Kubrick and Sidney Lumet, introduced Altman’s signature style: slow zooms, overlapping dialogue, ensemble casts, stoned humour. It can be appreciated still for its innovation rather than its boys’ club bawdiness. A forgiving viewer may tolerate the humiliation of “Hot Lips” (Sally Kellerman), but only a heartless one would find it funny.




One of the reasons "MASH" is so funny is that it's so desperate. It is set in a surgical hospital just behind the front lines in Korea, and it is drenched in blood. The surgeons work rapidly and with a gory detachment, sawing off legs and tying up arteries, and making their work possible by pretending they don't care. And when they are at last out of the operating tent, they devote their lives to remaining sane.

The way they do that, in "MASH," is to be almost metaphysically cruel. There is something about war that inspires practical jokes and the heroes (Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, and cronies) are inspired and utterly heartless. They sneak a microphone under the bed of Major "Hot Lips" Hoolihan, and broadcast her lovemaking to the entire camp. They drug a general and photograph him in a brothel.






A Perfect Couple (1979)

Nutty rom-com about two computer-dating doofuses (Paul Dooley and Marta Heflin) with nothing in common. Dooley is in wisecracking Albert Brooks mode (“My father was Greek, which would ordinarily make me half-Greek, but my mother was Greek too …”) while the film was surely a direct influence on Punch-Drunk Love (which also filched a song from the Popeye soundtrack).







The Company (2003)

Mixing real dancers from the Joffrey ballet company with a handful of actors (Neve Campbell as a dance student, James Franco as the chef who falls for her, Malcolm McDowell as the company’s demanding director), this is a fluid blend of fiction and semi-documentary. The final performance, involving luminous puppets and Fellini-esque costumes, is an eye-popping highlight.




Why did it take me so long to see what was right there in front of my face -- that "The Company" is the closest that Robert Altman has come to making an autobiographical film? I've known him since 1970, have been on the sets of many of his films, had more than a drink with him in the old days and know that this movie reflects exactly the way he works -- how he assembles cast, story and location and plunges in up to his elbows, stirring the pot. With Altman, a screenplay is not only a game plan but a diversionary tactic, to distract the actors (and characters) while Altman sees what they've got.

"The Company" involves a year in the life of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, during which some careers are born, others die, romance glows uncertainly, a new project begins as a mess and improbably starts to work, and there is never enough money. The central characters are Ry (Neve Campbell), a promising young dancer; Harriet (Barbara E. Robertson), a veteran who has paid her dues and keeps on paying; Josh (James Franco), a young chef who becomes Ry's lover, and Alberto Antonelli (Malcolm McDowell), the company's artistic director.






Brewster McCloud (1970)

A grab-bag of skits and gags hung loosely on the tale of a modern-day Icarus (played by Bud Cort, who appeared in Harold & Maude the following year), who is constructing his own winged apparatus. Altman regular René Auberjonois turns into a bird, Margaret Hamilton from The Wizard of Oz pops up briefly, and the director’s most magical collaborator, Shelley Duvall, makes her eye-catching debut.



“The death of an old man is not a tragedy,” declares Virginia Madsen in Altman’s swansong. Paul Thomas Anderson was the on-set “pinch hitter”, ready to take over if his ailing idol flagged. It’s remarkable, then, that the result is so effervescent, with songs, silliness and sage reflections from the cast (Meryl Streep, Lindsay Lohan, Woody Harrelson) at Garrison Keillor’s folksy radio show.




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The Player (1992)

Snazzy and shallow right from its opening, unbroken seven-minute take, Altman’s comeback after a decade on the margins was no Hollywood satire – he called it “a very, very soft indictment” – but it’s still a blast. Tim Robbins is the studio executive stalked by a spurned screenwriter, though the plot matters less than the in-jokes, jibes and cameos (Cher, Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis, et al).




Robert Altman's "The Player," which tells Griffin's story with a cold sardonic glee, is a movie about today's Hollywood -- hilarious and heartless in about equal measure, and often at the same time. It is about an industry that is run like an exclusive rich boy's school, where all the kids are spoiled and most of them have ended up here because nobody else could stand them. Griffin is capable of humiliating a waiter who brings him the wrong mineral water. He is capable of murder. He is not capable of making a movie, but if a movie is going to be made, it has to get past him first.






Kansas City (1996)

Altman was a jazz buff whose improvisatory process had frequently been likened to the genre, so this intoxicating 1930s-set tribute to the music of his birthplace represented a homecoming in more ways than one. Jennifer Jason Leigh is the fast-talking Jean Harlow nut who kidnaps a prim society wife (Miranda Richardson) in a bid to save her own husband from a vicious gangster (Harry Belafonte).





