Altmanesque

DATELINE: Great Director Documentary

A biographical film on the life and work of Robert Altman uses a touchstone word, “Altmanesque,” as the word asked of all his most famous stars. Their inarticulate explanations may reveal more about the paucity of their vocabulary than about the notable filmmaker in the simply titled Altman.

He began TV work on schlock like the Whirlybirds,but learned the craft.

A man who never caved in on his principles, he was fired from movies and TV shows regularly for extending the bounds: he was thrown off Combat and Bus Stop.Those episodes look tame today, but were shockers of moral depravity back in the early 1960s.

When he confounded Jack Warner by having overlapping dialogue during an argument between two actors, he was banned from the studio. He did not play by silly rules, and today those rules look so silly that we laugh about it.

Altman had tremendous loyalty too, and often worked with the same actors. He was an actors’ director more than anything else: putting their ease of delivery at the top of movie success.

His most famous movies were twists on the usual genre, like Western film, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, or fantastic Brewster McCloud. MASH put him on the box-office straight and narrow. He went up and down, always interesting, but not until 1990 and The Player did he wake up the movie world.

His Oscar was honorary for a lifetime of achievements, but his films were variable, so different that each became the favorite of different people.