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The life of Robert Altman over the course of his career as a filmmaker is told in roughly chronological order. It is presented largely through archival footage, including of his interviews and of his and his longtime wife Kathryn Reed's home movies. It includes his rocky start in Hollywood as an aspiring screenwriter, which instead led to him working as a general filmmaker for an industrial film company. This work led to directing assignments for a number of television series back in Hollywood, where he butted heads with a number of studio executives and producers who did not appreciate his style of filmmaking in his desire to insert a sense a realism in whatever the project, that realism which includes hanging story-lines and overlapping dialogue, often in multiple equally important conversations in a single setting which forces the viewer to decide which conversation he/she wants to focus. This situation often led to him trying to achieve what he wanted either in not telling or ...Written by
I found this documentary a comprehensive review of Robert Altman's life's work, highlighting the director's determination to be independent of Hollywood conventions. Even though he was born in 1925, Altman was totally in sync with the following generation, the post-war baby boomers who first came of age in the 1960's. His anti-establishment stance never wavers as he thumbs his nose at the military, President Nixon, commercialism, and the election process. One of the most erudite talk show hosts Dick Cavett, a cultural icon of the youth generation, appears in the documentary, a nice touch.
Beginning as a writer of television scripts in the 1940's Altman eventually graduated to being a movie director. The movie MASH is one of the classic anti-war movies that treats it with a large dose of humour. Actors like Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland seemed to fit the temper of those times. "Nashville" seems to reflect an unease with American culture under the silent majority of Richard Nixon who pandered to the culture of working class white people and their love of country music.
Later, Michael Murphy was tapped for the role of Jack Tanner in Tanner '88, a television show that Altman believes changed television as an entertainment medium. He also had worked with some of the best comediennes such as Carol Burnett and Lilly Tomlin. Altman cast Robin Williams as Popeye in the movie of the same name. It bombed and we are treated to Gene Shalit's review of the debacle. This movie highlighted Altman's belief that the major studios were only interested in blockbusters like Superman and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
One of his most critically acclaimed movies was Gosford Park, with some of the finest British talent available at the time. This movie went beyond the stage-like production of the Upstairs, Downstairs television show and presented a more biting picture of the British class system in a lavish production that also prefigured the success of a much later TV show Downton Abbey.
Among these and other films, we see home movies of Altman, his wife Kathryn and their children. We also see some trenchant comments from Altman himself about his career and work. The documentary gives us a great view of this highly creative American director and his work.
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