L13FC: Director Robert Altman

Welcome back to Cindy’s Lucky 13 Film Club. This month, John Charet is my featured co-host. We discovered we shared a mutual like and respect for Robert Altman’s techniques. Please share your stories and comments. Don’t forget to check out John’s site CINEMATICCOFFEE for his passion and knowledge of the cinema. 

My Favorite Robert Altman Films

JOHN SAYS:

As with a handful of other great filmmakers who defined the New Hollywood era (1965-1983), director Robert Altman (read here) is often celebrated for his unique approach to cinematic storytelling. Though much older (he was born in 1925) than some of his contemporaries (Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg), one could swear that his 1970 breakthrough anti-war comedy MASH was the work of a 24-year old than that of a then 44-year old. Altman’s trademarks rested on more than just his irreverent sense of humor though (read here), but also stemmed from his use of improvisation and overlapping dialogue (read here and here). As with MASH, Altman combines these two traits together when it comes to deconstructing a beloved genre like the western with McCabe & Mrs. Miller or the Neo-noir with The Long Goodbye. Other times, we find these same qualities in ensemble pieces as varied as NashvilleA WeddingShortCuts and Gosford Park to name just four examples. Now without further ado, I present to Cindy’s readers my top 3 favorite Robert Alman films starting with number 3.

3.) Short Cuts (1993)
On paper, adapting nine Raymond Carver short stories into a 188-minute episodic film, not to mention relocating it’s setting of the Pacific Northwest to that of the Central Valley, looks like a hit-and-miss undertaking with more examples of the latter than the former. Amazingly enough, Altman executed it all on the screen without a scratch present. Not unlike 1975’s NashvilleShort Cuts is an epic ensemble piece set against the backdrop of another iconic American city (Los Angeles, California) while exploring the lives of its many different characters – 22 as opposed to the 24 of that earlier film. Here, Altman (along with Frank Barhydt, who co-wrote the screenplay with him) delivers a sprawling human comedy-drama that also works as an insightful panoramic view of everyday people and the situations they face. The results are both humorous and poignant.

2.) McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
Produced during an era when the Revisionist Western was at the peak of its popularity, McCabe & Mrs. Miller continues to stand out for me as quite possibly my personal favorite of the aforementioned sub-genre, which I count myself as a huge fan of. MASH might have introduced us viewers to director Robert Altman’s unconventional filmmaking style, but it is in McCabe & Mrs. Miller that Altman finds himself perfecting it. In its entirety, Altman sprinkles his trademark use of overlapping dialogue so effortlessly that it feels more like his tenth feature film after MASH rather than his second (Brewster McCloud was sandwiched in between). As others have implied, the plot may sound straightforward, but in execution, it is anything but. For example, Warren Beatty’s entrepreneur/gunslinger John McCabe debatably ranks stronger at the former than he does at the latter regardless of its climactic shootout. As a business partner, Julie Christie’s brothel madam Constance Miller completes him. Speaking of which, the chemistry between Beatty and Christie (the best of their three on-screen collaborations) is as playful as it is ultimately poignant. Vilmos Zsigmond’s distinctive cinematography and Leonard Cohen’s poetic music (three of his songs are played here) shapes the form and content of this authentic American masterpiece.

1.) Nashville (1975)
How does one sum up an essential American classic like Nashville? Well If you adore the film like I do, then the answer to that question is simple. For me, Nashville is like watching 3 films for the price of one. Each is as similar as they are different. On the one hand, it is a comedy that (explicitly and implicitly) satirizes the title city’s political culture, not to mention it’s country music scene. Simultaneously, it is a thought-provoking drama that critiques celebrity worship. On the side, it also comes off as an exuberant musical filled with expressive songs. Director Robert Altman’s trademark use of overlapping dialogue (here courtesy of Joan Tewkesbury) is at it’s most memorable here – one of the sequences takes place during the aftermath of multiple-vehicle collision and another at a pre-show house party. All in all, Nashville stands out as Altman’s crowning achievement. In case any, if you readers are interested in reading my full-length review of the film, click here

Cindy Says:

I appreciate Robert Altman now more than I ever have because he is a director whose filming style became a personal stamp of distinction. His love for the actor, that is, giving them free-reign of ownership of the scene, was atypical. Elliott Gould‘s talent for improvisation made him a favorite of Altman. In MASH, Gould recalls in an interview (read the full Jon Zelazny article HERE) “I read the script, which was by Ring Lardner, Jr., but I didn’t think much of it. As far as I’m concerned, MASH is Robert Altman’s vision. I remember when we showed the picture to Lardner at the studio, he came up to me afterward and said, “How could you do this to me? There’s not a single word in there that I wrote!” And he went on to win the Academy Award for Best Screenplay!” In The Last Goodbye (1973), Elliot Gould maximizes his ability to insert character snippets of dialogue to create memorable lines that forge a character, like his repetitious, “It’s okay with me”. Robert Altman wanted his actors to show him something new. He believed the artistic power of a scene rested in the lap of the actor, not the director.

