Movietown Focus Page — Robert Altman
last updated : october 19, 2003


McCabe & Mrs. Miller

The Long Goodbye


The Player

Kansas City

Cookie's Fortune

Dr. T and the Women

Gosford Park

This is the beginning of my focus page on director Robert Altman. I've decided to continue what I started a year ago when I did a special page devoted to the films of Orson Welles. After I complete this page on Robert Altman, I'm thinking about doing one for Jim Jarmusch or Terry Gilliam next, or maybe even Johnny Depp.

What is a focus page? Well, there are a few directors whose pictures I've been seeing and enjoying and thinking about for a long time (thirty years, in the case of Altman). Now, my primary purpose in starting this site was evangelical. I want more people to see the movies that really grab me. In general, the movies I like best are, shall we say, less than blockbusters. And, in writing about Altman and Welles in (I hope) more depth, that is still part of my motivation. But also, particularly with respect to Altman, I find that a lot of what I read, even if its favorable, misses the point.

This Altman page will be somewhat different from the one devoted to Welles, since the original impetus behind writing the Welles reviews was that I am one of the few people I know who has actually seen all of Welles' films (all in theaters, too, not just on video). And, of course, Welles didn't make all that many films.

Robert Altman has made a lot of films (the Internet Movie Database lists seventy-three, including television shows). I haven't seen all of them, and, even if I had, I'm certainly not about to write seventy-three reviews. Plus, of course, Altman shows no signs of slowing down, so who knows how many reviews I'd have to write before I was done.

My original plan was to focus on the movies he made between the years 1970 to 1977, when he made ten extraordinary films, including two masterpieces (McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Nashville). But, as I've been starting to undertake this project for real, I've found that my idea of what it should be has changed.

I still intend to write more about his earlier movies, but more and more I found I really wanted to write about his more recent films, too, some of which, like Kansas City and Cookie's Fortune, have not received anywhere near the attention they've deserved.

(I'm not going to announce when this will all be completed, by the way. If there anything I've learned in sixteen months of doing this web page, it's not to set definite deadlines for myself.)

Robert Altman (1925-__)

Robert Altman is not a stylist. This is probably one reason he tends to be underrated by critics in this country, because film critics, by and large, prefer a stylist, He did have a recognizable style during his most successful period (roughly 1969 to 1976): the appearance of naturalism, the improvisation, the overlapping dialogue, the emphasis on American characters, settings and concerns, but he doesn't fall back on style during lean times (as, for example, Hitchcock always did), he falls back on what he learned when he started out in television, how to make competent entertainment.

But once you've made movies as good as some of the ones he's made, you set a higher standard for yourself, and I admit that in recent years I'd begun to despair a bit. The Player was well-made and totally empty, "Short Cuts" was unfocused and unsatisfying, and then he made "Ready to Wear," which got such unfavorable reviews that I didn't even see it. I did see "The Gingerbread Man," and it was as competent and entertaining and uninteresting a movie as I've seen in a while.

But in between there he made Kansas City, and that's a wonderful film, and then he made Cookie's Fortune, and that's terrific, too. And I will write more about those movies, but I had to start with a review of Nashville. Nashville is not my personal favorite of his films (McCabe & Mrs. Miller is, if you're curious), but it's really Nashville that stands as his greatest achievement. It's is what people are thinking of when they describe a movie as "Altmanesque" (or, as Henry Gibson says, "filmed in Altmanscope").

And, as always, if you have any comments, complaints, criticisms, corrections, or compliments, drop me a line.


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