I admit to being nonplussed by Nashville, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, M*A*S*H, Cookie's Fortune and The Long Goodbye -- in this sentiment I am alone in the world of cinephiles, where Altman is worshipped as the greatest of directors. I've never been sold on him. Altman's oeuvre, to me, always seemed like a resounding technical achievement, a mastery of the form but not the emotion behind it. But I loved The Company and The Player for their tenderness and causticity (respectively), and appreciated Short Cuts and Gosford Park for their virtuosity. And, like Sidney Lumet is, Altman was one of the movies' great human beings: generous to other filmmakers, thankful for his luck and status and respectful of both the medium and the power that springs from it.
Does anyone have any favorite moments from Altman films? I like Keith Carradine singing "I'm Easy" in Nashville. I love the final shot of The Company, when we realize that the movie is about love and not dance. And Helen Mirren's modulated confession in Gosford Park -- how still it is compared to the kinetics of the rest of the movie. And I love the sadness that throbs through A Prairie Home Companion, an utterly appropriate swan song. Sure, it was written by Garrison Keillor, but the lines seemed to be spoken directly by Altman.
Lola: What if you die some day?
Keillor: I will die.
Lola: Don't you want people to remember you?
Keillor: I don't want them to be told to remember me.
And as the white-clad moll of Parts Unknown, Virginia Madsen says, "There is no tragedy in the death of an old man. Forgive him his shortcomings, and thank him for all his love and care."
Link buffet & appreciations (as they become available): The eight-minute opening shot of The Player. "We leave his movies knowing that life is many things at once -- at once." Stephen Hunter: "Where others saw theatrical artifice, Robert Altman saw the teeming, throbbing Petri dish called life." JMR.: "It is even arguable that I would not be where I am today without Altman." Looking Closer Journal: Altman, Lynch and a handshake at the 2002 Oscars. Roger Ebert's encounters through the years.