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A Prairie Home Companion

I have been following the remarkable films of director Robert Altman for 30 years. His early films shocked us all with their zany eccentricities and his latter work, while retaining the eccentricity, does so in a more moderate and artistic way. I have been waiting for months to see A Prairie Home Companion and finally did last night.

It’s a joyous, comic piece primed by Altman’s free-wheeling approach as director. Altman allows actors to act and to interpret. He doesn’t ever rigidly stick to script. Provided the plot flows he claims he can sleep while a scene is being filmed (or do his accounts) and check afterwards on basic cohesion issues. When you have actors of the calibre of Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline you can afford to be trusting.

The actual A Prairie Home Companion is a live radio show that has run continuously in the US for over 30 years and created and hosted by Garrison Keillor. It comprises delightful faked ads (‘Bebop-a-reebop Frozen Rhubarb Pie Filling’), bluegrass music and light comedy as well as some more serious material.

In Altman’s movie, the actual radio show is portrayed as an entertaining, if low key, art form facing its final performance. Its theatre has been purchased by a Christian, Texan corporation who will turn it into a parking lot. The film focuses on the behind-the-scenes gossip and a highly entertaining mix of droll country music, bluegrass and comedy. The film is an ode to the medium of radio and the sort of entertainment that will get people like me back into the theatre anytime. The actors have fun and the fun is infectious.

The film has no political point and none of Altman’s early biting satire. You probably won’t enjoy it unless you can appreciate the low key and unless you can occasionally enjoy loitering. I thought this film was most entertaining and recommend it. But for a whole batch of more professional (and sometimes critical) reviews look here. I’d be very interested in your views.

3 comments to A Prairie Home Companion

  • Lesley de Voil

    Garrison Keillor was the second love of my life through the medium of the wireless – I fell in love with the voice, and also with the wonderful storyteller, so this was a not-to-be-missed event. The movie was so slow at first that I did start to wonder whether I could sit it out (I am not exactly a keen follower of any country styles), but the mystery Asphodel and Kevin Kline’s slapstick routines kept the storyline acceptably taut, while the acts onstage were invariably together and on time – so beautifully professional and surely a cut above the talent west of Lake Wobegon. I was disappointed that the condition of the Wurlitzer was such that it was never shown in action but you can’t have everything, I suppose.
    Do I think that this sort of entertainment has a future? Well, maybe, but I am not sure that there are any entrepreneurs left willing to take on such a precarious project. Too many people are satisfied with their own “home entertainment system” these days.

  • hc

    Lesley, Altman is often a bit slow to start. I find myself drifting into the mix of events and getting caught up in the various little subplots.

    The showmanship was fantastic but, regrettably, and this is a sad point of the movie, it does look anachronistic.

    I agree that ‘home entertainment systems’ don’t compete with the home piano and the ingenuity of radio – they offer something different but, yes, something is lost in terms of creativity.

  • FXH

    harry – after Alistair Cook – Letter From America, Keillor and PHC has been my radio quality benchmark for years. Looking forawrd to seeing the movie when I get back from here (ireland / scotland) next week.

    Plenty of water here! – in fact I’m not even sure they have large reservoirs.