As a long-standing fan of the movies of director Robert Altman, I was delighted (though surprised) to see him nominated for a Academy Honorary Award, for lifetime achievement. This is to be awarded March 5, 2006.
Altman is a most interesting, ‘modern’ US film director.
It was about 1976 that an errant friend of mine at the ANU handed me a strange-smelling cigarette and accompanied me to a picture theatre in the Civic Centre, Canberra to see Brewster McCloud. I recall asking my companion what she thought while walking home. Her response, ‘very black’ – it was indeed and very amusing to boot.
My ideas about American movies changed from that day hence. I could think of little else for days afterwards. Bud Cort (the star of Harold and Maude) and the devilish Sally Kellerman and Shelly Duvall were superb. I was delighted to read in David Sterritt’s edited set of interviews with Altman published 25 years later (see here), that Altman himself regarded Brewster as the best movie he had ever directed. I agree, I always knew my tastes were sound!
After Brewster I saw the comic Thieves Like Us, then the politically astute Nashville and, then, the ridiculous Popeye (with Robin Williams and Shelly Duvall). I was, by that time, hooked completely with Altman and have now sought to see all his contributions including, even, some early episodes of the TV series Bonanza. My favorites McCabe and Mrs Miller, Buffalo Bill and the Indians and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmie Dean, Jimmy Dean. I liked his modern films but found his utterly idiosyncratic early films so intiguing that have watched them, again and again over the years. I liked Short Cuts and came to see that Altman could cut it as a mainstream director with Gosford Park.
Altman has analysed the spirit of America better than any director I know. He uses film to express things that could not be spelt out in another medium – so he exploits the potential of film to the maximum. He recruits some of the best actors around the world and gives them freedom to innovate while retaining overall direction. As an American Altman is almost too good to be awarded an Academy Honorary Award. By the way does ‘Honorary’ here mean that he doesn’t get a cash prize?