And so it goes. But he leaves behind a remarkable string of work that will go in and out of favor for decades, being rediscovered, evaluated and fawned over. I am sorry that Prairie Home Companion was his last film. It’s nice that it was that rather than The Company or something, so that he got to see another film of his play for more than a week in LA, but even up to Gosford Park, he managed to bring a good sized audience along with him.
So what are your favorites? I love the music scenes in Kansas City, and almost everything about Gosford Park. I’ve watched The Player maybe half a dozen times and could watch it again in a second. Nashville never moved me, good as I realize it is, but it did come in the middle of that remarkable string of films from 70 to 75. For me it’s MASH, The Long Goodbye and California Split, for Elliot Gould as much as Altman, for their creation of a mumbling oddball character and reimagining him three times over.
And are there any directors working now who could possibly put out the range, frequency, and riskiness of the films Altman got made? Or is the industry and the audience in such a state now that such things could never happen again?
11 thoughts on “Altman favorites and successors”
Favorite Altman–California Split still bowls me over, but so do the other flicks with Gould. And of the recent range, I too love Gosford. I’ll put in a plug as well for a) Tanner ’88, still about the best political satire ever made, and b) all those glorious intriguing failures. We’ve talked about Quintet, but we could discuss the intriguing mess that is A Wedding, or the lovable stew of Popeye, or… ’cause, yeah–this guy experimented, tried out and tested and didn’t seem to care too much about polished neat perfection. I don’t think we’ll see a director as far-reaching in interests, let alone as willing to be so open to chaos or failure.
I third all these choices, and Frisoli will fourth them I’m sure. My all-time favorite in the gorgeous and melancholic McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971).
Rediscovering Altman is more of a matter of availability (we all new California Split was a great film, but it was not available on DVD until recently). It would be a real challenge (and a worthwhile one) to delve deep into his 1980s work. Like reynolds, I love Tanner ’88 which is smart, daring, and endlessly fun to watch. But I know little else about his 80s stuff.
Did anyone match him, in terms of range, frequency, and riskiness? Perhaps Hal Ashby, but he had neither the stamina, the sheer energy of Altman. But The Last Detail and Shampoo stand up well against anything Altman put out at the time.
Altman is one of several maverick directors to emerge at a time (the late 1960s) when Hollywood was bankrupt, both literally and creatively. He, along with Hal Ashby, Francis Ford Coppola, Arthur Penn, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Rafelson, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg, built the New Hollywood and forever changed both the film industry and filmmaking in America. I think that makes him and his time unique.
But I think Altman in particular has directly influenced a lot of our young filmmakers, such as Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson. But neither seems to have that absolute compulsion to make films, to be constantly working, which is so typical of so few great directors. One thing about Altman: you could never complain about having to wait for his next film.
Criterion seems to have taken some time with both Tanner and Secret Honor — it’d be like them to dig into the vaults for the ’80s stuff. And, again–Altman’s one of those rare directors whose misfires can be pretty intriguing, even if still not quite recuperable as “good”.
I know that O.C. and Stiggs just got a reissue on dvd, and it was long long not only out of print but unreleased and gone. So I think I’ll move that higher up my list and give it a looksee. (I actually recall the National Lampoon issue on those “characters,” so despite the horrid reviews I’ve always been interested.)
I agree with John…my favorite Altman is the beautiful McCabe and Mrs. Miller, with The Long Goodbye a close second (it was the first Altman film I saw and its style and casual sharpness knocked me out at the time). California Split and Nashville I love and consider them masterpieces though I don’t have exactly the same affection for them as I do for McCabe and Long. I am also a fan of Thieves Like Us and Buffalo Bill and the Indians. I have not seen many of the films of the last 15 years or so…I don’t think Prairie Home Companion was a bad film to go out on, considering that it had some of the languid pleasures of the 1970s style and a touch of the energy that comes from ensemble acting. I am certainly glad he didn’t go out on Pret-a-Porter or something like that. Three Women is a pretentious mess but it kept me intrigued. Popeye is one of the great drug-drenched films of all time–in the pantheon with Peckinpah’s Osterman Weekend and Spielberg’s 1941. I’d give Short Cuts a second shot, so I reserve judgment. The only Altman I’ve thoroughly disliked are the aforementioned Pret, MASH (yes, I know) and Brewster McCloud.
there goes another of my cultural icons. I suggest a mass viewing of McCabe as a tribute in the upcoming days.
