December 3, 2014–January 17, 2015
The Museum of Modern Art presents a comprehensive career retrospective of the maverick film and television director Robert Altman (1925–2006), comprising 50 programs, including theatrical features, television films, cable series, and rarely seen music videos, industrial shorts, and documentary pieces. Altman’s work over four decades, beginning in the 1970s, came to define the spirit of American independent film. His essential films include the groundbreaking anti-war satire M*A*S*H (1970); the unorthodox Western McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971); the disaffected portrait of Bicentennial America Nashville (1975); the film noir satire The Long Goodbye (1973); the avant-garde woman’s picture 3 Women (1977); the waggish Hollywood exposé The Player (1992); the adaptation of stories by Raymond Carver Short Cuts (1993); and his final work, A Prairie Home Companion (2006), a collaboration with radio personality Garrison Keiller. Distancing himself from mainstream Hollywood formulas, Altman produced films in what has been described as “anti-genres,” including revisionist takes on romantic comedy (A Perfect Couple, 1979), teen films (O.C. & Stiggs, 1984), psychological thrillers (Images, 1972), and historical dramas (Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson, 1976). His penchant for improvisation and the innovative use of natural, overlapping dialogue became directorial signatures, most elegantly realized in his later film Gosford Park (2001), which served as a model for writer Julian Fellowes’s successful ITV/PBS series Downton Abbey (2010–).
Altman’s passion for theater and the craft of acting is evident in the ensemble performance style that characterizes work like A Wedding (1978), the rarely screened Health (1980), and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982), which he originated on stage. Other notable Altman films were adapted from such stage plays as David Rabe’s Streamers (1983), Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love (1985), Marsha Norman’s The Laundromat (1985), Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy (1987), and Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter (1987). His films provided career highlights for performers such as Cher, Paul Newman, Carol Burnett, Tim Robbins, Shelley Duval, Elliott Gould, Sally Kellerman, Keith Carradine, Lindsay Lohan, Lilly Tomlin, Michael Murphy, Geraldine Chaplin, Sissy Spacek, James Caan, Susannah York, Karen Black, Robert Duval, Glenda Jackson, Rene Auberjonois, Helen Mirren, Cynthia Nixon.
Popular music, in particular jazz, folk, and country, also figure prominently in the director’s work. Among the musicians with whom he worked are Leonard Cohen, John Williams, Stomu Yamashta, Harry Nilsson and Van Dyke Parks, Joshua Redman, Johnny Mandel, Patrick Doyle, and Mark Isham. The director’s major works for television, the pioneering cable mockumentary series Tanner ’88 (1988), created by Garry Trudeau for HBO, and its sequel Tanner on Tanner (2004), are genre-bending twists on cinéma vérité. Including cameo appearances by real-life politicians and media figures like Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Michael Dukakis, Tom Brokaw, Linda Ellerbee, Martin Scorsese, and Charlie Rose, they set new standards for broadcast humor with their riffs on U.S. presidential elections and the tropes of reality TV.
In addition to Altman’s theatrical and television films, the retrospective will be distinguished by the addition of little-known early work to a number of the programs along with the features. These include industrial films he made in Kansas City in the 1950s, and musical shorts produced for the pioneering film jukebox system ColorSonic in 1966. The series concludes with a screening of the authorized feature-length EPIX documentary on Altman by director Ron Mann and Sphinx Productions. Finally, a number of Altman collaborators are being approached to appear at select screening events.
Related Film Screenings
The Perfect Crime
1955. USA. Written and directed by Robert Altman. Produced by the Calvin Company. With Leonard Belove, Owen Bush, Art Ellison. This noir-style public service film on traffic safety opens with a double murder. Digital projection. 29 min.
1957. USA. Written and directed by Robert Altman. With Tom Laughlin, Peter Miller, Rosemary Howard. Before his feature film career took off with MASH, Altman’s early sponsored films and television work allowed him to develop his craft in a range of traditional genres. Among them is this 1950s teensploitation picture in which a pretty girl’s rebellion against bourgeois parents leads to recklessness and violence. DCP presentation courtesy the Robert Altman Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive. 72 min.
