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The Invisible Man

Robert Altman

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opus   

CNN just posted their lengthy obituary.

Robert Altman, the caustic and irreverent satirist behind "M-A-S-H," "Nashville" and "The Player" who made a career out of bucking Hollywood management and story conventions, died at a Los Angeles Hospital, his production company said Tuesday. He was 81.

The director died Monday night, Joshua Astrachan, a producer at Altman's Sandcastle 5 Productions in New York City, told The Associated Press.

The cause of death wasn't disclosed. A news release was expected later in the day, Astrachan said.

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Oh.

Oh, man.

In his prime.

I'm going to go watch Gosford Park and be thankful for the example he has set for so many.

My favorite Altman moment... It was at the Oscars. Ron Howard's name was read from the platform, giving him Best Director for, oh, I don't know, one of his forgettable pieces of commercial, committee-driven entertainment. One smart cameraman turned the camera on Altman, who had risen from his seat, and was turning to shake the hand of the other true artist who had been nominated and rejected... David Lynch. There was a mutual respect, a defiance, and something really beautiful about that moment. Two artists (neither of whom ever won an Oscar for their work, unless you count that "Oh, uh, sorry!" consolation Oscar that they gave Altman) recognizing each other for truly historic and profound work, while the rest of the industry -- without a clue -- clapped for the crowdpleaser.

I'll never forget that moment. Thinking about it, I laugh even as I have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes... which seems appropriate, since that kind of complicated mix of emotions could only be inspired by artists of their caliber and complexity.

Pass the mantle to Paul Thomas Anderson, Altman's disciple, who will carry on the style and improve upon it, as Altman himself admitted.

This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for Robert Altman.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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I HATED M*A*S*H when it came out, but when I saw Nashville (I didn't at all like country music back then), I saw it again every chance I got before it left the theaters. It just hit me. Everyone, even the unlikable characters were folks who drew me in. I'd never seen anything like that before. It made me a Ned Beatty fan for life too and he played an atrocious, self centered weazel. I remember being angered at his impatience with the deaf kids and hating how he ran over his wife (Lilly Tomlin) for getting along with them so well. Right in front of him. Yet there was something endearing and sympathetic about his character even in such vile scenes. I can't think of too many filmamkers who could be responsible for such emotional complexity and contradiction. There aren't many films that do such things in any sequence, Altman's films have such moments throughout. What is more, these characters seem to be real people in ways you don't catch in many other films and life's work. Even attempts at using amateurs, *for me*, don't get at the tangible in a human the way so many characters in Altman's films have. His career was special. No more Altman films. What a pity.

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Isn't Altman great?

What strikes me most, reading the obit's, is how often I disagree with the canonization of certain Altman titles, even as I express the greatest admiration for his work.

Believe it or not, I've never seen "MASH" -- the movie that made his career. One of the first Altman films I ever saw, and one I continue to think fondly of, even though it's considered minor Altman, is "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean." I also like "Secret Honor" from that same period, when Altman was filming stage plays. "Streamers" has its moments, too.

So it seems that the 1980s, when Altman couldn't get anything going with the studios, produced some of his more memorable films for me. It's no coincidence that I was coming of age during that decade, and discovering my own tastes in films and filmmaking.

I've always struggled with films from the 1970s, prints of which were usually on washed-out Kodak stock and heavily cropped. The cynicism depresses me, as does the color palette. I still struggle to get past those elements in 1970s films, which are so revered by the critical establishment.

I was thinking about this after seeing "California Split" mentioned in several Altman appreciations today as one the director's master works. I bought the DVD not too long ago, and it put me to sleep.

I acquired "Thieves Like Us" in the waning days of the laserdisc format, but it took two viewings for me to feel anything at all about that film. I also bought "Kansas City" just for the score, which is great; the movie doesn't amount to anything.

But if I sit down with "Short Cuts" or "Gosford Park" or even "Prairie Home Companion," I'm parked for a couple of hours.

Edited by Christian

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Which raises the question, what are your top three Altman movies?

Of those I have seen...

1. Gosford Park

2. The Player

3. The Long Goodbye

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Bleep it! Only three?

Gosford Park

Nashville

The Long Goodbye (I forgot about this. Thanks Jeffrey)

Edited by Rich Kennedy

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A poll at MSNBC is showing 66% support for M*A*S*H. It's my favorite (although any of about 5 could be my favorite depending on how I'm feeling). But that much support I have to assume some people don't know the TV show and the film are different.

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Crow   

1. Nashville

2. Gosford Park

3. The Player

He will be missed.

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1. Nashville

2. The Player

3. Popeye (the most eccentric big-budget film ever).

Of course, I admittedly may need to see MASH and Gosford Pk again before I finallize this, as well as those other Altman films from the early 70s... And I was hoping Turner Classic Movies would preempt their schedule, as they usually do... no luck as of yet...

