Robert Altman (1925-2006)

One of Hollywood’s greatest directors, Robert Altman, passed away last week at the age of 81. The various obituaries I have read all full justice to the man and his output. There was little one could add to what had already been said.

Philip French comes closest to my view of Altman when, in today’s edition of The Observer, he writes that Altman ‘was one of  Hollywood‘s great mavericks, fit to stand alongside Griffith, Stroheim and Welles as an ambitious innovator.’   

If were asked to choose a hundred all-time favourite films, I’m pretty certain that three or four of Altman’s would have to be included. I’m sure the groundbreaking M*A*S*H, his freewheeling take on life in a Korean field hospital, would be on the list; so would well-observed report on the country music scene, Nashville(1975), his Hollywood satire, The Player(1992) and Short Cuts(1993), the cinematic tapestry he made by interweaving a number of Raymond Carver’s short stories. I’d be very tempted to include his bleak off-centre western McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971) and, of course, his soured reinterpretation of  Raymond Chanler’s Philip Marlow novel, The Long Goodbye(1973).

In fact, now that I’ve given it some consideration, I find that he’s the only American director I can think at present of from whose body of work I would pick more three films to be considered to be listed in any top hundred films I might compile. It’s often said that his work was variable in quality, and so it was. That said, one has to add that there are not many directors who have had so many masterpieces or near-masterpieces to their name.


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