Television Program 1
“Nightmare in Chicago” (adapted from Kraft Suspense Theatre: Once Upon a Savage Night)
1964. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Teleplay by David Moessinger, based on a novel by William P. McGivern. With Charles McGraw, Robert Ridgely, Ted Knight, Barbara Turner. Shot on location in and around Chicago, this gritty crime thriller, much of it told from a serial killer’s perspective, is the best of the director’s early flirtations with classic film noir. It also features an early score by John Williams. 80 min.
“Survival” (from Combat!)
1963. Directed by Robert Altman. Teleplay by John D. F. Black. With Vic Morrow, Rick Jason, Pierre Jalbert. In what is generally considered the war series’s strongest and most realistic episode, WWII American soldier Morrow wanders alone, burned and shell-shocked, behind German lines. 47 min.
Pot au Feu
1965. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Cooking up a joint French-style. Digital projection. 4 min.
Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean
1982. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Ed Graczyk. With Sandy Dennis, Cher, Karen Black, Sudie Bond, Kathy Bates. A fan club reunion at a fading soda-fountain shrine to James Dean on the anniversary of his death becomes a meditation on gender, power, and female identity. As with other stage adaptations made during his periods of retreat from Hollywood, Altman challenges viewers to experience the interplay of visual storytelling and the spoken word. As he often did, the director focuses on a strong cast of women, and Cher’s stellar performance launched her screen career. Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Film Foundation and The Hollywood Foreign Press Association. 109 min.
Television Program 2
“All the President’s Women” (from Gun)
1997. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Anne Rapp. With Daryl Hannah, Sally Kellerman, Jennifer Tilly, Sean Young, Randy Quaid, Tina Lifford. Bill Clinton’s presidency is the subtext for this sardonic mystery about a missing weapon and the philandering country-club set. 60 min.
“Silent Thunder” (from Bonanza)
1960. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Teleplay by John Furia, Jr. With Michael Landon, Stella Stevens, Albert Salmi. In this episode of the long-running Western series, Little Joe (Landon) saves a deaf farm girl from a sexual predator and teaches her how to overcome alienation from her father. 50 min.
1951. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Produced by the Calvin Company. This industrial film reviews national regulations governing high school football through the efforts of a would-be gridiron hero. Look for the director himself as a press box extra. Digital projection. 26 min.
The James Dean Story
1957. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Stewart Stern. Narrated by Martin Gabel. Made shortly after the actor’s violent death, Altman’s first film about James Dean is a noir eulogy capitalizing on interviews with close family and friends. The use of landscape as a breeding ground for character would become an important, if overlooked, motif in his work. 81 min.
1956. USA. Directed by Robert Woodburn. Screenplay by Woodburn, Altman. Altman cowrote this independent musical comedy, directed and performed by colleagues from the Calvin Company in his hometown of Kansas City. This low-budget affair, about a popcorn executive, the ensemble cast of the show he sponsors, and a conniving competitor, is replete with the social satire and dramatic deadpan that would become Altman’s trademark. Restored by the Northwest Chicago Film Society, with funding from the National Film Preservation Foundation. 58 min.
1992. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Michael Tolkin. With Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Cynthia Stevenson, Margery Bond. Tim Robbins stars in this waggish Hollywood exposé as a studio executive whose attempt to track down a screenwriter sending him hate mail results in an accidental murder and a sleazy web of lies. The crime plot doubles as an indictment of a depraved industry, as satire melds with dark comedy. A box-office success packed with star cameos and industry references, The Player announced Altman’s return to Hollywood after independent projects throughout the 1980s, but Altman never got too cozy: “As for Hollywood, they sell shoes and I make gloves. So we really aren’t in the same business.” 124 min.
