Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Death of A Master Causes a Rumbling in the Novice

I'm an amateur filmmaker. Not porn. I've made a short or two. I've written a few films but the announcement of Robert Altman's death put a shiver in my spine and spoke straight to the filmmaker, I believe, is in my inner core.

Hearing of his death was that I heard it while dreary eyed during an already over mentally laborious morning in the office while I seemed to be straining through a hangover even though I haven't had a drink in weeks.

The ironic part of learning is his death is where I heard it, CNBC. CNBC is a business channel. One thing Altmasn was not about was the business side of filmmaking. Think of him as Woody Allen, gathering talent together for films that do little box office business just from his prestige. Yet unlike Woody, Altman never pigeonholed himself like Allen who has mostly been boxed into satirical, self-deprecating NYC based comedies that have recently moved to the UK. Altman was a maverick who made his films his way for his audience. One of the many films that seems more appreciated by film buffs abroad than in his own country.

Altman made the original film version of Korean War (subversive Vietnam (comedy MASH, the epic ensemble masterpiece of a heartland film Nashville, the Brit costume film Gosford Park, the excellent Hollywood satire The Player, and even the film version of Popeye with Robin Williams. How's that for range? Not to mention working on a multitude of TV series in the 50's and 60's.

And while some directors might think they worked with everybody, Altman has worked with just about everybody. I bet you its even easier to find connections to Altman than to Mr. Kevin Bacon.

Cinematical's Christopher Campbell (they hired him for illiteration's sake as well) had a nice, brief obituary:

"The great master filmmaker Robert Altman died last night at a Los Angeles hospital. The writer-director pretty much pioneered a new style of movies using multiple characters and storylines with overlapping dialogue and plots, and he continued making movies well through a time when those he influenced were attempting to copy him. Last year, while shooting A Prairie Home Companion, Altman was assisted by Paul Thomas Anderson, whose Magnolia was almost like a remake of Altman's Short Cuts, just in case the elder filmmaker was to pass on. He didn't.

I guess I took it for granted that he might just continue making movies forever, but at 81, Altman had given us so many classic films, that I can't be too selfishly upset to see him go. I'm going to spend the rest of the day celebrating his life and work rather than sulking in mourning. Many of my favorite films were directed by Altman. He made my favorite western (McCabe & Mrs. Miller), my favorite movie about Hollywood (The Player), my favorite movie about the Korean War (MASH), my favorite wedding movie (A Wedding) and my favorite movie about country music (Nashville). I'm even a big fan of Popeye.

Altman was nominated for five directing Oscars, but never won an Academy Award until he was given an honorary award at this year's ceremony."

Altman is a forgotten giant of film by my generation (note: I'm 23 years old). He was the technical master of sound innovation and overlapping dialogue in large, ensemble films (see: Nashville). This is movie nerd talk and Altman's films was a true movie aficionado's dream.

A few years ago, I looked up my birthday in one of those who is famous born on your birthday. Well, Mr. Altman happened to be on that list, and whenever Feb. 20 would come around, I always thought of him, even watched a film or two on the date. Maybe I hoped that I could try and carry the torch, or at least a spark of his legacy. Altman lived 81 years but he wasn't cheated in his years which included 87 directing credits, which included multiple TV directing jobs. Altman lived, and made films he wanted to make, the way he wanted to make them. A true icon of filmmaking has been lost and if you've never seen one of his classics, go rent on of his films.

Believe me, it's worth your time to honor this legend. I know I will for a long time to come.

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