The daughter of a Louisville truck driver marries the scion of a very wealthy family, but the reception at the family estate is boycotted by the invited guests.The daughter of a Louisville truck driver marries the scion of a very wealthy family, but the reception at the family estate is boycotted by the invited guests.The daughter of a Louisville truck driver marries the scion of a very wealthy family, but the reception at the family estate is boycotted by the invited guests.
A review of the time said it well for me. The film has any number of stories, but few are presented completely. For some, you only see the beginning. In others, it is only the middle, or the end. The camera is voyeuristic, often seeming to stumble on fragments of things, looking through plants, people partly out of shot.
For me, first seeing the film at the age of 22, I found it quietly hilarious from almost the very first shot. In that early shot, two boys are unrolling a red carpet. Because it has been sitting unused for so long, the roll has gone flat, and this makes the boy's arm wobble as the carpet unrolls. I laughed out loud. That is an introduction to the understated humour and fine comic irony of the film. I think this is why the film is under-appreciated in America. Americans seem to like to attach a flag to their humour: "Don't be offended. This is intended as a joke." Whereas 'A Wedding' seems to have more in common with the comedic tradition of Tati. I still think 'A Wedding' is one of the funniest films I have ever seen.
For me, this film was years before its time. It reminds me of modern bands such as TV on the Radio or, especially, Animal Collective. There seem to be a lot of loose ends, unconnected bits, things that shouldn't really go together, stuff happening in layers that go in different directions. Yet somehow it all works. It hangs together, although perhaps the only unities are those of time and place. And when you actually try to reproduce the effect (perform the works) you very soon find out that the seeming artlessness conceals a level of skills and professionalism that is actually of the highest standard - something that has strongly impacted on my own approach to art.
William Goldman said in 'Adventures in the Screen Trade' that directors are basically very good storytellers. But here we don't have one story at all, we have a slice through 20th century society. A picture that is a picture, not a picture that tells a story. This film reminds me of a statement by Vonnegut, that he thought perhaps The Novel had corrupted the public mind, because in a novel, there are important and major and unimportant and peripheral characters. In this film everyone is of equal importance. For me one of the failures of this film is Carol Burnett. That's not because she is not an excellent actress, or very funny. But she stands out, and while just about everybody else is playing slightly tongue-in-cheek but straight, she plays this as overt comedy.
I don't know if I agree with those commentators who say this is a blistering satire. I don't believe it is, any more than Boccaccio or Chaucer are blistering satires. It is much more like 'Peasant Wedding' by Bruegel, full of picaresque characters, a canvas of muddled humanity trying to fill their days. It is gentle, and if it turns darker as it continues, there is a great deal of darkness in Chaucer and Boccaccio too. Indeed I wouldn't be surprised to find that Altman had been deliberately trying to create something similar to 'Peasant Wedding' in a modern art form. The absurdist influence is also strong. This is a European film, not an American film.
So I consider 'A Wedding' to be a finer movie than 'Nashville', and in fact one of the great movies of the 20th c. It is more understated, less obvious, without clear stories or points to make. In that is its greatness. It is genuinely subversive. It is a movie that uses a quite different structure and method than almost any other movie you have ever seen. It is a movie that lets its characters all talk for themselves. I think 'A Wedding' is a landmark movie, a reference point that should be part of the training of every filmmaker. I don't think Altman ever bettered it. This, with his own company, was his chance to do what he really wanted to do. It is one of the three or four films that has had the strongest impact on my own life and art. After half a century of filmgoing, I still clearly recall image after image. 'A Wedding' still sticks out in my head as one of the high points of all that time.
- Nov 20, 2009