so, farewell to robert altman, hollywood’s chronicler of the joys and sorrows of what it means to be human. altman passed away last monday at the age of 81, and it’s been interesting to read the praise being heaped on him in tributes written by film journalists who realise we have lost someone whose contribution to cinema is irreplaceable. this is what matters about robert altman: he made films about the way the world is, but managed to make us see it in a way we’d never done before.
the ‘last supper’ tableau pre-faux suicide scene in MASH, where a lonely man is eulogised by his friends in the hope that this will satirise him into sparing his own life…the patriotic country song that opens NASHVILLE prefiguring so much of what is troubling about this beautiful country…the painfully observed middle class dinner party (one masterful moment among many) in SHORT CUTS, which begins with the host calling one of his guests by the wrong name…the real world came to life in altman’s travelogues of the un-mapped human soul.
and he had a way of working with actors that made them all look better than they had ever been before: henry gibson…elliott gould…donald sutherland…lily tomlin…ned beatty…tom waits…tim robbins…frances mcdormand…julianne moore…harry belafonte…andie mcdowell…bruce davison, among many others, are, i am sure, grateful for the day they signed on to be in an altman picture.
the film society of lincoln center is screening his last film A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION tomorrow night as a tribute…if you’re an altman acolyte then you’ve probably already pulled one of his dvds off your shelf for another look – i’m going to see SHORT CUTS again, as soon as i can; as a reminder of what this – by all accounts – kindly, imperious, agnostic-about-religion-but-religious-about-humanity artist could do when given the right canvas to work on.