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My temptation in my three is to be "sacraligeous" and stick A Wedding in there somewhere, but I don't know what to pull.

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BethR   

I'm impressed by Altman's long "apprenticeship" on TV. Those were the days, I guess. I'm sure M*A*S*H is significant cinematically, but almost everything else about it repels me.

My top three:

Gosford Park

Nashville

Three Women (which I actually saw in a theater, because I'm really old, and have not seen since, but it was impressive)

Edited by BethR

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01. McCabe & Mrs. Miller

02. Short Cuts

03. Nashville

Very sad.

I'd agree with Sundered on #1 and #2. My third choice would be "Gosford Park," but #4 would be a real contest: "Buffalo Bill and the Indians," one of his "failures," is quite good; I also like "Secret Honor."

Here's another question: What are the three WORST Altman films? That's also quite a competition, but one I'm not as prepared to address because I've skipped most of his poorly reviewed films. Of the ones I've seen, I'd probably go with:

1. "Fool for Love"

2. "Kansas City"

3. "Cookie's Fortune" (which has some things in it that I enjoyed)

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Here's another question: What are the three WORST Altman films? That's also quite a competition, but one I'm not as prepared to address because I've skipped most of his poorly reviewed films. Of the ones I've seen, I'd probably go with:

1. "Fool for Love"

2. "Kansas City"

3. "Cookie's Fortune" (which has some things in it that I enjoyed)

1. Dr. T and the Women

2. Dr. T and the Women

3. Pret a' Porter

4. Kansas City

I too, have not seen many of the "bad" ones. However, I sank my teeth into Dr. T and gagged.

Edited by Rich Kennedy

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Victor Morton (AKA Rightwing Film Geek) on Altman.

WOW. That was GOOD. I'm gonna read that again. He's right about Dr. T also. There's a nice moment at the end too. Morton's going to make me plow through some of the "bad" ones as a result of this.

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One of the things I liked best about Altman was his participation in audio commentary tracks for his films released on laserdisc.

Today, there

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M. Leary   

3. "Cookie's Fortune" (which has some things in it that I enjoyed)

Man, I really like this one. I watch it like I watch Lynch's A Straight Story. There is a dark heart to it, and the film is fighting to rise above this reality.

There is a real joy about life in the characters that young turks like the Coen brothers just don't seem to understand. As Godard said, the best way to criticize a film is to make a film. I often point out Cookie's Fortune as a reason why I don't always like Coen brother's movies.

Edited by MLeary

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1. Nashville

2. Thieves Like Us.

3. McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

The Player, Gosford Park, The Long Goodbye are all wonderful as well. The scene with Keith Carradine getting shot on the bridge in McCabe is great as is the fact that he's reunited with Shelley Duvall in Thieves. Wasn't Shelley Duvall wonderful too. And Karen Black, Ronee Blakley, Ned Beatty and all kinds of other people were never as good as they were in Nashville which for my money is the best American film of all, like a Fellini with more control and better subplots. The music is good too, I must play my Haven Hamilton album in tribute.

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3. "Cookie's Fortune" (which has some things in it that I enjoyed)

Man, I really like this one. I watch it like I watch Lynch's A Straight Story. There is a dark heart to it, and the film is fighting to rise above this reality.

That's high praise, M. I should give it another chance. I remember liking Charles Dutton quite a bit, but Julianne Moore, my favorite actress at the time the film was released (has that changed since? hmmm...), didn't make a good impression, probably because her role, and the film itself, struck me as condescending toward faith. Yeah, it's the Southern Bible Belt brand of Christianity, but IIRC, the film shows how the churchgoers are hypocrites. No big insight there. Somewhere along the way, what seemed playful, then genuinely mysterious, got nasty and know-it-all-ish on us. That's my memory of it. But that was many years ago, and my sensitivities to such material were stronger then, for better or worse, than they are now.

There is a real joy about life in the characters that young turks like the Cohen brothers just don't seem to understand. As Godard said, the best way to criticize a film is to make a film. I often point out Cookie's Fortune as a reason why I don't always like Cohen brother's movies.

I never thought to compare Altman to the Coens, but the Coens are often accused of despising their own characters, or something like that. I'm not sure I've heard that about Altman. His films are cynical, but I don't detect a dislike of his own characters. Except in Cookie's Fortune. :)

One other connection: I also looked forward to Moore's performance in the Coens' The Big Lebowski and was gravely disappointed in it, and in the film. (Still don't get the love for Lebowski.)

Edited by Christian

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M. Leary   
I never thought to compare Altman to the Coens, but the Coens are often accused of despising their own characters, or something like that.

I was claiming that Altman doesn't despise his characters, and thus is a healthy option to the Coens, who often do. Imagine the Coen brothers directing Nashville, for example. That would be rough. There are a lot of dull, self-absorbed characters in that film, and Altman manages somehow not to allow us to hate them for it.

(Still don't get the love for Lebowski.)

(It is because the Dude abides.)

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