Wednesday, November 22, 2006

R.I.P. Mr. Altman

I could probably write a fairly readable essay about this great man, but I just can't bring myself to do it. The wound is still too fresh.

I was just in a foul mood from the moment I heard about Robert Altman's death yesterday, and it didn't really go away until I talked to my brother on the phone last night. It made me think of two of the better times I've had watching Altman movies in a theater. They both came on family vacations.

No matter where we go, my parents, my brother and I always see a movie or three while we're there (always at my urging, but it doesn't take much.) Even at the World Cup, on a side trip to Amsterdam, I dragged my brother to see Sofia's woefully misguided "Marie Antoinette."

When we were all on vacation at North Carolina's Outer Banks many years back, we decided to hit the local multiplex. And I use that term very generously, because if I remember it had exactly two screens. Our choices: "Nell" or "Pret a Porter." Smarter folks would have run in fear, but my father and I soldiered on with the Altman flick and the others opted for Jodie Foster making undecipherable noises for two hours.

While Mr. Altman was alive, I've left "Pret a Porter" off any list of the worst movies I've ever seen, but it's time to come clean. This movie was horrible by any measure. But we all had a grand laugh about the outing afterward, and it's stuck with me all these years.

The second, much more recent time, was for a much better flick. We were in London a few years ago (yes, my parents do like to travel, and luckily they often take me with them.) The National Film Theater, operated by the British Film Institute, is just a film-lovers mecca. In the 10 days or so we were there we went twice, for "La Dolce Vita," and even better, for "Nashville."

Now this was at least the 10th time I had seen Robert Altman's masterpiece, but never in such a grand setting. It was like it was new to me all over again, and it remains one of my fondest movie memories.

I guess the point of this fairly meandering missive is that, for every "Pret a Porter," the great Robert Altman made 10 movies almost as good as "Nashville." The others I could just watch over and over again include Gosford Park, Short Cuts, The Player, Vincent and Theo, McCabe and Mrs. Miller and M*A*S*H. I could go on forever with that list, but I'll just add that if you haven't seen his "Tanner '88" miniseries for HBO, rent it now and enjoy.

And as I think about this great man, I'm once again preparing to hook up with my family, this time in New York City. Four days, and at least four movies. It's a sickness, I know, but one I'll surely never give up.

So, rest in peace, Mr. Altman. You will be missed by anyone who loves movies, and especially by me.


Anonymous said...

Oh! I didn't know...

Great post. He was the best director of ensemble dramas, and really left a stamp on Hollywood in the 70s. He will be missed.

Anonymous said...

This is the first time since Hitchcock died that I actually cried over a director. A lot of it is probably because I always felt a bit of kinship with Altman--we're both from Missouri--but most of it is simply that he was a great director. Obviously every film he made was not great (Pret-a-Porter being the best example), but then he made so many great films that it didn't matter. For some directors simply having one film like M*A*S*H or Nashville would be enough. Altman made so many more. I certainly will miss him.

Annie in Austin said...

Thanks Reel Fanatic - after reading that first announcement yesterday I dressed in black, myself.

My husband and I were lucky enough to catch a screening of "Nashville" in October 1999, at the screenwriting film festival here in Austin. We not only saw the film on the large screen, but had Robert Altman in person to watch it with us and talk about it [also present was Karen Black, which was as strange as you might imagine]. It was a heady experience!

Have a great film-vacation with the family.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Reel Fanatic said...

I felt a little bad even posthumously picking on Pret a Porter, Mercurie, because it's such an easy target ... I fully absolve him of any responsibility for it because he made so many great movies to make up for it

sushiandrice said...

Couldn't agree more. It's awful seeing your idols get old.

RC said...

that is sad, and i didn't know until just now.

thanks for posting this.