Rest in Peace, Robert Altman

This is a devastating day for anyone who loves great moviemaking.

A giant, an innovator, one of the few truly visionary American directors, Robert Altman, director of one of my all-time favorites — Gosford Parkhas died.

No. No no no no no.

There aren’t enough visionaries like Altman. An original. A pioneer. An artist in a nation of noisemakers.

We should all mark the occasion by revisiting our favorite selections from his impressive library. I’ll be watching Gosford Park and crying into my beer.

My favorite Altman moment… It was at the Oscars. Ron Howard’s name was read from the platform, giving him Best Director for, oh, I don’t know, one of his forgettable pieces of commercial, committee-driven entertainment. One smart cameraman turned the camera on Altman, who had risen from his seat, and was turning to shake the hand of the other true artist who had been nominated and rejected… David Lynch. There was a mutual respect, a defiance, and something really beautiful about that moment. Two artists (neither of whom ever won an Oscar for their work, unless you count that “Oh, uh, sorry!” consolation Oscar that they gave Altman) recognizing each other for truly historic and profound work, while the rest of the industry — without a clue — clapped for the crowdpleaser.

I’ll never forget that moment. Thinking about it, I laugh even as I have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes… which seems appropriate, since that kind of complicated mix of emotions could only be inspired by artists of their caliber and complexity.

Pass the mantle to Paul Thomas Anderson, Altman’s disciple, who will carry on the style and improve upon it, as Altman himself admitted.

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for Robert Altman.

I’ll write more about this when I can compose my thoughts. Right now, I just want to call it a day.

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) — Robert Altman, the caustic and irreverent satirist behind “M-A-S-H,” “Nashville” and “The Player” who made a career out of bucking Hollywood management and story conventions, died at a Los Angeles Hospital, his production company said Tuesday. He was 81.

The director died Monday night, Joshua Astrachan, a producer at Altman’s Sandcastle 5 Productions in New York City, told The Associated Press.

The cause of death wasn’t disclosed. A news release was expected later in the day, Astrachan said.

A five-time Academy Award nominee for best director, most recently for 2001′s “Gosford Park,” he finally won a lifetime achievement Oscar in 2006.

From GreenCine Daily:

This is one instance in which we can quite concretely measure how much a loosely connected community of cinephiles values the work of a filmmaker as singular and significant as Robert Altman. In March at the House Next Door, Matt Zoller Seitz introduced a Robert Altman Blog-a-Thon, and it’s from that entry and the comments that follow that I would advise anyone to begin exploring Altman’s impact on the art.

FILMOGRAPHY

The Delinquents (1957) (Altman’s big-screen directorial debut)
The James Dean Story (1957) (documentary) (co-dir: George W. George)
The Katherine Reed Story (1965) (short documentary)
Pot au feu (1965) (short)
Countdown (1968)
That Cold Day in the Park (1969)
MASH (1970)
Brewster McCloud (1970)
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
Images (1972)
The Long Goodbye (1973)
Thieves Like Us (1974)
California Split (1974)
Nashville (1975)
Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976)
3 Women (aka Robert Altman’s 3 Women) (1977)
A Wedding (1978)
Quintet (1979)
A Perfect Couple (1979)
HealtH (1980)
Popeye (1980)
Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)
Streamers (1983)
Secret Honor (1984)
O.C. & Stiggs (1984) (released in 1987)
Fool for Love (1985)
Beyond Therapy (1987)
Aria (1987) – segment: Les Boréades
Vincent & Theo (1990)
The Player (1992)
Short Cuts (1993)
Prêt-à-Porter aka Ready to Wear (1994)
Kansas City (1996)
The Gingerbread Man (1998)
Cookie’s Fortune (1999)
Dr. T & the Women (2000)
Gosford Park (2001)
The Company (2003)
A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

UPDATE:
From Jeffrey Wells:

I used to get a real kick out of Altman’s ornery-ness. He was always friendly, but he never smiled unless he really meant it. He tended to scowl and he didn’t suffer fools. He sure as shit didn’t tolerate any of my bullshit when I first started to talk to him in early ’92, when early screenings of The Player were happening and I was trying to spread the word that Altman was back in a big way.

When I asked to do a second Entertainment Weekly interview with him prior to the opening of The Player in April ’92, he thought I was being inefficient and taking too long and flat-out said so: “What are you, writing a book?” A month or two later we were both at the Cannes Film Festival, and I was trying to get quotes for an EW piece about celebrity reactions to the Rodney King riots that had just happened in Los Angeles. I asked Altman for a quote at a black-tie party on the beach, and he scowled again. “This subject is too important to comment about for Entertainment Weekly,” he said, and then turned his back.

You can’t hear me, Bob, and if you were here you wouldn’t give a shit anyway, but I’ve been telling people about that line for the last 14 years and getting a good laugh from it every time.

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  • Victor

    I distinctly remember that Oscar moment with Altman and Lynch, too. And remember thinking “that’s gonna go in Altman’s obit” — another defiant thumb at the Academy, after another snub.

  • Anonymous

    Growing up, I was obsessed with Popeye. I used to think it was because I have a thing for guys with big forearms – but now I know its because I appreciate true art.

  • JRL

    My first thought isn’t to mourn the loss of Altman’s art, though I did find it significant and moving at different times after first viewing Nashville in the early ’90s. Instead, I long to have some kind of assurance that I’ll meet him one day in eternity…yet I find no reason to hope for that in what I’ve read in his interviews. If someone could correct me, please do so. May God have mercy on Robert Altman.

  • stephen

    I just heard the news from a coworker and logged on and read your tribute. I love GOSFORD PARK too, but SHORT CUTS will probably be the film I take down from the shelf this weekend to remember.

  • Cpt Casual-T

    He was already the highlight at the last Oscar’s.

    When I get home tonight I’ll play the Prêt-à-Porter soundtrack.


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