His incorporation of music and his obsession with sound using multi-tracks created an experience similar to watching a beehive. MASH (1970) is a perfect example of this. The expansive ensemble casts and his love of wide-angle shots included everyone and everything showcasing their lives and mini-dramas. The character Radar (Gary Burghoff) births a whole career out his ability to create a character who talks over his commanding officer. A simple trick for making the grunt superior to his superior. A technique for flip-flopping what’s expected and revealing the satiric theme of the film. The result is a chaotic perspective, occasionally voyeuristic, like when Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) spies on June Gudmundsdottir (Greta Scacchi) outside her window while having a flirty conversation in The Player (1992).  In a Richard Altman film, the audience is positioned far and high enough away to catch the buzz of sounds and movements. It’s an unusual perspective.

My favorite Altman technique is the long take, his famous example is the seven-plus minute opening shot in The Player which pays homage to Orson Welles long take, opening shot from Touch of Evil (1958). Many of Altman’s films combine the long take with overlapping dialogue. You see it beautifully executed in The Player and my personal favorite Altman film, Gosford Park (2001). I am a sucker for plots that focus on the “upstairs, downstairs” dynamic. Altman pays homage to classic Hollywood with a British location and a large, star-studded ensemble cast that is a joy to watch. We follow the camera around the halls overhearing, snooping, participating in the whodunit mystery. The music is perfect with a Cary-Grant-type star Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) at the piano serenading the scheming elite while the servants silently migrate the periphery of the room. The acting, the aesthetics, the constant movement of dialogue and tracking shots are Altman at his best. I believe Robert Altman blended art and marketability better than most. What was his recipe for success?

Griffin Mill: It lacked certain elements that we need to market a film successfully.

June Gudmundsdottir: What elements?

Griffin Mill: Suspense, laughter, violence. Hope, heart, nudity, sex. Happy endings. Mainly happy endings.

Well, maybe the happy endings didn’t happen, but I noticed I’m always happy after watching a Robert Altman film.

THANKS AGAIN, JOHN CHARET for co-hosting today! Please, everyone, tell us what you think about the technique of the late-great Robert Altman. 

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133 thoughts on “L13FC: Director Robert Altman

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  1. My two favourite Altman films are ‘The Player’, and ‘Short Cuts’. I remember thinking that they way he drew the characters together in ‘Short Cuts’ was a stroke of genius. ‘Gosford Park’ is a close third, as it is just perfection in the genre. The casting is the key to the film though. With other actors, it could have been a completely different cinema experience.
    He also made films I didn’t care for, such as ‘M.A.S.H.’, (I actually preferred the TV show) and ‘Nashville’, which I thought was too indulgent. (Sorry, John) I am not much of a fan of Elliot Gould, who I find simply annoying. So I have to include ‘The Long Goodbye’ in my dislikes too.
    Thanks to you both for celebrating one of the most interesting of modern American directors.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. I am aware that you disliked Nashville and The Long Goodbye for different reasons. Though both of them seemed to involve the issue of casting. With the former it was Elliot Gould and with the latter, it was Geraldine Chaplin – you mentioned this in your reply to me after reading my review of Nashville last year. Speaking of Short Cuts, it would have been interesting to hear what the late Raymond Carver would have thought of it because he died five years before the film was released in 1993 – 1988 in this case.

      1. Correction: “I am aware that you disliked Nashville and The Long Goodbye for different reasons. Though both of them seemed to involve the issue of casting. With the former it was Geraldine Chaplin and with the latter, it was Elliot Gould – you mentioned this in your reply to me after reading my review of Nashville last year.”

    2. I can agree that Elliott Gould can be annoying but you have to give him kudos for “Capicorn One”,one of the best thrillers of the 70s….it still remains one of my favorites. Otherwise,carry on….

      1. I did really enjoy that film. Mainly because it supported my ‘no Moon landing’ conspiracy beliefs. 🙂
        But Gould has never been anything but overblown and irritating for me, I’m afraid.
        Best wishes, Pete.

        1. So many great moments in that movie…..how surprised I was to see Hal Holbrook play a “heavy” for the first time,Telly Savalas telling Gould to keep his head down in no uncertain terms…back when PG movies would be R rated today…..good times!

    1. Interesting choice of Cookie’s Fortune as your favorite Altman film. I too am also glad that you thought he was the best. As for myself, I too love his films – in fact, I love every single film he ever directed 🙂

  2. HI Pete, thank you for your thoughts and opinions. There’s many Altman films I have not seen. Ones that look interesting to me is ‘Gingerbread Man’ with K. Branagh, ‘Come Back to the 5 and dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean; and Vincent and Theo. It’s seems interesting to me that he worked with Paul Newman in a couple of projects but they seemed to be flops. I love Paul Newman. I also think that it has been interesting to revisit the his better known films because I’m older now and see him with different perspective. I really Robert Altman. Any of his “lesser” films that have been underrated you could recommend?

