Robert Altman 1925-2006
Not everything was great, but even the minor films have their charms. I am very fond, for example, of The Gingerbread Man — where the cheap novel mystery is conveyed, not as usual by thudding soundtrack cues, shadows, and jittery editing, but by constant rain, regnant foliage, and the muzzy atmosphere of lives gone to seed. But I was a film nerd in the '70s, when Altman was one of the gods; any piece of his movies is to me like a few notes from the voice of an old friend. Now these images float through my dream-theatre: Elliot Gould trying to name all seven dwarves, then dancing drunk with George Segal ("Rufus Rastus Rawlston Brown…"). The community passing buckets to save its church while McCabe dies in a snowdrift. Legions of Depression rustics, armed with Coca-Colas, ascending a staircase in slow motion. Sterling Hayden and Nina Van Pallandt fighting the Malibu waves in darkness and long shot. The shock of the scars on Sally Kellerman's back. Copters descending like locusts on Los Angeles. Fade out, the voice of the auctioneer calling the astonishing numbers and the gasps of the crowd; fade in, Vincent van Gogh on a bed of straw…
I frequently had mixed reactions to Altman's films, even the ones that elicit paens of rapture on the part of film geeks, and confess that where many others saw profound nuance I was often just flat bored. But even in those moments I always had a grudging admiration for his cantankerous inisistence on his right to defy the rules of narrative and reach for something new and often enough quite luminous in his self-conscious process.
“Wisdom and love have nothing to do with each other. Wisdom is staying alive, survival. You’re wise if you don’t stick your finger in the light plug. Love — you’ll stick your finger in anything.”
"The movies set the pattern, and these people have copied the movies. Nobody would have thought to commit an atrocity like [the attacks of 9/11] unless they'd seen it in a movie. How dare we continue to show this kind of mass destruction in movies. I just believe we created this atmosphere and taught them how to do it."
Altman was a product of a different time in Hollywood, before it had calcified into an assembly line, when the barriers to entry were much lower. By the time he'd reached iconic status he could make quite nearly anything he saw fit because of the names who wanted to work with him, and I think it delighted him no end that he never had to answer to the suits and suckups who could neither control him nor see commercial appeal sufficient to justify the checks they were writing on the other end. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. It was always challenging.