Days of Altman
Since I was in complete bodily pain after an overindulgent workout yesterday, I spend the day catching up on a few movies and make up a bit on my 52s list. I’ve hit the Altman section and made it through ‘MASH’, ‘Nashville’, and ‘ShortCuts’ in the last two days. It’s been really interesting seeing three Altman films in a row. He’s always been one of my favorite directors and I try to catch anything that he does. It was interesting to see how his technique has evolved throughout his films. There are definite constants such as the zoom shot, overlapping conversations, and the documentary style of filming. For me it feels more like eavesdropping on a situation rather than viewing a film.
The level of actors who work on his films (and generally do so at scale) is tremendous. For example ‘ShortCuts’: Andie MacDowell, Jack Lemmon, Julianne Moore, Fred Ward, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Penn, Lily Tomlin, Tim Robbins, Tom Waits, Frances McDormand, Lyle Lovett, etc … There is also a jazz band the has some of my personal favorite musicians; Bobby Previte, Greg Cohen, and Bruce Fowler. The fact that the movie was based on the writings of Raymond Carver makes it all the more important to me. Carver’s writings never seemed to lend themselves to film, but the screenplay managed to pull out the dialogue and make it work.
The movie ‘Nashville’ featured 24 (!) main characters. The editing necessary to create a cohesive story was just amazing. It’s a tough movie to watch and I end up fast-forwarding through a large number of the musical numbers, but it’s still an important movie to me. It managed to capture at time period rather well. At some subliminal level it reminds me of my youth.
There are definite holes in my movie collection when it comes to Mr. Altman such as ‘McCabe and Mrs. Miller’, and ‘The Player’, and not all of his movies are classics (Ex. Dr T and His Women). But for me he still wins massive props for being an 81 year old director still willing to take the chances that he does.
I found a nice bit of trivia while watching the special features from the MASH DVD (I’m one of those nutty folks who actually watches the majority of the bonus features on DVDs). The use of announcements was used to give a cohesive element to the disparate vignettes. One of the shots of the speakers was shot at night with the moon in the background. Apparently at the time of the shooting, there was a moon landing happening at the same time. It’s one of those ridiculous facts that will stick in my head whenever I see the film.