    1. You might like ‘Three Women’ (1977), as it has quite interesting casting. Shelly Duvall got a Cannes ‘Best Actress’ for it, but the story is quite surreal. I have seen ‘Gingerbread Man’, which is based on a John Grisham story. It feels very much like all the other Grisham adaptations, and is quite watchable in that respect. Though I am at a loss as to why he cast Branagh as an American lawyer, when he could have used an American actor.
      ‘Kansas City’ (1996) captures something of the mood of 1930s America, and I didn’t mind ‘Fool for Love’ (1985), though the critics didn’t rate it.
      Best wishes, Pete. x
      (New photo, I see)

        1. It would be interesting to see how ‘similar’ many of those films feel. Maybe someone who knows Grisham’s work better than me could point out why they are not? I haven’t read many of his books.
          🙂 x

        1. You most certainly will love Short Cuts. As with Nashville, it is a rich film with all sorts of different characters and what really holds one interest here is not so much the story resolutions of each of them, but in how each of the stories are executed. All of them play out as If how that would happen in real life. It is hard to explain, but I think you get my drift.

    1. I love both. I was impressed with Radar as the young sage, the organizer and leader of the whole contraption called war. Yes, I cringe today upon the sexist and defamatory language and “Spearchucker Jones” references, but it was the time — another link to Tarantino who is a vulger creep and loves to insert misogenony in his films.

  3. I know the name, but obviously from ‘MASH‘ because from this list – I didn’t actually see much of his work. But I am opposite of Pete – I Loved MASH!!!!! (and I think a great deal of other people did too – or it wouldn’t have become a TV series.)

    1. Please seek out more of his work because he was one of the most unconventional of all the big name filmmakers during the New Hollywood era (Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg were others, but far from the only ones).

      I too loved the film MASH and I thought that the movie’s satire hit much harder than than of the TV Series, but I loved that too as I told fragglerocking above.

    2. We are on the same page, GP. The rush and boredom of war and the lunacy of it all — the characters — however you could survive. Usually it was with cards, smokes, drinks, and sex when you could get it. That’s MASH.

          1. It was patterned off of one particular MASH unit, but I read, back when it was airing, that they used stories submitted by veterans from WWII, Korea and Nam. I guess that’s why the show lasted longer than the actual Korean War. 🙂

      1. Since I love every single film that Robert Altman has ever directed (aside from being a huge fan of his work, I also consider myself to be an apologist), I would probably have to do it by ranking:

        Health (1980)
        (I watched it on youtube)
        O.C. & Stiggs (1985)
        (theatrically released in 1987)
        Ready to Wear (1994)
        (aka Pret-a-Porter)
        Beyond Therapy (1987)
        Dr. T & the Women (2000)
        Popeye (1980)
        A Perfect Couple (1979)
        Quietet (1979)

        I hope this helps 🙂

  4. I have come to appreciate THE LONG GOODBYE as one of my favorite Altman films (I actually did not like it when I first saw it back in the 70’s. I am also a big fan of Thieves Like Us, MASH, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Player,Nashville and Short Cuts. One Altman film I long to see is Vincent and Theo but it has eluded me so far. , .

    1. I have a theory if we all went back and revisit some of his “flops” we would have a greater appreciation. I’m not much enchanted with today’s movies. Watching Altman’s technique makes me nostalgic.

    2. I saw it when I was too young and busy (as opposed to being old and busy now) to remember much. That’s one, too, I’d like to revisit. I remember my art friends liked it as a good portrayal of Vincent. Thank you very much for visiting today!

  5. although i think Nashville is perhaps the best american film of the 1970s, i dont think altman is much of a director. he is more of a film everybody with a telephoto lens and we shall see what we getkind of a guy.. when asked how he liked working with cher on ready to wear, he answered that he didnt know she was on the set until he saw the rushes. sylistically, nashville and ready to wear are identical, yet one is a masterpiece and the other mediocre. so my view is that it is not altmans drection that makes his good films so good. for nashville, it is the script and the casting. i think beattly and christy are terrible in mccabe and mrs miller, and the movie hard to sit through from beginning to end. but the exteriors are the best work zsigmond has ever done, and are the most beautiful images of the pacific northwest on film. and the use of leonard cohens songs is inspired. the long goodbye is another favorite, and again zsignonds cinematography is what made it a masterpiece, although the cast and the script are quite good. i never liked a wedding, the player, short cuts, gosford park, mash, secret honor, come back to the five and dime, fool for love, images, buffalo bill and the indians, quintet, or prairie hime companion, but i sure i will watch them all again. some of his other films i liked a lot are three women, brester mccloud, and california split. although he claims to have invented overlapping dialogue, many films that predated him used it, i will always love altman for what he said when he was asked if he thought coppola was wasting his money on apocalypse now. his respnse…what else is he going to spend it on? groceries?

    1. I am quite aware that other directors used overlapping dialogue long before Altman did. The films of Howard Hawks serve as one example. Whereas the tropes of Hawks genre films were traditional, Altman dissected what was considered conventional about them. Nevertheless, even though the director is often considered (rightly or wrongly) to be the head honcho for a lack of better word, one could make the case that the making of a film is in actuality, a collaborative effort.

