Nov 21, 2006

Robert Altman RIP




Considering Robert Altman was 81 years of age when he passed away Monday night, I don't suppose his death should be that much of a shock, but it is. He was, up until yesterday, the world's greatest living filmmaker. We don't mourn the passing of a giant whose glory days had been behind him. With a perennial and prolific talent like Altman, we always knew that as long as he was still able to work, he would still be able to deliver a few masterpieces. And regardless of his age, I (or we) had assumed he would be indestructible.

The 1970's belonged to Altman, who essentially made one great film after another- MASH, NASHVILLE, McCABE, THE LONG GOODBYE, CALIFORNIA SPLIT, to name a few.... each stretching the boundaries of whatever genre it explored, each exploding conventional narrative, all having the unmistakable signature of a master: huge ensembles of actors, overlapping dialogue and storylines, untidy resolutions, eccentric humour and characters, where happiness and sadness often occur simultaneously... just as in life. Even when Altman's work was serious, I still found myself giggling giddily, as his movies were so alive.

To be certain, had he not made another film after 1979, we would still be holding his name with exaltation. But this prolific filmmaker kept on making movies big and small, and even he would admit that some of them weren't that great. Yet, he was the luckiest movie maker alive, as he was always able to make something distinctively his own, partially because of his reputation, and partially because people knew the man would easily be capable of making another masterpiece. The releases of THE PLAYER and SHORT CUTS in the 1990's proved to a new and old generations that he was a master of his craft, even then at an age when most filmmakers become routine, if they're working at all.

This year, when he received his long overdue honorary Oscar, he said that he always felt he was making one big movie, and for the most part this is true. And for that, perhaps it is fitting he received his Oscar for all of his films instead of just one of the five times he was nominated for Best Director, and robbed. The Eclectic Screening Room looks back upon the huge filmography of Robert Altman and recalls a barrage of images and sounds... a collage that befits the kaleidoscopic style of his films. And we remember....

The olive dropping in M*A*S*H

Michael Murphy and his turtlenecks in BREWSTER McCLOUD

The fire at the end of McCABE AND MRS. MILLER

Elliott Gould looking for cat food in THE LONG GOODBYE

Beer and fruit loops for breakfast in CALIFORNIA SPLIT

The traffic jam sequence and the unholy ending of NASHVILLE

The opening 10 minute shot of THE PLAYER

Well, pretty much all of SHORT CUTS

"Because I fished with him" in COOKIE'S FORTUNE

..and this is just a few of these invigorating moments that for me represents his work.

While only knowing the man through the work I have followed for many years, I am sure that many cinephiles will agree that we feel we have lost a good friend.

I can only imagine the movies he'll be making in Heaven with that cast.

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