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Robert Altman

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Reply #210 on: April 18, 2009, 03:37:40 PM
I couldn't finish Quintet. I was tired, not in the mood, it seemed just to be going nowhere.

The Long Goodbye, that's a masterpiece. A Wedding, a bold and for the most part effective attemp to just go bigger than MASH. A Perfect Couple I thought was very sweet and well done, but if yo happen to dislike the music you're doomed.


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Reply #211 on: April 19, 2009, 12:44:31 AM
Well I've started Quintet after all...holy shit it feels like work just watching it. A lot of plotholes (why are they so well fed ???) but all in all it's not that bad. Reminds me of Le Dernier Combat by Luc Besson. Very less good.


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Reply #212 on: October 30, 2009, 05:12:42 AM
Get out the boxing gloves: Richard Schickel vs. Robert Altman
Source: Patrick Goldstein; Los Angeles Times

I usually try to avoid getting into dust-ups with critics writing in my own newspaper, but I can't avoid coming to the late Robert Altman's defense after reading Richard Schickel's nasty, dismissive review of "Robert Altman: The Oral Biography" by Mitchell Zuckoff, a new book about the man who brought us "MASH," "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," "Nashville," "The Player," "Short Cuts," "Gosford Park" and any number of other smart, funny and challenging films.

My primary problem with the review is that if Schickel has no respect for Altman as a filmmaker, how would he possibly be in a position to give a fair review to an exhaustive biography of the man? And it's certainly obvious that Schickel loathes Altman's work, since he starts out by ridiculing "MASH" as "a basically witless film," then moves on to trash the rest of Altman's oeuvre, saying that "misanthropy -- with a strong admixture of misogyny -- essentially substitutes for ideas in his movies and his characters are, in effect, characterless."

 Schickel seems especially aggrieved that Altman was a boozer and a pothead who -- as Schickel puts it in the first sentence of his review --  "never passed an entirely sober day in his life." In fact, Schickel seems obsessed with Altman's licentiousness, admonishing Altman over and over for his freewheeling ways, as if he were the first filmmaker ever to use and abuse a variety of intoxicants. He comes off like a schoolmarm, rapping Altman on the knuckles for having a good time, calling him "permissive," "addled by his addictions" and claiming that even in "MASH," everyone in the movie "appeared to be perpetually, mumblingly stoned."

Largely because Zuckoff writes admiringly of Altman's work, as have so many other critics, Schickel throws the filmmaker's biographer under the bus, claiming that Zuckoff "basically knows nothing about filmmaking and film history." I could go on, but you get the point. It would be an understatement to say that Altman admirers were outraged by Schickel's dismissive attitude to one of the great filmmakers of the late 20th century. Speaking to this point, I received a letter from Alan Rudolph, who linked up with Altman as an assistant director on "The Long Goodbye" before carving out an important career as a filmmaker himself, making such movies as "Welcome to L.A.," "Choose Me" and "Afterglow."

Rudolph's entire letter is attached at the bottom of this post, but here is his artful description of Altman's special gifts as a filmmaker. As Rudolph writes:

"Altman was an innovator. His films might seem casual, but intentionally so. They were behavioral in appearance, but carefully crafted with ideas, and strong on consequence. Having served as a screenwriter for Bob, I can personally attest to his rigorous attention to writing. He just didn't want the result to seem written.... Bob knew that continuously working in the rough was the best way to find his jewel. His biting humor never spared reality nor himself. The painful absurdity of it all. There was nobody like him during his professional peak, and there isn't now."

Well said, Mr. Rudolph. As for me, all I would ask of anyone who might be on the fence about Altman is to seek out one of his many adventurous films and watch for yourself.

You'll never be bored and you'll almost always be amazed by what an original, unsentimental approach Altman had to the art of cinematic storytelling. The UCLA Film & Television Archive has a salute to Altman coming up soon, starting with a Nov. 13 screening of "The Long Goodbye," his 1973 comedy that is a personal favorite of mine.

I'll keep you posted on future events as they unfold. Now, here's Rudolph's letter in defense of Altman:

Dear Editor,

Obviously your reviewer waited safely in his lair until Robert Altman
moved on, then bravely said what's been eating at the traditionalist
core of his film soul for years.

He negates Altman because of his life style. Would he dismiss
Huston's drinking or Hitchcock's sexual repression as influences on
their film gifts? Basically, this review says Altman was something new
and different when he made his mark, but the reviewer never really
bought it. So now Altman must be overrated and unimportant. What
has been universally accepted -- that Altman was the one of the greatest
American directors of his generation, an honor automatically inserting
his name into every serious evaluation of cinema forever -- your
reviewer claims was wayward opinion. He simply knows better.

Altman was an innovator. His films might seem casual, but
intentionally so. They were behavioral in appearance, but carefully
crafted with ideas, and strong on consequence. Having served as a
screenwriter for Bob, I can personally attest to his rigorous attention
to writing. He just didn't want the result to seem written. This wasn't a
dismissal of screenplays or writers, but Altman creating. Your reviewer
belongs to the legion of unsuccessful detractors of important artists
when bold work never before encountered was first unveiled. Some just
can't break with the past.