The Sound of Bells
1952. USA. Written and directed by Robert Altman. Produced by the Calvin Company. With Keith Painton. Two Christmas eves bookend this primer on car dealing and parable on kindness. 22 min.
1968. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Loring Mandel, based on the novel The Pilgrim Project, by Hank Searls. With James Caan, Robert Duvall, Joanna Moore, Barbara Baxley, Charles Aidman. Altman’s first Hollywood feature follows two astronauts vying to be the first American sent the moon, and charts the ripples in their family lives in the days leading up the mission, expedited due to Soviet advancements. Anticipating the first moon landing by a year, the crew conferred with NASA experts to replicate the Apollo capsule in the Warner Bros. sound stages—with estimable results for the time—and James Caan’s character takes his first steps on “the Moon” in the Mojave Desert. 101 min.
Television Program 3
“Some of the People, Some of the Time” (from Route 66)
1961. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Teleplay by Stirling Silliphant. With Martin Milner, George Maharis, Keenan Wynn, Lois Nettleton, Shirl Conway. In Wynn’s first performance for Altman, small town Pennsylvania is the setting for the Corvette-driving series regulars’ encounter with a shady beauty contest promoter. 60 min.
“The Young One” (from Alfred Hitchcock Presents)
1957. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Teleplay by Sarrett Rudley, from a story by Phillip Goodman, Sandy Sax. With Carol Lynley, Vince Edwards, Stephen Joyce, Jeanette Nolan. A teenage girl (Lynley) uses sex and violence to escape her home life in this dry run for the psychologically distressed female characters both actress and director would revisit in later work. 30 min.
1966. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Produced for Color-Sonic. Burlesque star Lili St. Cyr makes herself comfortable as Frances never could. Digital projection. 4 min.
That Cold Day in the Park
1969. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Gillian Freeman, adapted from the novel by Richard Miles. With Sandy Dennis, Michael Burns, Susanne Benton. In the first of several Altman films exploring the interior world of unstable anti-heroines, Sandy Dennis delivers an arresting performance as Frances, a wealthy young spinster who shelters an apparently homeless and mute (and handsome) young man on a rainy Vancouver day. When Frances discovers the truth about the mysterious boy, she regains control by any means necessary, bringing this modern gothic psychodrama to a climactic finish. Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive, with funding provided by The Film Foundation and The Hollywood Foreign Press Association. 113 min.
1966. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Produced for Color-Sonic. Lili St. Cyr lounges seaside. Digital projection. 4 min.
1970. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Ring Lardner Jr., based on the novel by Richard Hooker. With Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt, Sally Kellerman, Robert Duvall, Corey Fischer. Set in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War, MASH chronicles the romantic escapades, after-hours tricks, and behind-the-battle-lines sports adventures of three hedonistic surgeons. Altman debuted several of his now-signature techniques—overlapping dialogue, tight close-ups, and rich performances by an ensemble cast—creating a carefully constructed sense of chaos. This antiwar dispatch earned an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Altman’s star began to rise with the arc of the counterculture. 116 min.
Behind the Scenes of Brewster McCloud [excerpt]
1970. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Footage of the director and crew working on mechanical flying effects in the Astrodome. Silent. Digital projection. 5 min.
1970. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Doran William Cannon. With Bud Cort, Shelley Duvall, Sally Kellerman, René Auberjonois, John Schuck. An introverted young man hiding in the Houston Astrodome, under the protection of a guardian angel, dreams of flying on artificial wings—until he is brought down to Earth by a sexual encounter with a featherbrained girl. This Fellini-inspired comic allegory, an unlikely follow-up to the success of MASH, was among the director’s favorites. 105 min.
1971. USA. Directed by Marianne Dolan. Footage from the set of McCabe and Mrs. Miller documents the complex production demands—and the good times—of location work in adverse conditions. Digital projection. 9 min.
