Altman's work made an instant impact on me. It spoke volumes to me in a voice that is loud and clear to this very day. The worlds he presented on screen were so rich with character and detail that even the lowliest extras seemed to have a story all their own. As such, I always felt immersed in an Altman film, as though I was a participant in the proceedings instead of a mere witness.
In my never-realized dream of becoming a film maker myself, I probably would have aped his style as so many others have attempted to do with varying levels of success. But in doing so, I believe that I would have found my own voice and perhaps spoken to another young neophyte much as myself, probably one who would have said, "Hey pal. You're no Robert Altman."
Regardless of all that, Altman remains in the top three of favorite film directors of all time. Therefore, why not feature a whole weekend of Altman movies for this, my birthday weekend. You will note that both M*A*S*H* and NASHVILLE missing from this list as are THE LONG GOODBYE and SHORT CUTS. They are only so many slots available, folks and as brilliant as I find them, I prefer these five. Hey, POPEYE didn't make the cut either.
Opening night will be BREWSTER MCCLOUD, the long neglected follow-up to M*A*S*H* (another reason for the latter's exclusion: those fucking asterisks). The simple story of a boy who wanted to fly, in this case on a pair of homemade wingsflapping inside of the Houston Astrodome, BREWSTER is so wonderfully off-beat that it is small wonder why it was shunned in its initial release, but amazes me that it hasn't been the cult classic I feel it deserves.
Next up is the Saturday matinee feature, CALIFORNIA SPLIT, Altman's ode to gambling that is a perfect companion piece to Karel Reisz and James Toback's THE GAMBLER released around the same time. While SPLIT is a more light-hearted buddy comedy with the genius pairing of George Segal and Elliott Gould, the two films deliver the same message and had the identical impact on me.
Saturday night is reserved for Altman's great fuck you to Hollywood, THE PLAYER which ironically, kick-started his career into a third act he might have been denied after a decade of one failure after another. But Altman was the Comeback Kid and the community he gleefully spits upon lowered their umbrellas to be soiled by the master as he pulled into the home stretch, galloping all the way.
Sunday afternoon seemed to be as good a place as any for Altman's last classic, GOSFORD PARK, another foray into the realm of murder mysteries. As written by Julian Fellowes, this precursor to DOWNTON ABBEY appeared to be an odd choice for the director, But once this multi-character tale began to unfold, it became all to obvious that Altman was the only director to properly tell it correctly with his distinctive and inimitable style.
Finally, closing night has to be what I consider his masterpiece, what has been termed his revisionist western, MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER. This was the one that clinched it for me. No other film until this point had the look, the feel, the mood of MCCABE. It played right into my emo wheelhouse as a moody dreamer, so mesmerized was I by absolutely everything from Vilmos Zsigmond's groundbreaking cinematography to the entrancing soundtrack filled with the music of Leonard Cohen. I found Warren Beatty to be such a lovable scamp that I could overlook the fact that John McCabe was basically an asshole. But at least he was a charming asshole. And Julie Christie...dear lord in heaven, did I ever have a major crush upon her after this film, the first screen love o' my life since the days of Diana Rigg in THE AVENGERS. It was the magical film that remained nearest to my heart. I took every opportunity to see it whenever I could. One particularly rainy night when I lived in the Bay Area, I took refuge in the Stage Door Theater for a double bill of MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER and JEREMIAH JOHNSON. This had been probably the tenth time I had seen MCCABE since it played at the Bijou in Stockton where I previously worked prior to moving to the Big City and sat through every showing. But the Stage Door presentation this Sunday night (coincidentally enough) was the last on the big screen. It had the same hypnotic effect on me that it did from the very beginning. I left the cinema that night in a melancholy stupor and walked the streets of San Francisco for hours now the rain had ceased, Leornard Cohen's WINTER LADY playing on an endless loop in my head and me living a beautiful dream.
So there you have it.
Thank you, Robert Altman.
And Happy birthday to me.
CHERNFEST 2016: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY