Robert Altman, one of the most talented and prolific American Directors has passed on at 81 (LINK).
The first Altman film I recall seeing was BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS at an upscale Madrid theatre in 1976. I was a big Paul Newman fan (having seen him in THE TOWERING INFERNO, HOMBRE and other classics) and a big fan of Westerns so I went to see the film expecting lots of gunslinging mayhem; surprisingly, the film was a bit more meditative, complex and darker than I expected – the Altman touch.
Interestingly enough, I just viewed Altman’s final film A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION a few days ago and enjoyed it (it might not be everyone’s cup of tea). I recall checking out the DVD extra materials and really enjoyed the Altman interviews; he always comes across as a smart, sly, Southern gentleman.
Altman‘s westerns were thought-provoking and gritty (MCCABE AND MRS MILLER ) his comedies were as cynical as those of Billy Wilder (A WEDDING, M.A.S.H. CALIFORNIA SPLIT). He could tackle cartoon musicals (POPEYE), Depression-set crime dramas (THIEVES LIKE US), political dramas and satires (TANNER ’88, SECRET HONOR); he was a versatile filmmaker.
Of course he will always be known as the director of the ‘overlapping dialogue’ movies, but he was a great director, adept at different genres (a la John Huston) and masterful with ensemble pieces. His first big hit was the hilarious, though-provoking comedy M.A.S.H. – which was also regarded by many as a parable of American involvement in Vietnam.
NASHVILLE is a classic of course but I also loved THE LONG GOODBYE, one of the finest, most cynical gumshoe movies ever made and a great look at the L.A. of the 70s. I recall seeing this film for the first time during the early 1980s during KTV 2’s ‘golden era’ when Farouq Abdel-Aziz‘s ‘Cine Club’ was not to be missed every Monday night.
THE LONG GOODBYE is genius.
Elliot Gould effectively played a downbeat, cynical Philip Marlowe (a far cry from James Garner or Robert Mitchum’s take on the character). Sterling Hayden was unbelieavably brilliant in the film and Director Mark Rydell (ON GOLDEN POND) played a nasty piece of work, brutal to the ladies. The film is a devilishly entertaining and smart look at private eye’s tribulations in seemy 1970s L.A.
I still remember the final, shocking scene in GOODBYE, echoing both THE THIRD MAN and DIRTY HARRY ‘s climax – if you haven’t seen this film you are in for a real treat.
Look at directors nowadays…how many will end up doing as many genres as a Huston or Altman and still do it with their own little trademarks and imprints *and* keep working well into their 80s making great flicks (i.e.GOSFORD PARK)? Very few.
Even though Altman was in his 80s, his death does not negate his loss to the world of cinema. He was a true original.