      I am a huge Altman fan as you tell from my contribution to Cindy’s post above. I also hope that you give McCabe & Mrs. Miller another chance in the future.

      1. Hawks knew how to use overlapgn dialog, making sure that the words that overlapped were not essential, Altman wasnt so good at it, so he got fired for it, and exploited that through his publicity agent to make it lk like he invented it. i have seen mccabe and miller a few dozen times..three times in the last two years. i watch it for the exteriors. the script and the principal actors are lousy. a great director doesnt need aa good script, and can get good performances from mediocre actors. but altman doesnt really direct them. he relis on their personalities, personas, and innate talents. As for giving Altman aother chance, A Wedding, Fool for Love, 3 Women, Buffalo Bill and the Indians, Gosford Park, McCabe and Mrs Miller, Nashville, Short Cuts, That Cold Day in the Park, Brewster McCloud, The Long Goodbye, California Split, Thieves Like Usm and Popeye are in my library. And they havent just been sitting there.

        1. I hear ya 🙂 I was aware that Altman did not invent overlapping dialogue (let alone improvisation) because people noticed that motif in the films of Howard Hawks or at least, dyed-in-the-wool cinema lovers did. When it comes to genre pictures, I think one can debatably (rightly or wrongly) say that Altman is like the unconventional brother of Howard Hawks. The only difference is as I implied in that first reply to you that Hawks was not so much interested in dissecting the typical traits of a genre as he was interested in ways to make it not only entertaining, but also make them look fresh on the surface. I hope that comes off as a compliment cause I see it that way. Whereas Altman wanted to give his own spin on them. Now his ensemble pieces served (in subtle ways) as the cinematic equivalent of an oped albeit in a piece of fiction as opposed to a documentary format. Anyway, I am enjoying this conversation so far 🙂

          1. I dont see Altman having much in common with Hawks, other than both had fantastic relatonshops with their actors. Hawks was simply a master at all genres, and Atman merely put a new spin on a few pictures, some which worked , Thieves like Us, and others that didnt, Quintet and Buffalo Bill. Hawks didnt dissect the genres. In his later work, thoughm he did re energize dying genres. the western with Rio Bravo, the screwball comedy wth Mans Favorite Sport, and the racing movie with the under rated Red Line 7000. As you can probably tell, I have more love for the earlie directors than the 70s oes. Ford is my favorite, but Hawkls rates pretty high. While I like much of what Altman did, he desnt evn make my top five of american directors who came into their own in the 70s. I much prefer Cassavetes, Peckinpah, Eastwood, Ferrara, Siegel, Allen, Scorsese, and Lumet.

          2. Sorry If I did not make myself clear songladder 🙂 I never said that Hawks dissected genre films, I only implied that he wanted to tell them in an entertaining way. I know I said fresh on the surface, but for me personally, I did not see that as meaning the same thing as dissecting the traits of a genre. I apologize If I did not make that clearer. I totally agree with everything you said about Hawks and I also love it that you are a huge fan of John Cassavetes, Sam Peckinpah, Clint Eastwood, Abel Ferrara, Don Siegel, Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese. Sidney Lumet is a director whose work I admire more than I adore, but hey, whenever a film of his is on TV (his great, very good, or good ones), I am more than happy to watch them. Once again, I love this conversation 🙂

    2. As I mentioned to Pete above, there are a number of his films I haven’t seen and I was looking for a recommendation. You mentioned several you didn’t like. I was wondering why his collaborations with Paul Newman fell flat. I haven’t seen Quintet, but after reading a defense article about the “flop”, I am intrigued. ” Critics dismissed Quintet as bleak and slow-paced. But what I saw was a classic film noir mystery tucked inside this frozen landscape. Essex takes the place of the detective as he combs the town for evidence of who is behind this deadly game. The only thing he is armed with is a list of names he recovers from the man responsible for bombing the parlor that killed his wife and brother. He pretends to be one of the names on the list and infiltrates the inner circle of the game. The film even has it’s femme fatale in Anderssons character, Ambrosia.” – James River Film Society
      https://jamesriverfilm.wordpress.com/2015/09/25/in-defense-of-robert-altmans-quintet/
      I wonder if a revisit to his films would procure a perspective not noticed with younger eyes?

      1. Quintet is unwatchable. i hve tried half a dozen times. buffalo bill is not as bad but still uwatchable, you cant make genre pictures with a bunch of people who dont know what to do altman can put together a good package into oton and he doesnt have to do much actual directing. i have studied his films thoroughly and believe i know what his good and bad points are. ive seen the ones i dislike repeatedly, looking for something good in them. but if its not there in the scriptm if he doesnt have actors who can fend for temselves, and if he doesnt have the best of all possible crews, there is nothing on the screen worth looking at. i dare you to try to watch quintet…..one of the worst pictures by any drector anywhere at any tiime….the test of a director is making gold out of dirt. with altman, dirt is dirt and gold is gold …. he gives us golld one day and dirt the next. watch nashhville and then health ……same movie. one is gold, one is dirt.