McCabe and Mrs. Miller
1971. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Altman, Brian McKay. With Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, René Auberjonois, Michael Murphy. The director’s anti-Western taps into 1970s paranoia about the ruthlessness and long reach of corporate America. In the unforgiving frontier wilderness of Washington State in 1902, Christie’s cynical prostitute and Beatty’s hapless con man fall victim to deluded ambition, bravado, and despair. 120 min.
2001. USA. Directed by Marianne Dolan. A home movie from the set of Images. Digital projection. 9 min.
1972. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Altman. With Rene Auberjonois, Marcel Bozzuffi, Hugh Millais, Cathryn Harrison, Susannah York. In a countryside cottage, a children’s book author finds herself tormented by visions of a deceased lover, which she battles with fantasies of bloody violence. Told entirely from the woman’s muddled perspective, this elliptical tale registers like a fever dream, complete with dizzying cinematography and an eerie score performed by Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamashta. While denying the viewer the genre’s usual cathartic payoff, Altman’s take on the psychological thriller—and his fragile and haunted heroine—is powerful nonetheless. 101 min.
2001. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Julian Fellowes. With Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Kristen Scott Thomas, Ryan Phillippe, Clive Owen. The master of the house invites distinguished guests for a weekend shooting party—and is murdered in the dark of night. This English-manor whodunit, Altman’s most successful film since MASH, boasts a knockout cast of British stage and screen talent. Julian Fellowes’s cleverly layered script—pitting the babble of the landed against the gossip of the servants’ quarters—won an Academy Award and served as a model for Fellowes’s successful series Downton Abbey (2010–). 137 min.
1966. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Produced for Color-Sonic. With Robert Fortier. Altman used his home, family, and friends in this jukebox short set to Herb Alpert’s “Bittersweet Samba.” Digital projection. 4 min.
The Long Goodbye
1973. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Leigh Brackett, based on novel by Raymond Chandler. With Elliott Gould, Nina Van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell, Henry Gibson. After toying with film noir in his early film and television work, Altman made his major contribution to the genre with this sun-drenched, Technicolor Raymond Chandler adaptation. Gould’s chain-smoking Philip Marlowe is like a mumbling Rip Van Winkle awaking 30 years out of date in 1970s Los Angeles. Ceaseless, arbitrary camera movement creates a sense of uneasy voyeurism, and a jazzy John Williams/Johnny Mercer title song plays over and over as an inescapable, fatalistic motif. 112 min.
1947. USA. Directed by Edward L. Marin. Screenplay by Laurence Stallings, from a story by Stallings, Richard H. Landau, Altman. With George Raft, George Brent, Randolph Scott, Joan Blondell, Ann Harding. A lonely old woman in danger of losing her fortune calls for a reunion with her three adopted sons, whose less-than-exemplary lives are revealed in flashback. The film’s odd ensemble of characters and star-heavy cast anticipate later Altman. 90 min.
Thieves like Us
1974. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Altman, Joan Tewkesbury, Calder Willingham. With Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, John Schuck, Bert Remsen, Louise Fletcher. Depression-era Mississippi becomes a textured, vivid character in this portrayal of chain-gang escapees who blunder through another spree of bank hold-ups. When Bowie (Carradine) is injured, he is nursed back to health by the sweet and simple Keechie (Duvall), beginning a tender but doomed romance. From the New Deal speeches and 1930s radio programs that comprise the diagetic score to the ubiquitous Coca-Cola bottles, Thieves like Us presents a poetic regional portrait. 124 min.
1948. USA. Directed by Richard Fleischer. Screenplay by Fred Niblo, Jr., Harry Essex, from a story by Altman, George W. George. With Lawrence Tierney, Priscilla Lane, Philip Reed, Steve Brodie. Suspended from the force, insubordinate tough guy Tierney is hired to protect a wealthy meatpacking heiress and then framed for murder. There is a hint of parody in Altman’s B-grade film noir story that would become a signature of later work. 62 min.