Secret Honour (1984)

From chaotic ensemble casts to one actor alone in a room. Altman had already directed Donald Freed and Arthur M Stone’s play on stage; the film version feels taut and tart, with craggy, tortured Philip Baker Hall as Richard Nixon brooding on defeats and betrayals. Director and ex-president are worlds apart politically but Nixon’s cry of “Fuck ’em” sounds positively Altmanesque.






Vincent & Theo (1990)

The relationship between Van Gogh and his brother supplies the canvas for a rumination on life, art and commerce, featuring passionate performances from Tim Roth and Paul Rhys. Made as a four-hour television miniseries but released in a 138-minute version in cinemas, it provided another opportunity for Altman to ponder his own artistic travails, including his (soon-to-end) Hollywood exile.






California Split (1974)

Peter Bradshaw on the late Robert Altman
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“I feel like a winner but I know I look like a loser.” So claims Elliot Gould in this near-plotless comedy about two gamblers (George Segal is the less shambolic one) chasing a lucky streak. Not all of it plays happily today: the mood sours when the pals pose as cops to spook an ageing transvestite. Mostly, though, it’s pleasingly loose and bittersweet. Not to mention pioneering: the eight-track recording system first allowed Altman to mix between sound channels like a DJ.






Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)

“I left the major studios,” Altman said in 1981. “I didn’t leave movies.” For most of that decade, he confined himself to low-budget independent features based on plays, some of which he shot immediately after directing them on stage. The best was this drama about a 20th-anniversary reunion of a James Dean fan club. Altman and a formidable cast (including Cher, Sandy Dennis and Karen Black) transform the rudimentary text into an elegiac, fragmented reflection on the dormant past.







Short Cuts (1993)

Boosted by The Player, which earned him the best director prize at Cannes and an Oscar nomination, Altman returned to the multi-character format that had worked so thrillingly in Nashville (and so poorly in A Wedding, from 1978). With a dream cast – including Robert Downey Jr, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Frances McDormand and Julianne Moore – he knitted the short stories of Raymond Carver into a sprawling, creepy-funny LA horror-show. The climactic earthquake has a “Will this do?” quality but Short Cuts is still A-grade Altman.




Los Angeles always seems to be waiting for something. Permanence seems out of reach; some great apocalyptic event is on the horizon, and people view the future tentatively. Robert Altman's "Short Cuts" captures that uneasiness perfectly in its interlocking stories about people who seem trapped in the present, always juggling.

The movie is based on short stories by Raymond Carver, but this is Altman's work, not Carver's, and all the film really has in common with its source is a feeling for people who are disconnected - from relatives, church, tradition - and support themselves with jobs that never seem quite real.

Altman has made this kind of film before, notably in "Nashville" (1976) and "The Player" (1992). He doesn't like stories that pretend that the characters control their destinies, and their actions will produce a satisfactory outcome. He likes the messiness and coincidence of real life, where you can do your best, and some days it's just not good enough. He doesn't reproduce Raymond Carver's stories so much as his attitude.






Popeye (1980)

One of the few comic-book movies to reproduce the spirit and texture of its source material. Bright costumes pop enticingly against the grey town of Sweethaven, built from scratch on the island of Malta and shot by Fellini and Visconti’s cinematographer, Giuseppe Rotunno. As the muttering, one-eyed sailor, Robin Williams sometimes gets lost in the madcap jumble of the frame but Shelley Duvall is deliriously good as Olive Oyl. Harry Nilsson’s songs gladden the heart in this slapstick musical crammed with colour and joy.




One of Robert Altman's trademarks is the way he creates whole new worlds in his movies -- worlds where we somehow don't believe that life ends at the edge of the screen, worlds in which the main characters are surrounded by other people plunging ahead at the business of living. That gift for populating new places is one of the richest treasures in "Popeye," Altman's musical comedy. He takes one of the most artificial and limiting of art forms -- the comic strip -- and raises it to the level of high comedy and high spirits.

And yet "Popeye" nevertheless remains true to its origin on the comic page, and in those classic cartoons by Max Fleischer. A review of this film almost has to start with the work of Wolf Kroeger, the production designer, who created an astonishingly detailed and rich set on the movie's Malta locations. Most of the action takes place in a ramshackle fishing hamlet -- "Sweethaven" -- where the streets run at crazy angles up the hillsides, and the rooming houses and saloons lean together dangerously.










Gosford Park (2001)

Or: Downton’s Dad. Julian Fellowes won an Oscar for this 1930s-set murder mystery that ventures upstairs, downstairs and everywhere in between. Debate persists over how much of Fellowes’s script made it to the screen but one thing is clear: the seductive bustle, piercing humour, complex sound design and inquisitive zoom shots are pure Altman. As is the generous direction of a top-drawer cast, including Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Clive Owen. Oh, all right then, and Laurence Fox.