  6. Like Pete, I find Altman to be too self indulgent, everything is too inside joke. To me, that’s why some of his films fall flat and don’t connect with an audience. I totally agree with Pete about Mash, but I think Pete and I are the only people who feel that way. I say that in jest, of course. It’s just that Mash is so lauded and I’m so meh about it. Plus, I always found it over the top sexist–and not in a good way.
    That said there are three Altman movies I like a lot. The Late Show, Thieves Like Us and McCabe & Mrs. Miller, the latter being my favorite movie of all time. (Note I didn’t say it’s the best movie of all time, I realize the difference.) I also appreciate The Player.
    The thing I like most about Altman is his embrace of hard core realism. He uses it deftly and liberally though he doesn’t rely on it solely; he also indulges in absurdism, melodrama and slapstick. He sees beauty and truth in realistic dialogue and he gives the characters of his films the respect of humanity in moments of vulnerability–even if they are despicable, even if they are rich and beautiful or poor and plain, or white bread idealistic, or disillusioned with their own grander, he allows them to be human. I think Tarantino and the Cohen brothers owe the most to Altman, especially in regard to dialogue and humanizing the characters.

    1. I’m glad you brought up Tarantino because I was thinking of his recent efforts with “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”. His story has no traditional story, just an expression of themes and characters in conversations much like what Altman did. I agree with you about Cohen Bros., too.

    2. While I disagree with you overall about Altman (I love every single film of his), I am glad that you love McCabe & Mrs. Miller even If Nashville still remains my number one favorite of his. I do agree with all of the positive things you say about Altman however. As for MASH, as much as I love it, I too get bored when people keep citing that as their favorite Altman because he moved on since then and got even better than he already was. In other words, he was a great director who became greater.

      P.S. The Late Show was not directed by Altman (Robert Benton directed it, Altman only produced it). So what would be your third favorite Altman after McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Thieves Like Us? 🙂

      1. Yikes. I hate it when I make mistakes like that. Ha! I always thought it was an Altman film. I guess my third favorite would be The Player. A very good film, I think. I appreciate it more than I like it though. The same with Nashville. I know it’s a good film, I just don’t like it very much. Maybe it’s because Nashville is my home. I’ve known a couple, both of them connoisseurs of film, that don’t like Fargo. They are from Minneapolis, which, of course, features even more prominently in the film. They say, “we don’t talk like that.” But they do–a little. Ha!

        1. I can understand how a Nashville citizen like yourself can have a somewhat hard time with some of the satirical elements of the film. As an Illinois citizen, I briefly had a hard time watching Medium Cool mainly because of the climactic 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago riot scene. I think director Haskell Wexler actually filmed some of the live aspects of it. Why did I initially have a hard time? Being an Illinois native, it is extra painful when a notorious event on a large scale happens in one’s own state. The state can sometimes be used as a punchline for numerous jokes and this one reportedly did.

          1. altman uses nashville as a microcosm of america it begins at the airport with several of the characters entering the city, all symbolic of the various types of immigrants coming into america. each experiences the new environment in dfferet ways. the satirical portraits of the nashville residents represent different types common throughout america, althoughthere are to be sure. some specifics in their characterizations. in short, he was not making fun of nashbille the city, but of the american dream as well as the nightmaress, which it represents.

          2. I think he uses the unreliable narrative–narrator of course is the correct term– in all of his movies to some extent. He often uses multiple perspectives in his films and so it is a given that he would use that device. Kansas City, Come Back to the 5 and Dime…Nashville are all examples of this. Of course we can split hairs and get very academic about all of this and I’ll be happy to do that with you on my site if you wish. Email me via my contact page. We can argue semantics there.
            As for Nashville it is a satirical film. It is multilayered as most satirical films are; so, to belabor the point, the satirizing of Nashvillians is just one layer of the film. A more obvious, pedestrian layer? Yes, to be sure. And it’s the layer that I focused on.

          3. I agree with songladder regarding Nashville’s satire. In fact, as different as each part of the nation is, the film Nashville could be set anywhere in America and it’s resulting social commentary would remain intact.

  7. MASH had just opened 1st run and I was in charge of the auditorium at the U of MN. The U Film Society got a showing of it with a Q&A with Altman and Jack Valenti, the new head of the MPAA. The movie was a standing applause hit. The questions didn’t ask about the freedom of the actors to improvise, something Altman tried to emphasize, but rather the freedom of the subject, definitely anti Viet Nam, and the breakaway from the strictness of movies that restricted film since the Code was initiated. I have always liked the film, in spite of Elliot Gould, but I have never followed Altman much.
    I loved NASHVILLE. The cast and ‘story’was superb, in spite of Geraldine Chaplin. I did not like MCCABE AND MRS MILLER in spite of the wonderful Julie Christie. I think Altman would have been better served if he had not given Warren Beatty a free rein that extended into the director’s realm
    All in all, I am not a fan of allowing the actors do their own bit. I much prefer a strict by-the-story-book director than Altman’s approach.