Directors, writers and actors don't have to replicate Altman for him to
have impacted their sensibilities. The power of a major artist is that
he or she is a force, standard, guide. What your reviewer doesn't grasp is
that great artists always lead the way. The torch gets passed, the
message out, the influence permanent. You don't have to be aware of
originators to be modified by them. Bob's insistence on doing things
his own way was essential. It's the major struggle. And Altman won.
Which is the ultimate defeat for the studio ruling class and
establishment apologists. Your reviewer uses Jules Feiffer's troubles
with Bob as an example of overindulgence, but glibly dismisses
Feiffer's description of Altman as a genius. In the critic's mind, Bob
wasn't the right kind of genius.

Altman never changed. To have "comebacks" shows he never went
away. Some of his films might have been less than others, but each had
the stuff of brilliance, and was part of a larger collection. Bob knew
that continuously working in the rough was the best way to find the
jewel. His biting humor never spared reality nor himself. The painful
absurdity of it all. There was nobody like him during his professional
peak, and there isn't now.

Alan Rudolph
“Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” - Andy Warhol

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Reply #213 on: October 30, 2009, 09:39:08 AM
I read that the other day. Schickel's words are so vitriolic I thought he was going to be completely ignored or someone would come out and say it like it is.

To claim shit like that a critic needs to have more than an opinion, and even then his arguments have to be more than convincing, they need to have a point. We've seen that a million times here with GT, who drops some bombs on us like "2001 is only good for the filmmaking", or "the acting in the Godfather is bad", or "Dances with Wolves is better than Goodfellas", or "There will be Blood" is not very good, or "Inglorious Basterds is a piece of shit", and after we all roll our eyes or get angry at the guy he goes on and makes some compelling arguments that, if not for any better purpose (20, 000 words couldn't convince anyone that Dances with Wolves is better than Goodfellas, including Kevin Costner and the legion of idiots who gave it the oscar over the Scorsese pic), stir up conversation and thought on films we all hold as sacred cows.

Schickel is just aiming to piss people off or something. No arguments except what Rudolph describes in his letter. Altman was wrong because he smoked pot? Incredible. I hope Paul Thomas Anderson comes out on this one too.


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Reply #214 on: October 30, 2009, 12:08:01 PM
all he wants is for someone to google him.  and I just did.  schickel you won this round!
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Reply #215 on: January 24, 2012, 03:06:25 PM
I just watched Short Cuts for the first time

I'd never seen this, and for a film just over 3 hrs long, I was happy to be engrossed the entire time. I love the idea of using the camera to dolly into nearly everyone's small things being reconciled or realized and this goes on for nearly 2 hrs and 45 minutes and then when we start to dolly out from some of the characters several times in the end, the moves become very effective.  I enjoyed how dark this film was.  I think I enjoyed it so much because the lack of exposition.  You gain a distaste for some of the characters but only insofar as their current situation allows.  I like that idea of being self contained.  

Julianne Moore kills it in this.  Her explosion near the end, where everyone seems to be melting down was completely on point.  I remember seeing 'Closer' for the first time and thinking how effective the scene with clive owen and julia roberts talking about cheating was. It shook me.  I'd never seen such a harsh confession, because it's truly a tough situation to be in.  The details you want to know are the same one's that will ultimately devastate you and you wonder if the details are even necessary.

To me that's the essence of the film to me.  The devil being in the details.  The great thing about this is that Altman understands that showing the devils face isn't necessary to evoke whatever emotion you want to show.  You reveal the puzzle pieces and conceptualize the finished puzzle.  If you knew any more about Gene than the film allows the ending would feel completely different when he retrieves the dog.  This is why Moore's scene works so well when she's confessing.  There are so many early details that start out seeming innocent.  She said more words that show her innocence and those details don't really mean anything, but it is when she gets to the sexual section, she not only down plays it a bit, but it becomes clear where those details live within the characters.  So,  we see the films essence again.  The short cut of it is much more effective than a complete exposition.  

I think my problem with talking about film is that i treat it very stream of consciousness instead of taking time to refine my thoughts and such.  Oh well, anyway; Great film.  Very effective for me.

I've never read any of Carvers stories, but I hope they are as entertaining as this.

EDIT: I was thinking a bit more on this film and then it hit me.  One could view this under a post modern lens and say that all of the fragmented narratives are what life is all about.  There is meaning within the lack of a grand narrative.  Just thought that might be worth mentioning.
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Reply #216 on: April 04, 2014, 05:05:23 PM
UCLA's Robert Altman retrospective begins June 29, 2014 runs April - June 2014


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Reply #217 on: December 17, 2014, 08:49:45 PM
“California Split,” 40 Years Later: An Interview with Elliott Gould, George Segal, and Joseph Walsh in Three Parts

"Gould shows up first. He’s every inch the movie star, absolutely fascinating, disarming, but down to earth, sensitive and warm — and yet, you can’t read him easily. He’s mysterious, but intently philosophical and, of course, still very funny. Amused and bemused — that Gould way of virile masculinity mixed with offbeat, unexpected humor and intelligence that’s gone unmatched. No one is like Elliott Gould. Screenwriter Walsh follows, apologizing for being late (he’s only a few minutes late); he’s gracious, sharp, and comical — and ever the charming gambler. A guy full of stories. Wonderful stories. He always knows the score but is exceedingly generous. You get the feeling a lot of gamblers are. Segal is next, a bit more reserved, but once he opens up, a man who will burst out with a laugh and a quick, brainy quip or observation. You see his Blume from Blume in Love — you see him observe and soak in the discussion. You see him think. You can see why he’s a star."


