A tribute to the now deceased Robert Altman is a fitting way to launch my blog. The man has inspired me so many times with his wondrous filmmaking and analysis of character that if this small venture of mine were to do the same just once for anyone I would feel proud. The film that I still remember best by Altman was The Player (perhaps because it is the first of his films that I saw). Ironically, The Player was dismissed by Altman himself as "a fake film", but despite the condemnation of the great man, the film's virtuosity can hardly be denied.
The astounding eight-minute tracking shot of the opening sequence led me to discover Orson Welles' great thriller Touch of Evil to which the sequence was a homage. If the film had gone rapidly downhill after this beginning then it would still be memorable. Yet the cold satire of Hollywood plunges on, providing the usually banal Tim Robbins with a great part as a successful producer who has murdered a scriptwriter. The curious thing about the skeleton-in-the-closet story is that this murder moves in to the background of the film, while Altman chooses to dissect the superficiality and cruelty of the Hollywood community. To Altman’s mind, perhaps, the script idea was too perfect and this was presumably compounded by the fact the people who he had sought to criticize willingly embraced the satire, lauding it, after having marginalized him for so long.
How did someone who was so wilfully anarchistic get by in the Hollywood system? Perhaps the only reason he could do was because he gave actors such a free rein with his huge ensemble casts. In comparison to many directors, his work must have been so free-wheeling to work on, a party where luvvies could hang out in the knowledge that the Prospero in charge would put a great film together even if your small moment would seem inconsequential at the time.
Altman’s best Seventies films, Nashville, The Long Goodbye, M*A*S*H and McCabe and Mrs Miller are incredibly varied and virtuoso that some will think my choice of the Player as the model for the demonstration of the man’s talent is perverse. Yet my guess is most people will have a different favourite. Maybe Raymond Carver fans like Short Cuts above all? Maybe you just can’t stand the man’s films, but, if so, tell me why?