    1. Glad you love Nashville, but I disagree with you on McCabe & Mrs. Miller. I loved that film. I was always a fan of Altman’s unconventional approach to cinema, but then again you read the post so you knew that.

    2. I prefer stories with plots. And I was surprised that Kubrick admired his work since the two couldn’t be more opposites. Interesting to me is that Orson Welles, Robert Altman, and Stanley Kubrick were overlooked by the Academy so often. I am really enjoying revisiting the 70s and 80s in film. I find that time has allowed me to rethink their work (New Hollywood).

      1. Oh I agree. A plot is a necessity. And another overlooked director was Hitchcock. Although his great works came before your time period, 70’s and 80’s as were Welles’ greats. I think the ignoring of Altman and Kubrick was their anti-war themes in their work. I think it is also a shame Henry Fonda and Paul Newman were overlooked until the end of their careers.

  8. My strongest experience with a Robert Altman film was “Kansas City”. A close friend who did PR at a chain of arthouse theaters gave me a free ticket to see this movie.I think I lasted 20 minutes before I did something I had never done before,I walked out…..it was a terrible movie and I was left wondering what all the hype about Altman was.
    I had seen MASH and like Pam and Pete,I liked the series much more…..

    But that said,I recently reviewed a show called “The Gallant Men” on my blog and Altman directed the plot. I thought it was quite good,very moving and I enjoyed it very much. He showed everything we hate about war but at the same why we need to remember it. This is my favorite Altman moment.
    Thanks for inviting me,John!

    1. Considering that I love every single film that Robert Altman ever directed, I am going to have to respectfully disagree with everything you have just said. Though I do agree with you totally on that episode of The Gallant Men. Also, you are quite welcome considering my invite to you on this collaborative blog entry 🙂

      1. I can certainly respect you for disagreeing with me,Altman isn’t my first “go-to” director and I know a lot of folks love his films….I probably just need to see more of them,”Quintet” looks interesting…

          1. Edward Zwick is one of my favorites,he had made many films that have stayed with me long after I have watched them.
            Joe Lynch is another favorite,he makes B movies but they are all well made and he attracts some major league talent that you never would suspect to pop up. His sense of pure fun make his movies a hoot.
            Two to keep a eye on are two Irish directors- Liam Gavin for did “A Dark Song” and Ash Clarke who directed a very interesting horror film called “The Devil’s Doorway” where she combined historical fact along with some thrills and chills. Both also have directed a pair of stunning shorts….Liam did “Jericho” and Ash delivered “Childers” which I’ll be reviewing soon.

          2. Edward Zwick is an interesting choice. Although you probably already knew this, Zwick is one of the creators of the shows thirtysomething and Once and Again? I just looked up Joe Lynch and his work looks pretty good. I also need to watch the work of Liam Gavin and Ash Clarke – they look interesting based on what you say here 🙂

    2. this reminds me of a time i was watching touch of evil in a rep house. when it ended, two old ladies behind me started talking about what a terrible movie it was. they compared it to nashvillem saying that when they went to a movie they wanted a good story, not just a bunch of disconnected weird things going on,

        1. I think somebody needed to tell those two ladies you mentioned that not all storytelling in films can be executed in the same way 🙂 You have a lot of interesting stories songladder 🙂

          P.S. I know I repeated the same reply, but I made a spelling error on that first one.

  9. I forgot about Kansas City. I liked that one. A lot. In fact, I’d put it as my third favorite Altman film. I’m a big fan of Jennifer Jason Leigh. So yeah, this is where I diverge with Michael…Obviously Altman likes her too.

      1. Hmm…I don’t know, John. It’s hard to say now that “5 and Dime” is in the mix. Okay. For once and for all…John McCabe (that’s for you John; I know you’ll appreciate me using the original title.) Come Back to the 5 and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Kansas City and The Player.Those are my favorite Altman films.

    1. Oh, yeah…Come Back to the 5 and Dime is brilliant, too. Forgot about that one too. I always think of it as a play, which it was and Altman directed the film version as if it was a stage play. He directed the Broadway play as well. The film is a work of art as is the play written by Ed Graczyk.

      1. The play was originally directed by its author in Ohio. Whem.
        Altman directed it on Broadway, it was with the intention to film it for a cinema release. The picture was notable primarly for its being shot in Super 16 and blown up to 35, which proved that Super 16 could work as a professional medium for feature films. Before that the availabl 16mm was considered suitable only for documentaries,

          1. altmans production was very poorly received by both critics and the ublic and it closed after 52 performances. altman lost nearly a million dollars on the production, and tried to prolong the run by getting the playwrite to take an iou on hs royalties. as one of the actors were asked to work without pay, the playwrite decined and the play closed. i think it is worth mentioning that a;tmans production came six years after the ohio run.