I’ve always meant to see Secret Honor. another honorable mention is Vincent and Theo though it lacked the juice Altman has when he takes on American topics.
I just recently tried to watch Secret Honor. It didn’t take me by surprise – I knew what I was in for. But I still found it terrible, and I quit watching it about one hour into it. I apparently didn’t find it worth mentioning here…
But I did recently recount my viewing of Quintet, which I finished happily, shaking me head all the way. Those two are at opposite ends of a spectrum – both bad movies for completely different reasons.
I rewatched Short Cuts not long ago, and disliked the things I liked 15 years ago, but liked new things; mostly Tim Robbins.
And like John, thinking about my own question, I want to say PT Anderson or Wes Anderson – but it really was about range and frequency with Altman, as much as it was about quality. And neither of them have shown the willingness to experiment or crank out the work the way Altman did.
i will paraphrase michael’s brief review of american beauty for gosford park: the english aristocracy is corrupt? goodness!
i should watch more classic altman. i can’t imagine any of it is terrible enough for p.t anderson to be compared to him.
My favorites, in order:
Perhaps Nashville is a movie you admire rather than like, but I watched it recently, and I’m still astonished at the way the camera roams dispassionately among these disparate groups and captures the tics of their everyday existence. With Altman it is the little things that linger, like Beatty clambering, slipping and sliding, through the deep snow trying to evade his murderers in McCabe as the fire engine is pulled up the slope. It would be satisfying to be able to construct an image that burns itself as indelibly onto the consciousness of viewers as that.
Nothing new to say but Nashville is brilliant. I remember making my mom take me to see it when it opened in 1975. It played at the now defunct Captital Theater in downtown Frankfort, KY. Movies opened on Tuesdays back in the sixties and seventies (was that just my town or did movies open mid-week elsewhere), so my mom would have taken me to see this two hour and forty minute movie on a school night. I thought it was the best film ever and it is still in my top five. I need to revisit McCabe. I’ve seen it on VHS once or twice but it has been years and I never seemed to dig it. A special mention for A Wedding, which is a mess, granted, but I thought it was hilarious. I can remember watching it whenever it showed on pay-cable (HBO or, most likely, the now defunct Movie Channel) and always laughing . . . I was probably stoned a few of the times (hey, I was in high school) but I was sober enough on just as many other ocassions. I have a particularly fond memory of watching it with my uncle. He is definitely not your average Altman fan (would rather fish and hunt and dance to contemporary country than anything else), but he thought it was one of the strangest, funniest things he had ever seen. I’d like to throw a couple of good words in for lesser efforts like the adaptation of David Rabe’s Streamers (with a strong performance from Matthew Modine) and Cookie’s Fortune, which was sentimental, charming and very entertaining.
Okay, I watched O.C. and Stiggs, which is lousy, but, in the manner laid out above, an interesting lousy.
In a brief commentary, Altman notes how he “hated” teen comedies, and here he was asked to kind of do one, so, with a “potpourri” of satirical objects, he set out to mock the genre. The film’s pitch is always off. Its basic script seems full of the kinds of sexism, cheap jibes around class, and jingoistic or racist shenanigans that a teen comedy might without much reflection throw out. (I seem to recall the Lampoon story being pretty run-of-the-mill obvious along these lines.) Yet a racist bit will be followed by a fairly-interesting cameo by Melvin Van Peebles, the jingoism by a subplot involving King Sunny Ade and his band; the actors are directed to play barely-realist cartoon comedy as quasi-surrealist. (I admit to kind of enjoying the two leads, who I didn’t recognize at all, whose dialogue is deadening but whose delivery seems not hiply-ironic but just plain exceedingly strange.) Martin Mull shows up in another cameo and shows what the film might have been, both a reproduction and a satire of this kind of sleazy comedy, with a keen sharp eye for how mainstream American such sleaze is… but mostly, the film’s a check on the list for the Altman completist. I’ll admit–I was never really bored as much as confused.
Speaking of Mull, I’ve been digging through YouTube for Fernwood 2Night clips. Here’s a good one. A nice performance by Tom Waits, too.