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Reply #218 on: February 17, 2016, 05:11:58 AM
Well, just finished "Nashville" for the first time. What an ambitious film. From start to finish. Wow.
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Reply #219 on: May 12, 2019, 11:59:07 AM
After watching "Magnolia" three times since last October (twice on the big screen)--I recently learned that it's very similar in structure/inspired by(?) Altman's "Short Cuts".  I would have seen the latter when it was originally released, but remembered almost nothing about it (nor my reaction to it at the time).

Given my general respect for Altman (and PTA's admiration for him), I thought I'd revisit the film.  (I'd recently re-watched "Nashville", as well.)


Either it hasn't aged very well, or I haven't aged very well, but it was kind of painful to watch.   It's entirely possible that Boogie Nights/Magnolia has "spoiled" my standards for that kind of sprawling film, or "Short Cuts" just isn't a very good film.   I felt no emotional connection to any of the characters (Tim Robbins' character was especially over-the-top/cliched), a lot of the dialogue felt improvised (something I tend to hate, anyway), and it all seemed rather pointless.   

It was fun seeing all of these actors almost 30 years younger than I'm used to, but after an hour, I found it all just going nowhere.  I jumped ahead a few times, but ended up fast-forwarding to the Big Finish (which I'd forgotten)--but that didn't impress me either.

It really caught me by surprise how disappointing it all was. 
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Reply #220 on: May 12, 2019, 02:13:25 PM
Watched SHORT CUTS for the first time last year, and it iz itself a very disaffected movie. I enjoyed it! But I would maybe go so far as to call it a Nihilist film.


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Reply #221 on: May 12, 2019, 02:21:25 PM
(I watched fifteen minutes of Short Cuts then stopped. Twice.)


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Reply #222 on: May 12, 2019, 10:42:26 PM
You people are insane, Short Cuts is a classic! A celebration of life.


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Reply #223 on: May 13, 2019, 12:54:37 PM
You people are insane, Short Cuts is a classic! A celebration of life.

It's as intricate as BEE'z Rules of Attraction or Less Than Zero in the dimensionz you get for compassion corroded.


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Reply #224 on: May 12, 2020, 07:15:03 PM
“California Split” is now streaming on Amazon Prime in the US

California Split’: Robert Altman’s Slippery Gem Is Restored To Its Original Form On Amazon Prime

The relatively low placement of “California Split” in the common consideration of Robert Altman’s masterpieces is, if we’re being honest, less about the quality of the picture (more on that presently) than on its general availability. Unlike his smash “M*A*S*H” or critical successes like “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” and “Nashville,” this 1974 comedy/drama never had an ‘80s-era domestic VHS release to affirm its reputation; like a fair number of pre-home video titles, it was snagged by music rights, which the original deals only licensed for theatrical exhibition and television airings. Those songs would have to be cleared (and paid for) again for home video use, and according to Altman, “The cost of the music track on ‘California Split’ was so high that Columbia just couldn’t put it into video or DVD. That kept it out of circulation for years.”

When it finally hit DVD in 2004, the director had to compromise, supervising a new cut that changed some music cues, deleted others, and excised music-related sections of scenes altogether. It ran nearly three minutes shorter (the cuts are detailed here), it’s something of a travesty, and that disc has long gone out of print anyway. Those hoping to see Altman’s original version had to either see it at a revival screening (unlikely for those not living in major markets), catch a rare television screening (where it’s frequently cropped to 16:9 from its original 2.35:1 presentation), or wait for it to pop on the streaming services (also, usually cropped). So the film’s recent, unexpected appearance on Amazon Prime Video, with all the music intact and in its original aspect ratio, feels like a welcome quarantine treat.

It’s somewhat ironic that music has made “California Split” so hard to see because so little of the film’s musicality is about copyrighted songs. It’s about the melodiousness of the places its compulsive gambler characters dwell: the busy buzz of the casinos and poker clubs, the little hum of chatter in the private high-stakes games, the murmur of shop talk, the clicking of chips. Gambling dramas have always battled the problem of letting the outsider in, as a not-inconsiderable portion of the audience may not know the rules and rituals of these games. As if predicting that concern, Altman opens his film with one of his characters watching a “HOW TO PLAY POKER” video tutorial while waiting for a spot to open up at a poker club. At first, it seems like an explainer, and a clever one at that – a quick way to brief anyone who doesn’t know the rules. But little of that video’s information comes into play because Altman isn’t concerned with the rules of the game; he’s interested in what it’s like to sit in these games and to move between them. Looking back, the device exists not as exposition, but as character introduction, since we learn a fair amount about Charlie (Elliot Gould), the career gambler watching it, from his laconic commentary [...]