Tuesday, November 21, 2006


The death of Robert Altman made me think a lot. I confess he was never a favorite of mine. He's done films I liked a lot (The Long Goodbye, MASH, Gosford Park). He's done a lot of films I had no interest in almost inherently (The Company, Pret-a-Porter, Popeye). I may be the only person in the world to loathe McCabe and Mrs. Miller, though I guess I should watch it again sinceI last saw it about eight years ago.

What particularly interests me about Altman is that he survived. His movies--good, bad, or indifferent--were always part of him. He never sold out to the highest bidder. He never worked on the same topic over and over again. Mostly, he's remarkable because he still mattered. Of all the amazing American directors to come to prominence in the years after 1967, only Altman and Scorsese remained interesting throughout their careers. You could include Woody Allen but he is sui generis and should be considered in his own category.

Look at what happened to Altman's contemporaries. When was the last time you cared about something Coppola did? Michael Cimino--hell of a career there. Peter Bogdanovich? Hal Ashby? Ultimately you have to consider them failures. Bob Rafelson? Well, he managed to follow up Five Easy Pieces with directing the video for Lionel Richie's "All Night Long." Flameouts, nearly each and every one.

Altman never did this. Maybe he avoided the drugs that did in so many of his contemporaries. Maybe his inherent assholism was part of an inner drive to tell certain stories no matter what anyone thought. Maybe he lacked the superego of, say, Coppola. But in any case, regardless of whether you like the films of Robert Altman, you have to respect him and how he stayed true to his vision for a very long time.