Precious Cargo

Refreshingly Bitter And Twisted Observations On Life's Passing Parade.

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Location: Valley Village, California, United States

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Robert Altman Finally Dead at 81

Critics' darling Robert Altman died. He was 81.

I am unmoved by Altman's death. I remember film critic Stanley Kaufman, on the Dick Cavett show sometime back in the '70s, express his opinion that Altman was an overrated mediocrity.

Maybe he wasn't even that. I remember seeing MASH with my parents when it was first released and enjoying it. I think a great deal of my enjoyment came from the outrageous iconoclasm of the film's lead characters. I haven't seen the film in its entirety since, but I suspect I wouldn't think nearly so highly of it now. I think that I'd be in sympathy with Richard Corliss's assessment of the film he gives in his excellent book, Talking Pictures.

It's surprising how many of Altman's films I've seen, considering I have no real affinity for his work. Pop culture can be so omnipresent, it's hard to escape and sometimes easier to just succumb to the critical accolades for a film and give it a try.

I think Altman's best film is Countdown, one which his celebrants would no doubt dismiss as an impersonal studio assignment. I didn't like Nashville and hated McCabe and Mrs. Miller. I couldn't understand the hoopla over The Player. The Long Goodbye is a desecration of a great novel and doesn't even make sense on its own terms. I mean, Marlowe (Elliot Gould) is presented as a loser and a patsy, but he lives in a fantastic apartment building and drives a vintage 1941 Lincoln. Now where would a loser like him acquire such a car, aleady a valuable collectible when the film was made? If Marlowe inherited it, then he would sell it and make more money than most detectives do in ten years of work.


Blogger Lons said...

Interesting...I haven't even seen "Countdown." But I don't know how any fan of cinema could fade "McCabe." "Long Goodbye," okay, not for everyone.

But "McCabe" is just so otherworldly and mysterious and unsettling, with the bleak snowbound cinematography and the Leonard Cohen songs and Beatty's patented mumble. What's amazing to me about it is that it feels really intense even though not much actually ever happens. The closing gunfight strikes me as an apt metaphor for the entire film - heated yet wan, tragic yet predictable, compelling but slow.

Maybe you should give it another chance...

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Ian Hamet said...

The Long Goodbye is even more of a desecration than you know, since the screenwriter who adapted it, Leigh Brackett, was herself a hard-boiled novelist, and her script was more or less ignored by Altman -- it was too true to the book. (Brackett also penned the initial draft of The Empire Strikes Back, just before succumbing to cancer.)

Lons, I'm not only a fan of cinema, I studied it in university. I hate McCabe & Mrs. Miller. It's a pretentious, willfully obscure, vile ode to misanthropy. Everything you cite the final gunfight and the entire film as being, I'll go along with, but none of those things are reasons to like it.

1:08 AM  
Blogger Peter L. Winkler said...

Dear Ian:

Thanks for your comment. Actually, I was aware of Brackett's career as novelist, not only of hard-boiled mysteries, but sf and fantasy. She was married to Edmond Hamilton, a prolific sf author who created Captain Future.

9:09 AM  

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