' ' Cinema Romantico: Passing of a Legend

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Passing of a Legend

In case you had not already heard, renowned director and film maverick Robert Altman passed away today at the age of 81. I must admit I only came to appreciate Altman's filmmaking style in the past few years. The first couple movies I watched bearing his name were "Short Cuts" and "The Long Goodbye", almost 9 years ago now. I will not hesitate to say I did not get them. They were unlike anything I had ever seen. They existed completely within their own universe.

I finally re-visited Altman a few years later through his 70's western "McCabe & Mrs. Miller", though admittedly this was more because I was seeking out Julie Christie movies at the time than a desire to something by Robert Altman. But I was older, and some may say "wiser", and was more clearly able to see at what Mr. Altman was driving.

Plot mechanics never interested him. Character did. He provided his actors free reign to create those characters. He dropped the characters into a specific world and showed them to us in that world. That was pretty much it. Story was merely a nuisance. Behavior was everything.

Earlier this year Altman released what will ultimately be (as far as I know) his final film, "A Prairie Home Companion". Considering its quality and subject matter I think it is the perfect elegy.

In our current decade it's becoming harder and harder to watch a movie and be able to pinpoint precisely who made it without already having seen the credits. Producers plug in a director and you get the same static product over and over. Whereas you can ascertain a Martin Scorsese film, or a Spike Lee film, or a Michael Mann film within moments of its beginning. You could without question identify a film as having been made by Robert Altman. Some directors bristle at such claims but I always believed it to be the ultimate compliment.

Robert Altman has served as daily inspiration for me during the course of the last 5, 6 years. For a long time I had a quote of his taped to my computer and therefore it was the first thing I would see when I sat down to write and the last thing I would see when I walked away from my desk. It is no longer taped to my computer but I still have it written down and nearby and it will forever serve as one of my personal screenwriting mantras. And I think it perfectly sums up the filmmaker that was Robert Altman.

"I'm not trying to steer my craft into the mainstream."


Wretched Genius said...

1. In many of the reviews for "A Prarie Home Companion," the reviewer mentioned that the film would make a perfect swan song. And so it has.

2. $20 says that during the next "Guess Who Died" montage at the Oscars, Altman will get the coveted final name position.

3. If #2 doesn't happen, then he will receive his own stand-alone tribute during the show.

4. What is true for great directors is unfortunately also true of terrible ones. Within 5 minutes, I can tell if I'm watching a movie by Michael Bay or Uwe Boll.

5. Altman quote, when asked if he was thinking about retiring from filmmaking: "Retirement? You're talking about death, right?"

Anonymous said...

That's a great quote from Altman.