      1. Glad to hear you adore Chicago 🙂 I do too 🙂 I am from Niles, Illinois and I still live there 🙂 I also think it is neat that your family is from Illinois, which in your case, would be Southern Illinois as you just mentioned 🙂 Equally interesting is that you intended Illinois State University 🙂 Did you love it there? 🙂

        1. I enjoyed my experience. I went to Northern Il. As a post-grad in history and MA in English. I moved to VA and killed my chances of the ivory tower. I went on and got my MFA in Creative Writing and Lit. At Goddard, VT. Then grad work in German at UNM.

  10. funy that no one has mentioned Alan Rudolph. who was Altans protege and became, in my opinion, a better director, with films such as Welcome to LA, Choose Me, The Moderns, Trouble in Mind, Songwriter, and Remember My Name, While he lacked the guru charisma of Altman, he brought a craftmans precision to the Altman aesthetic.

      1. Personally, I think Rudolph was every bit as great as Altman was. The strangest thing is that even when Altman served as a producer on some of Rudolph’s work (mainly his 90’s work) they still did not win gobs of critical praise. They were critically praised, but not to the extent of something like say Pulp Fiction or Fargo.

    1. Your right none of us have mentioned Alan Rudolph. In fact, I am glad you did because for years, If not decades, I have been wondering too why Rudolph has been so underrated as a filmmaker. While I respectfully disagree with you on the point of him being the better filmmaker than Altman, I do understand where you are coming from in regards to that. I just discovered your Cinema Penitentiary blog and you said something about that, but I have yet to comment on it. I promise you that I will soon though.You are right that Rudolph is a gifted filmmaker and their is something very atmospheric about his work that I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it is totally there visually. Trouble in Mind was just amazing not only visually, but also some of the actors involved – Divine played an out-of-drag role as a mafia kingpin. As I said before, I am very much enjoying this conversation so far 🙂

      1. I said he was a better director, not a better film maker. One can make very good films without directing them, and one can be an excellent director without being a great film maker. Altman is clearly the superior film maker, but in my view, Rudolph became the better director.

  11. I know nothing.
    I remember watching McCabe and Mrs. Miller back in 1971. Goodness, I was 23. I didn’t know anything then either.
    But I didn’t know it.
    So I was told Mccabe and Mrs.Miller was a Western. Yup. And I went in. I recall being totally baffled and coming out depressed. Was that what Altman was trying to achieve? Then he succeeded. I REALLY need to get hold of it and watch it again. I’d be surprised if I thought it was Western even now though.
    Strangely (?) the only scene I could later recall was that asshole kid sucking that other poor kid into a gunfight and gunning him down – while nobody else did anything – just walked away. Several scenes were uncomfortable for me – and some boring – I recall that.I’d likely have a different opinion about it all now.
    Likely a great movie, but as I say, even now I doubt i will call it a Western. That’s not a criticism.

      1. I’m thinking it’s probably a great movie. I’m ashamed I haven’t seen it since what back then. It seems it’s never shown on TV so I’ll have to hunt it down. It took me by surprise. I do like Altman’s work and do appreciate his unique take on things. Thanks Cindy.

    1. To jcalberta: Everything you said about the film was intentional on Robert Altman’s part. Undoubtedly, it is bleak and tragic, but at the same time, it is sometimes playful – this is due to the subtly romantic chemistry between Beatty’s John McCabe and Julie Christie’s Constance Miller. While the film has been called a revisionist western, but Altman dismisses that and prefers to call it an anti-western due to how it does not follow any of the rules of the genre. In fact, in my entry above for McCabe & Mrs. Miller I probable should have made note of what Altman had reportedly said. Here, Altman dissects all of the tropes like he did with the Neo-Noir two years later with The Long Goodbye. Visually, Altman was trying to paint the Old West as how it may have really looked and this case, how it would have looked in the state of Washington despite being shot in British Columbia. If you saw the film again, I would hope that you would love it like I do, but you would have to see for yourself.

      1. Thank you. It was a long time ago I saw it. It seems never to be on TV? So I’ll have to find it. Incredibly I’m seeing a lot of older Movies showing on YouTube these days. Yes, it was surely different and I wasn’t ready for that back then. Good on Altman. I believe you are right – that I would really enjoy the Movie now. Thank You.

  12. Given today’s social trends, I am surprised that there hasn’t been more comments about “Come Back to the 5 and dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean”. Interesting.

    1. Based on the background of Karen Black’s character in the film alone, I too am surprised that Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean is not talked about more. Who knows, maybe it is because it is an independent as opposed to one financed by a major studio.

      1. My guess is that it didnt have a good distribution deal. I was manging the orson welles theatre in cambridge ma at the time, and we got an exclusive run on it. there were no other bidders and it didnt even play across the river in boston.

          1. not nearly as much of a bumer as was the total lack of distribution for Health. I met him at a festival screening to which he brought his own pirated print. he was extrememly bitter that the film was not being released. it was a lot like nashville, but just wasnt very good, and was probably a benefit to his reputation that it was not released.

