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Saturday, August 02, 2014

Sean Kelly

Doc Thoughts: Altman

altmanMaverick filmmaker Robert Altman is the subject of this new biographical documentary by director Ron Mann. Told through the words of Altman and his family, Altman chronicles the director’s entire career, from his TV directing work in the 1950s and 1960s, all the way to being the recipient of a lifetime achievement Academy Award a few months before his death in 2006.  All throughout his career, Altman struggled within the Hollywood studio system, with executives getting particularly annoyed at Altman’s eventual trademark of having multiple characters talk at once.  Throughout his career, Altman had hits like M*A*S*H* (1970) and The Player (1992), as well as huge flops like Popeye (1980). However, Robert Altman’s career is notable for the fact he never directed a film that he didn’t want to.

The TIFF Bell Lightbox here in Toronto was one of the first places to screen this new documentary on Robert Altman, which kicked off a new retrospective on the director, which will be running at the Lightbox throughout the course of this month.  I have to admit that I am a guy who has always been familiar with Altman, but hasn’t really seen his films.  In fact, I believe that the only films of Altman’s that I have seen are Popeye and Gosford Park (2001).  However, this documentary really made me interested in checking out Altman’s other films, particularly his 1992 Hollywood satire The Player, which it notable for opening with an eight minute long continuous shot.

Altman opts not to use a conventional “talking heads” format to tell Robert Altman’s story.  Instead, the film utilizes archive footage to have Altman tell his own story, with there being additional narration by his widow Kathryn, as well as a few of his children.  Throughout the course of the film, various personalities, such as Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin, Philip Baker Hall, and Paul Thomas Anderson, appear to give their definition of the term “Altmanesque.”

Today, Robert Altman is considered to be a highly influential filmmaker, even though he fought for years against studio executives, with there being a humorous recurring comment about how the executives were always on vacation when Altman made his films or TV shows.  Altman always wanted to have a sense of realism in whatever he directed.  This included his trademark of crosstalking, which resulted in Altman being one of the first directors to record audio with multiple radio mics, so he could have the freedom to emphasize certain lines of dialogue in the editing room.

Altogether, Altman is a pretty decent biography of the director, which should serve to please both longtime fans and newcomers.

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Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described ├╝ber-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).