Robert Altman's "Gosford Park" is above all a celebration of styles-- the distinct behavior produced by the British class system, the personal styles of a rich gallery of actors, and his own style of introducing a lot of characters and letting them weave their way through a labyrinthine plot.
"Gosford Park" is such a joyous and audacious achievement it deserves comparison with his very best movies, such as "MASH," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," "Nashville," "The Player," "Short Cuts" and "Cookie's Fortune."

No director has ever been better than Altman at providing the audience with bearings to find its way through a large cast. The sense of place is also palpable in this film; the downstairs and attic floors were entirely constructed on sound stages by production designer Steven Altman, Altman's son, who also supervised the real country house used for the main floors. Andrew Dunn's photography is sumptuous upstairs, while making the downstairs look creamy and institutional. The editor, Tim Squyres, must have been crucial in keeping the characters in play.

"Gosford Park" is the kind of generous, sardonic, deeply layered movie that Altman has made his own. As a director he has never been willing to settle for plot; he is much more interested in character and situation, and likes to assemble unusual people in peculiar situations and stir the pot.










Thieves Like Us (1974)

Edward Anderson’s Depression-era crime novel was previously filmed by Nicholas Ray in 1948 as They Live By Night, but Altman sent screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury (who later wrote Nashville) back to the book. Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall had a brief bite of romance together in McCabe and Mrs Miller, but here they sink their teeth into meatier roles as, respectively, a goofy crook and his smitten squeeze. Tragedy looms at the end of this fine-grained portrait of love under the gun.
Nashville.



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Like so much of his work, Robert Altman’s “Thieves Like Us” has to be approached with a certain amount of imagination. Some movies are content to offer us escapist experiences and hope we’ll be satisfied. But you can’t sink back and simply absorb an Altman film; he’s as concerned with style as subject, and his preoccupation isn’t with story or character, but with how he’s showing us his tale.

That’s the case with “Thieves Like Us,” which no doubt has all sorts of weaknesses in character and plot, but which manages a visual strategy so perfectly controlled that we get an uncanny feel for this time and this place. The movie is about a gang of fairly dumb bank robbers, and about how the youngest of them falls in love with a girl, and about how they stick up some banks and listen to the radio and drink Coke and eventually get shot at.







The Late Show (1977)

Private detective Ira Wells (Art Carney) isn't getting any younger. He's also barely staying in business. So when Ira's former partner, Harry, is killed, Ira vows to not only take on Harry's last job, but also find his friend's murderer. While trying to crack Harry's case, Ira is introduced to Margo (Lily Tomlin), an eccentric pot-selling agent who wants to hire him to find her cat. Desperate for the work, Ira takes on the pet search and winds up with an unexpected new partner in Margo.




It's hard enough for a movie to sustain one tone, let alone half a dozen, but that's just what Robert Benton's "The Late Show" does. It's the story of a strangely touching relationship between two people. It's a violent crime melodrama. It's a comedy. It's a commentary on the private-eye genre, especially its 1940s manifestations. It's a study of the way older people do a balancing act between weariness and experience.

And most of all, it's a movie that dares a lot, pulls off most of it, and entertains us without insulting our intelligence. What's quietly astonishing is that all of it starts with a woman coming to a private eye about a missing cat. The woman is played by Lily Tomlin, who somehow provides scatterbrained eccentricism with a cutting edge.






3 Women (1977)

Altman suffered from periodic delusions of Bergman, resulting in films such as That Cold Day in the Park (so-so) and Images (bad), as well as the tremendous, haunting 3 Women. The first half is a Mike Leigh-esque cringe-comedy about mismatched flatmates – bossy-boots Millie (Shelley Duvall) and shrinking violet Pinkie (Sissy Spacek) – before a bold narrative rupture that would later influence David Lynch and Apichatpong Weerasethakul among others. Even when movie and characters alike become fractured, the actors hold their nerve spectacularly.



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And so I descend once more into the mysterious depths of "3 Women," a film that was imagined in a dream. Robert Altman's 1977 masterpiece tells the story of three women whose identities blur, shift and merge until finally, in an enigmatic last scene, they have formed a family, or perhaps have become one person. I have seen it many times, been through it twice in shot-by-shot analysis, and yet it always seems to be happening as I watch it. Recurring dreams are like that: We have had them before, but have not finished with them, and we return because they contain unsolved enigmas.

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The Long Goodbye (1973)

Outrage greeted this irreverent update of Raymond Chandler’s gumshoe thriller, thanks to the effrontery of casting the dazed, dishevelled Elliot Gould as Philip Marlowe, a character for ever associated with Humphrey Bogart. There is also the early-1970s Californian vibe with its dope and hippie chicks; hulking Sterling Hayden being bullied by thimble-sized Henry Gibson; a young Arnold Schwarzenegger stripping down to yellow underpants; and a brutal ending that diverges shockingly from the novel. But as Marlowe keeps saying: “It’s OK with me.”