  13. That is so awesome that you got to meet Robert Altman in person 🙂 He must have told you an earful concerning 20th Century Fox’s lack of interest in Health. I have watched the film online (I think somebody recorded it from Fox Movie Channel or something from a decade ago) and I loved it – again, you probably knew this since I have said repeatedly on here that I love every single film Altman has directed. I do hope that it gets a DVD release one day If not anytime soon. I read somewhere that the reason it has not been released on DVD (it was never released on VHS) yet is due to a music clearance issue. This is what I found under IMDB’s trivia on the film. Here is the link below:

    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079256/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv

    1. i dont believe that is true, as all the music was composed by a single individual, i dont believe there was any additional music in the film that could have caused a clearance problem, the issue is more likely the fact that the film never had a proper theatrical distribution. have you seen the scorsese movie on the rolling thunder tour? id not, check it out, the tanner character is one of the many fictional elements slipped into this pseudo documentary.

      1. That is just what it said under IMDB’s trivia for the film. As for me personally, I do not know. And yes, I did see Rolling Thunder Revue and I noticed that the Jack Tanner character was in there. Quite a unique documentary/mockumentary. It is up to viewers to figure out what is true and what is false.

    2. yes, Altman had a lot of bitterness toward Fox because of their handlling of Health. He beieved it was going to receive a big Christmas day opening..and it wound up not getting any opening at all. He believed it was as good as Nashville. I liked it the first time around, perhaps due to the exciteent of Altmans presence, but seeing it some years later on cable, i thought the script was terrible and the characters not nearly as vivid as those in Nashville. I remember walking out of that the first time and looking at the poster with all the characters on it, and remembering each one of them…the only other large ensemble movie i have seen with such instantly memorable characters was Amarcord. Altman was a gas to talk with but I wish I could have met him when he was high on Nashville, and not bitter about Health. My most memorable encounters with film directors were with Sam Fuller, Sam Peckinpah, Jamaa Fanaka, Clint Eastwood, Johnnie To, Chen Kaige , Russ Meyer, Gabriele Muccino, and Norman Mailer.

      1. Shame it could not have been during Nashville. At that time, Altman was still pretty big whether his films were successful or not. I do think it is awesome that you got to meet Fuller, Peckinpah, Fanaka, Eastwood, To, Kaige, Meyer, Muccino and Mailer. That must have been exciting 🙂 Once again, I wish I could have met them as well 🙂

        1. Clint Eastwood was named Man of the Year, and Diane Keaton Woman of the Year bt Harvards Hasty Pudding Club, sometime after he finished making Unforgiven. So I attended several events during the day he was there, and had occasion to interview him. the highlight was during his receiving of the award..when he gifted us with a song.. singing I talk to the trees, from Paint your Wagon. I had an opportunity to meet him when i lived in LA, as my landlord was friends with him and acted with him in several movies, but at that time I was too nervously starstruck to attempt a social introduction. I did as him about my friendm though, when I spoke to him some 12 years later in Cambridge,

          1. the ones i mentioned to John. I liked Craig Brewer. who made Hstle and Flow, and am working on a script that im going to send him, called Black Cinderella. I had a crush on Moon So-ri and wrote a song for her. Was an extra in a movie with Karen Black and had lunch with her. Was stuck in the corner grocery store with Frederick wiseman during a hurricane. Had a blast talking about Bob Dylan with Luke wilson and director Larry Charles, was at Gary Buseys sisters birthday party wjen the buddy holly mvie came out and he played a set of Buddy Holly songs with the movies Crickets. was an actor for David Wheelers directing class at Harvard and met David Mamet there. Took an acting class with Linda Hunt and learned a lot oabout how to effectivly and honestly deliver a soliloquy. I loved meeting Haskell Wexler who siad that nobody knew the faults of his movie Latino better than he did. I didnt like Joan Allen much, nor Drew Barrymore. Hated Quentin Tarantino, a blowhard idiot. Sat net to Connie Selleca in hews for jesus chruch pew and on the otherside of me sat the guy who bought the fireworks in mean streets, while the girl from little house on the prairie changed her babies diapers, And I went on a picnic with Julianna Moore. i could go on, but you know how i hate to name drop.

          2. Hahaha. I don’t find it annoying. I think it a rare individual who seems to be a magnet for celebrities. Your stories are entertaining. I have always thought so.

  14. I nod in agreement with Cindy, but since I know a lot of cool people in the blogging world, I will say that songladder is one of the many coolest people I know in the blogging world 🙂

  15. Superb article Cindy and John and I also very much enjoyed reading all the comments. I’ve been meaning to revisit “Nashville” for many years. I think I will like it even more 25 more years later. I haven’t seen “Short Cuts”. I so need to get on to that but that runtime has always stopped me. Slapped wrist I know! Thanks for the kick up the jacksy.
    One of my favourites is the bonkers avian comedy fantasy farce, Brewster McCloud. I had such fond memories of it in my teens but never knew what the heck I had watched. It was one of my early post for my blog and it was for films like that made me want to start the blog.
    All the best.. Mikey

    https://wolfmanscultfilmclub.wordpress.com/2017/02/19/brewster-mccloud-1970/

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