A GREAT STORYTELLER
HAS LEFT US
Something like an obituary for Robert Altman
As of Monday, 20th November 2006, the great filmmaker Robert
Altman is no longer with us. One of the most important
of our times leaves behind a poorer filmmaking community.
He was an American, born on 20th February 1925, in Kansas,
USA. He first began directing in 1951 with his film “Modern
and since then made more than 87 films, for both television
and cinema. His rich and interesting filmography includes
“M*A*S*H*” (1970), “Nashville” (1975), “Short Cuts” (1993),
“The Player” (1992), “Gosford Park” (2001), but also his
films, still extremely interesting and artistically astounding:
“Three Women” (1977), “McCabe & Mrs.
Miller” (1971), “Vincent and Theo” (1990), “The Long Goodbye”
(1973) and many more. His latest film was the much praised
“A prairie home companion” (2006), which ironically, according
Robert Altman, was a film about death. He also worked as producer
for more than 38 films, as a scriptwriter in 38 films, as an
editor in 4 films, and also as an actor in 3 films. He also
was the founder of “Lions Gate” Films, which he lost after
period he was going through.
Altman might have been an American but in the end, if we
judge from his film aesthetics, he was a European. His
more European filmmaking rather than the typical American
movies, because in a very simple way he described and structured
characters using a slow-paced film style when needed, to
build robust characters in order for the audience to handle
numerous, multilayered narratives and stories. Quite often
he used famous and talented actors and placed them in a
harmoniously choreographed ensemble that no one else
could master so good.
For example in his film Nashville he had 24 characters,
equally sharing screen time and forming a complete, fully
multilayered story. His characters in his films are not
accidental rudiments of the narrative, but true people,
personas and situations of our society.
We are not trying to imply that Altman was a realist filmmaker.
Many times his narrative and storytelling approached a
lyrical pragmatism infected by arbitrary elements, making
language resemble with that of poetic realism. He indirectly
the society, always in profound and brutal way, he always
was up to date and insightful towards the essence of the
he lived with. The filter of Altman allowed only the essential
to go through, which he then processed and ultimately resulted
in a fictional narration and an analysis of the political,
social and economic situation of the current society.
In order to make things more clear, we will look at Altman’s
film “The Player” (1992), dealing with the high society
of his time, the celebrities and the intrigues that challenge
and friendships of the people in show business. We witness
a harsh and direct criticism towards Hollywood, its internal
and the people that control and are controlled by the phony,
glamorous world of Hollywood. As well, in his more recent
film, “Gosford Park” (2001) he will also criticize the
the aristocracy, by brilliantly juxtaposing the world of
the rich (upstairs people, the aristocrats) with the world
poor (downstairs people, the servants), but also explore
the interpenetrations between these two social layers.
In 1996 he made a film about the mafia and jazz in his
own birth town, Kansas, called “Kansas City”, while in
great film, “Short cuts”, which according to Altman it
was about the Los Angeles society and ketchup! The narrative
in this film
is in a spiraling mode, describing stories of social situations
in a very short way, which in the end all link together
become a great big story that could be considered as “The
universal narrative that describes society in a worldwide
level. The brilliant film by Altman, “M*A*S*H*” (1970)
will remain unforgettable,
for its unique humor, and the successfully aimed criticism
towards the Vietnam War, released during a time when still
of that war tortured the American society.
He was a great director, an excellent storyteller, a humorist,
and someone who with his sudden death will leave a big
emptiness in the world of cinema. I do not know what
the reaction to
his death was in America but without a doubt the reaction
was enormous and tough to deal with.
By Giannis Frangoulis
Translated by Konstantinos Vassilaros