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Robert Altman (1925 - 2006)

Lifespan: 1925 - 2006

Related: director - realism in film - American cinema


Robert Bernard Altman (born February 20, 1925) is an American film director known for making films that are highly naturalistic, but with a somewhat skewed perspective. Altman was born in Kansas City, Missouri, USA.

As a director, Altman favors stories showing the interrelationships between several characters; he states that he is more interested in character motivation than in intricate plots. As such, he tends to sketch out only a basic plot for the film, referring to the screenplay as a "blueprint" for action, and allows his actors to improvise dialogue. This is one of the reasons Altman is known as an "actor's director," a reputation that helps him work with large casts of well-known actors.

He frequently allows the characters to talk over each other in such a way that it's impossible to make out what each of them are saying. He notes on the DVD commentary of McCabe & Mrs. Miller that he lets the dialogue overlap, as well as leaving some things in the plot for the audience to infer, because he wants the audience to pay attention. Similarly, he tries to have his films rated R (by the MPAA rating system) so as to keep children out of his audience--he does not believe children have the patience his films require. Such a tendency sometimes spawns conflict with movie studios, who do want children in the audience because of the size of the demographic. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Altman [May 2005]

Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982) - Robert Altman

Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean is a play by Ed Graczyk, and its film version, directed by Robert Altman, and starring Sandy Dennis, Cher, Karen Black, Sudie Bond and Kathy Bates.

It tells the story of a group of women, all members of a James Dean fan club, who meet on the anniversary of his death in the small town in which Giant was filmed. Many critics wrote that the film version did little to expand the story from its stage origins, however the actors were generally praised for the depth of their characterisations.

The movie was an important turning point in fulfilling the movie career aspirations of Cher. After trying for several years to be taken seriously and given an opportunity as an actress, Cher was regarded as something of a Hollywood joke, until she performed in the stage version of this play, along with Black and Dennis. The strong reviews she received for her stage work paved the way for her to be cast in the film version. She was tipped to secure an Academy Award nomination for her role as Sissy, and although this did not happen, she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. This success led to her being cast in Silkwood in 1983, for which she received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Come_Back_to_the_Five_and_Dime,_Jimmy_Dean,_Jimmy_Dean [May 2005]

Short Cuts (1993) - Robert Altman

  1. Short Cuts (1993) - Robert Altman [Amazon.com]
    If aliens came down to earth to see if humanity was worth saving, showing them Short Cuts, Robert Altman's bluesy riff on life in L.A. in the '90s, would not be a good idea. Based on the stories of Raymond Carver (adapted by Altman and Frank Barhydt), this ambitious film is a devilish valentine to living in L.A., where happiness comes at a premium. There are at least eight separate stories that crisscross, most about people who choose not to relate to the lives they are living. Seemingly by design, none of the stories (nor the performances for that matter) have more impact than the others--this is a true mosaic film. The most representative plot deals with a group of friends (Buck Henry, Fred Ward, and Huey Lewis) who decide to keep fishing even after discovering a body in the river. The story works as a morose comedy and a flag holder for the movie: the inability to take the correct action. Others would rather talk about seeing Alex Trebek than discuss their faltering relationships. A huge and talented cast twists in the wind, bumping into moments of truth, sex, and passion. Some even come out all right in the end. The accidental nature of life--a common theme in many Altman films--has never been so maddeningly persistent, or absorbing. The score by Mark Isham with songs sung by Annie Ross (also a cast member) fuels the moodiness, as does the opening number in which Medfly helicopters spray the town to the tune "Prisoner of Life." Delivering the film a year after his biggest hit in two decades, The Player, Altman proved his artistic tenacity as an aged artist with the heart of a new filmmaker: he's not afraid of risking it all. --Doug Thomas, amazon.com

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  2. Gosford Park (2001) - Robert Altman [Amazon.com]
    Gosford Park finds director Robert Altman in sumptuously fine form indeed. From the opening shots, as the camera peers through the trees at an opulent English country estate, Altman exploits the 1930s period setting and whodunit formula of the film expertly. Aristocrats gather together for a weekend shooting party with their dutiful servants in tow, and the upstairs/downstairs division of the classes is perfectly tailored to Altman's method (as employed in Nashville and Short Cuts) of overlapping bits of dialogue and numerous subplots in order to betray underlying motives and the sins that propel them. Greed, vengeance, snobbery, and lust stir comic unrest as the near dizzying effect of brisk script turns is allayed by perhaps Altman's strongest ensemble to date. First and foremost, Maggie Smith is marvelous as Constance, a dependent countess with a quip for every occasion; Michael Gambon, as the ill-fated host, Sir William McCordle, is one of the most palpably salacious characters ever on screen; Kristin Scott Thomas is perfectly cold yet sexy as Lady Sylvia, Sir William's wife; and Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, and Clive Owen are equally memorable as key characters from the bustling servants' quarters below. Gosford Park manages to be fabulously entertaining while exposing human shortcomings, compromises, and our endless need for confession. --Fionn Meade

  3. Prêt-à-Porter aka Ready to Wear (1994) - Robert Altman [Amazon.com]
    Robert Altman's much-anticipated broadside at the world of fashion is a disappointment. The film's crazy-quilt Nashville-like narrative structure and ensemble casting (Julia Roberts, Tim Robbins, Lauren Bacall, Marcello Mastroianni, Sophia Loren) are a thing to behold, but the story's many interlocking pieces lack overall depth and resonating emotion. There is a grand, satiric statement about fashion and society at the end of the film, and there are hints of an aging, nostalgic filmmaker's skepticism about our postmodern world of short-lived attachments and meanings. But watching this film is a long, long uphill climb, with a lot of thin air to endure before arriving at a destination. --Tom Keogh

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