“The Long Goodbye” should not be anybody’s first film noir, nor their first Altman movie. Most of its effect comes from the way it pushes against the genre, and the way Altman undermines the premise of all private eye movies, which is that the hero can walk down mean streets, see clearly, and tell right from wrong. The man of honor from 1953 is lost in the hazy narcissism of 1973, and it’s not all right with him.


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Nashville (1975)

Kurt Vonnegut pointed out that Altman’s influential, multi-character epic begins with a patriotic ballad asserting that “we must be doing something right to last 200 years”, then ends three hours later with everything having gone horribly wrong. In between, 24 characters – including an unstable country star (Ronee Blakley) and a philandering singer-songwriter (Keith Carradine) – mingle against a backdrop of music, parties and politics. Vonnegut called the film “a spiritual inventory of America,” while Pauline Kael proclaimed it “the funniest epic vision of America ever to reach the screen”.




Taking down Pauline Kael's 1976 collection Reeling to re-read her famous review of "Nashville," I find a yellow legal sheet marking the page: my notes for a class I taught on the film. "What is this story about?" I wrote. The film may be great because you can't really answer that question.

It is a musical; Robert Altman observes in his commentary on the new DVD re-release that it contains more than an hour of music. It is a docudrama about the Nashville scene. It is a political parable, written and directed in the immediate aftermath of Watergate (the scenes in the Grand Ole Opry were shot on the day Richard M. Nixon resigned). It tells interlocking stories of love and sex, of hearts broken and mended. And it is a wicked satire of American smarminess ("Welcome to Nashville and to my lovely home," a country star gushes to Elliott Gould).

But more than anything else, it is a tender poem to the wounded and the sad. The most unforgettable characters in the movie are the best ones: Lily Tomlin's housewife, who loves her deaf sons. The lonely soldier who stands guard over the country singer his mother saved from a fire. The old man grieving for his wife, who has just died. Barbara Harris' runaway wife, who rises to the occasion when she is handed the microphone after a shooting. And even that smarmy country singer (Henry Gibson), who when the chips are down acts in the right way. Kael writes: "Who watching the pious Haven Hamilton sing the evangelical `Keep a' Goin,' his eyes flashing with a paranoid gleam as he keeps the audience under surveillance, would guess that the song represented his true spirit, and that when injured he would think of the audience before himself?"

The movie takes place over five days in Nashville, during the countdown to a presidential primary. A candidate named Hal Phillip Walker, never seen onscreen, is running for the upstart Replacement Party, and has won four earlier primaries. His candidacy was launched, according to the ABC newsman Howard K. Smith, when during a speech to college students he asked such questions as, "Does Christmas smell like oranges to you?" Yes, Smith's commentary concludes, Christmas has always smelled a little like oranges to him.

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The funniest epic vision of America ever to reach the screen. Robert Altman’s 1975 movie is at once a “Grand Hotel”-style narrative, with twenty-four linked characters; a country-and-Western musical; a documentary essay on Nashville and American life; and a meditation on the love affair between performers and audiences. In the opening sequences, when Altman’s people start arriving, piling up in a traffic jam on the way from the airport to the city, the movie suggests the circus procession at the non-ending of Fellini’s “8½.” But Altman’s clowns are far more autonomous; they move and intermingle freely, and the whole movie is their procession. The basic script is by Joan Tewkesbury, but the actors were encouraged to work up material for their roles, and not only do they do their own singing but most of them wrote their own songs—and wrote them in character. The songs distill the singers’ lives, as the pantomimes and theatrical performances did for the actors in “Children of Paradise.” With Ronee Blakley, as a true folk artist and the one tragic character.

— 








McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971)

“How could one person be responsible for so many truly great films?” wondered Paul Thomas Anderson. Nashville may be more ambitious but McCabe is Altman’s melancholy masterpiece, a grungy but romantic anti-western that is hard on the ear (“The sound was fucked but he never changed it,” said the film’s editor, Lou Lombardo) and impossible to resist. Warren Beatty is the garrulous, cigar-chomping chancer who builds a brothel in a turn-of-the-century mining town, Julie Christie the cockney know-it-all who appoints herself its madam. From the grainy, Leonard Cohen-accompanied opening shot of Beatty riding through the gloom to the final snowbound showdown, this is bliss.




It is not often given to a director to make a perfect film. Some spend their lives trying, but always fall short. Robert Altman has made a dozen films that can be called great in one way or another, but one of them is perfect, and that one is "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (1971). This is one of the saddest films I have ever seen, filled with a yearning for love and home that will not ever come -- not for McCabe, not with Mrs. Miller, not in the town of Presbyterian Church, which cowers under a gray sky always heavy with rain or snow. The film is a poem--an elegy for the dead.


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