Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Robert Altman

There are a small handful of filmmakers that I idolize ... Terrence Malick, Ang Lee, Cassavetes and Robert Altman. With that said, today leaves me with much sorrow over the death of Mr. Altman. I read an interview he did about a year ago that inspired me. Gave me permission to flick off anyone who told me I couldn't do it. Anyone who would ever doubt me. He gave me permission to make good movies, bad movies, experiment, play around with the art and love every second of it. He was a filmmaker that loved people, characters, life, love, hope. He brought us a different unique world with every film he did and laughed and cried with every moment he put on screen. He never stopped. He never took no for an answer. He made movies until the day he died. God damn, I love that man. I wish I drank. I would hold a beer up to the heavens and say "this one's for you Bob". Instead, I think I'll just keep making movies.


Annie in Austin said...

Oh Kat, I heard the news a little while ago, and had nowhere to go with this sadness - thank you so much for saying "God damn, I love that man." It's how I've been feeling, too.

One of my first blog posts was on "A Prairie Home Companion" but I haven't got it yet on DVD. In the meantime there's "Nashville" and "Gosford Park" and a toast to Robert Altman tonight.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Scott Bate said...

Well put, Kat!
There are few who are more cognizant of Altman's subversive style and appreciative of his art than you. With Kat it's not a matter of throwing his name out to sound anti-mainstream. Her work embodies the same spirit that made the seventies the true indie petri dish.

Here's my little take on Altman, I wrote after his death:

Robert Altman will be missed. In 1999, he was in Austin at a film festival getting an award. They screened Nashville, a classic. He attended an interview session with a large audience in a hotel ballroom. As he was leaving, I had to intercept him and tell him what an influence he was on me. This always seems so dumb later, but you’re glad you do it.
He was coming down the aisle, handlers on both sides, a little unsteady. Right before he approached me, a young women jumped in front of him, handed him her card. I can’t remember what it was but she was doing some pitch or sell for her services right there. He politely listened and nodded. Without a genuine word, she was finished and left. Mr. Altman kindly handed the card to one of his handlers. He was there, so I shook his hand. I don’t even remember what I said to him. But I wish he wouldn’t have had to experience that episode, a legend.

It seems that the New Hollywood or whatever you want to call it has always been encroaching upon Mr. Altman. Always nipping at this heels. Never catching him though. Today, winning an Oscar is as much a marketing coup as it is a statement of love for a filmmaker’s work, a positive nod from your peers. He never received one as a director. He received a special achievement Oscar and a screenplay for his masterful patchwork of Raymond Carver short stories, “Short Cuts”. This almost seems appropriate. By that I don’t mean he didn’t deserve the Oscars he didn’t receive. It just seems right: A lifetime achievement for a body of work that is as complex at it is varied. A screenplay win for a script that brings together so many disparate voices into one beautiful yet muddled portrait of our flawed society.

Hollywood doesn’t reward filmmakers for this anymore. Hollywood thrives on sameness, safety. Much like John Sayles (another Oscar no-show), Mr. Altman made sure the setting of each story was as much a character as the myriad individuals that lived in his celluloid chaos. Much like Woody Allen, A-list talent lined up for a single scene in one of his films. And like so many new wave directors of the sixties, he didn’t mind experimenting, letting the story develop through character improv and intricate mood setting (not crazy camera angles though, God bless him.).

My hope to all young filmmakers is that you look to this man as, if not inspiration, at least a role model. Allow his works to embed in your hearts the importance of trust in your actors, of playful disdain for formula, of a vibrancy for something new and different, an exploration of world you yourself know little about.

Robert Altman made only one film about Hollywood: “The Player”. That is all he needed to make. He didn’t need to go on ad nauseum recreating for the masses the inanity and self-referential loathing of his industry. He did it once. Now it is fashionable in Hollywood (indie and not) to bash the hand that feeds you…it reaks of masochism to me.

What am I trying to say? Please don’t write another film about Hollywood. Please be brave and tell a story using characters and not plot twists or cool CGI effects. Please make sure your story is relevant to at least three people out there. Please never, ever let anyone tell you that you can’t make your film. There is an entire industry out there making money on holding a carrot out there to “wannabes”, grabbing whatever money they can, and leaving the artist discouraged or completely deluded about his or her future and abilities. Don’t listen to them. Learn what you can from positive people. Surround yourself with good people. Be curious. Be thoughtful. Have fun. Tel your story the way you want to.

If you do want to win an Oscar, would you rather it be for an individual film or for a lifetime of achievement? Nowadays, it seems they are so different.


Mr. Altman was in the process of casting his next film, an adaptation of the documentary “Hands on a Hard Body”. That documentary moved me so much. In Mr. Altman’s hands it could have been a masterpiece. I urge Hollywood to leave it alone. I would rather watch it for the eightieth time and imagine what he could have done than see it turn into a promotional vehicle for the next “it” actors. Leave it alone.