I wanted to watch The Player tonight not only to see all the nice designer suits everybody wears in it from the 90s, but also to get a sense of what was called the developing shot. Now you might, if you’ve seen The Player, think to yourself, “well crap, they do a lot of long takes in that, don’t they? Where’s all the editing?”
Tag: Robert Altman
A man rides in from the cold, looking to make a fresh start in a tiny town. He brings with him a willingness to throw the dice and a big rep. He’s a gunslinger, someone to be respected, or so the story goes. Soon he’s a bigshot with a woman he loves and a mini-empire coveted by a company and its hired guns. It may sound familiar because it’s a jumble of plot elements from countless westerns, but this is Robert Altman, and it’s going to go down differently.
Genre revisionism in these post-Tarantino days is about as close as you can get to armchair activism without having a Facebook account. It wasn’t always this way. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, reverse engineering the symbolism in a genre film meant subverting the expectations that decades of studio programming had groomed. It meant unpacking the myths that were sold to the “masses” – who were rather falsely assumed to have swallowed the illusions whole. Audiences may not have believed the myths, but they enjoyed the comfortably structured fantasies and accepted them, and to the counterculture who saw that acceptance culminate in racism and violence, this was a dangerous delusion. Genres were stand-ins for conventionalism, which was itself a stand-in for authority – albeit one that seems quaint and almost benign in retrospect. The remedy, it was believed, was to respond in the same language – with Westerns featuring cowboys as mercenaries (A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS) or as butchers of Indians (LITTLE BIG MAN) or gangster films about criminals who were less objectionable than the authorities they fled from (BONNIE AND CLYDE). These winks of subversion would later fall under the umbrella of “culture jamming.” But the sad truth of the matter – from a political though not an aesthetic point of view – is that disrupting people’s fantasy lives is not always the same as changing their behavior.
Most Robin Williams movies are exactly that – they’re movies about Robin Williams, built around an explication of his outsized public persona. POPEYE, by the great Robert Altman, is a bit of an outlier in this regard. Williams plays the titular sailor with eccentric aplomb, but he rarely serves as the sole focus of his own movie’s frames. That’s thanks to the aforementioned auteur. For Altman, each actor was but a color he could smear onto his images; and though he seldom obtained a splash of paint as vibrant as Robin Williams, he never allows the performer to overwhelm the film itself. There’s only one author of this film, and his vision is overwhelmingly clear.
The Long Goodbye – 1973 – dir. Robert Altman
Based loosely on the Raymond Chandler novel, The Long Goodbye fits somewhere in the film noir repertoire, even if it’s not clear exactly where. Chandler’s iconic private eye, Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould), suspects foul play in the suicide of his old friend, who is also alleged to have killed his wife. In another film noir trope, the most seductive woman around is also the shadiest: Director Robert Altman hints to the audience that there is a connection between the beautiful Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) and Marlowe’s dead friend long before Marlowe himself figures it out.
By Melvin Cartagena
The Long Goodbye – 1973 – dir. Robert Altman
“If being in revolt against a corrupt society constitutes being immature, then Philip Marlowe is extremely immature. If seeing dirt where there is dirt constitutes social maladjustment, then Philip Marlowe has inadequate social adjustment. Of course Marlowe is a failure, and he knows it. He is a failure because he hasn’t any money…A lot of very good men have been failures because their particular talents did not suit their particular time and place.” – Raymond Chandler
In the first shot of The Long Goodbye, Marlowe (Elliott Gould) wakes up as if from a deep sleep. In time he demonstrates he is a stranger in a strange land, an intruder from a different time attempting to grok the free-floating morality of the sprawling city of twenty-four hours supermarkets and Laundromats, and neo-flower children practicing yoga naked, and new-age healers. Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell) punctuates this temporal dislocation in Marlowe when he refers to the gumshoe as Rip Van Marlowe, the victim of a long sleep that has thrust him into a time and place that has no love for a man of ethics, a man who cares. This is more than can be said for the police, who in typical noir-pulp fashion first arrest Marlowe, then grill him relentlessly for three days about Terry Lennox’s (Jim Bouton) escape to Mexico hours after the brutal killing of his wife Sylvia, and finally cut him loose after Terry’s confirmed suicide down in Mexico. One more for the books in the precinct, but this makes no sense to Marlowe, so it’s up the world-weary knight in tarnished armor to set things right in his mind.
By Peggy Nelson
Nashville – 1975 – dir. Robert Altman
Set in Nashville, Tennessee, home of the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville (dir. Robert Altman, 1975) follows musicians, con artists, politicians, and weirdos as their lives overlap and intersect over the course of a fateful few days. The film showcases Altman’s signature style of combining multiple story lines, noisy, overlapping dialogue, and realistic, scattered camera angles into a complex yet consistent narrative whole. Considered by many to be Altman’s best film, it sashays between dialogue and song, the individual and the political, and humor and tragedy, without missing a beat.
The Long Goodbye – 1973 – Dir. Robert Altman
The late, great Robert Altman once again lends his distinctive, experimental style to what has come to be regarded as this definitive interpretation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. It’s a winner! Thirty-six this year, the film still plays as fresh and as contemporary as it did the year it was made. The tale of a double murder and the unfortunate detective who gets dragged, kicking and screaming, into the thick of it is filled with a permeating cynicism, underhanded absurdities and shattering acts of violence. Crime author Raymond Chandler, like his contemporaries Dashiell Hammett and Ross McDonald, created glamorous worlds of danger and intrigue where a usually hapless, albeit decent guy, finds himself way over his head in the soup. Here, Chandler’s anti-hero, Phillip Marlowe, is helmed by the underrated Elliott Gould. A huge star in the 60s and 70s (Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, M.A.S.H.), Gould brings a bizarrely effortless spin to a role played in more traditional ways by everyone from Bogart to James Garner. His dopey, befuddled schmuck look assists him ably in Altman’s clever conceit of placing a 1950s-style detective into a 1970s-style world. It is as if this “Rip van Marlowe”, waking from a long slumber, has been transported via some private eye time tunnel twenty years into the future — a future he does not understand and is more than a little bit lost in.
By Jessica Singer
Robert Altman’s Nashville is famous for effectively capturing a unique time and place in cultural history: the country music circuit of mid 1970s Nashville, Tennessee, America’s country music capital. Yet Nashville covers far more terrain than that for which it is most often given credit. Yes, metaphorically, the film serves to critique American culture, commercialism, and the political hypocrisy of the 1970s, but the values exhibited and explored here are quite universal and apply just as well to modern-day society. And really, this film is not just about politics anyway. It’s about people: the stories they tell, the ways in which they see themselves, and the ways in which they want others to see them. These characters feel real- they alternately exhibit vulnerability and pride, insecurity and vanity, stubbornness and tenderness. A web of relationships and circumstances inspiring all of these human tendencies would certainly sound like a lot to cover, but this seems to be the very story that Robert Altman, with his trademark style of ensemble filmmaking, was born to tell.