1974. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Joseph Walsh. With George Segal, Elliott Gould, Ann Prentiss, Gwen Welles. Set against the gambling subculture of racetracks and casinos, this character study of a freewheeling habitué (Gould) and a rabidly codependent businessman (Segal) is the director’s most successful early experiment in blending scripted dialogue and improvisation, aided by new eight-track technology. The film was shot in sequence, and the matter-of-fact existentialism of its ending was decided on the set when Altman suddenly discarded the remaining script pages. 108 min.
Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson
1976. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Alan Rudolph, Altman, suggested by the play Indians, by Arthur Kopit. With Paul Newman, Joel Grey, Burt Lancaster, Geraldine Chaplin, Kevin McCarthy, Harvey Keitel. After Nashville, this is Altman’s second Bicentennial-inspired reflection on America told as a show-business story. Restaging history proves impossible when Newman’s Buffalo Bill hires the real Chief Sitting Bull for his Wild West Pageant. 123 min.
1966. Directed by Robert Altman. Produced for Color-Sonic. Bobby Troup serenades a high-class styling session. Digital projection. 4 min.
1977. USA. Written and directed by Robert Altman. With Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Janice Rule, Robert Fortier, Ruth Nelson. Wide-eyed Pinky, newly employed at a geriatric center, latches on to a fellow nurse, the chatty and self-styled sophisticate Millie Lammoreaux. When the pair become roommates, Pinky’s idolization quickly irritates Millie until an act of desperation gives way to a sinister reversal of roles. Spacek and Duvall each brilliantly deliver their own portrait of modern loneliness, played out to the muted colors of the Southern California desert, in this strange and gripping psychodrama. Digital projection. 124 min.
“Dinah Goes to a Wedding” [excerpt] (from Dinah!)
1978. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Dinah Shore interviews Altman on the set of A Wedding. 10 min.
1978. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Altman, John Considine, Allan Nicholls, Patricia Resnick, based on a story by Altman, Considine. With Carol Burnett, Paul Dooley, Amy Stryker, Mia Farrow, Dennis Christopher, Lillian Gish, Desi Arnaz, Jr. The society wedding of “Muffin” Brenner and Dino Sloan Corelli goes from fiasco to farce in this comedy of manners. Altman purportedly set out to double the 24-person cast count from Nashville, giving himself ample subjects on both sides of the family—including Lillian Gish, as the bed-ridden matriarch—for the revelation of secrets throughout the day. No taboos are spared as secret pregnancies, radical politics, and drug habits come to the fore in this delightful free-for-all. 125 min.
1979. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Altman and Frank Barhydt. With Paul Newman, Bibi Andersson, Vittorio Gassman, Fernando Rey. The prestigious international cast of this end-of-the-world sci-fi drama—shot on the grounds of the recently closed Expo ’67 in Montreal—is an indication of its art-film aspirations. An admirer of Ingmar Bergman, Altman would later joke about this film as one of his least successful efforts. 118 min.
1975. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Joan Tewkesbury. With Ronee Blakley, Henry Gibson, Lily Tomlin, Keith Carradine, Barbara Harris. From the music capital of the nation, Altman delivers a kaleidoscopic portrait of 1970s America in one of his career highlights. The intersecting lives of two dozen characters—music stars of all stripes, tone-deaf wannabe, underhanded politico, insufferable reporter—deliver a disaffected view of show business and its close cousin, electoral politics. Featuring original songs performed live by members of the cast, Nashville got to the heart of American life in all its madcap glory, becoming an instant, freewheeling classic. 159 min.
The Kathryn Reed Story
1965. Directed by Robert Altman. The director’s home-movie valentine to his wife. Digital projection. 15 min.
A Perfect Couple
1979. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Altman, Alan F. Nicholls. With Paul Dooley, Marta Heflin, Tito Vandis. In the year that Blake Edwards’s bawdy sex comedy 10 stole the box office, Altman’s surprisingly good-natured riff on romantic comedy was largely neglected. A dating-weary middle-aged businessman from a staunchly Greek family takes up with a younger Bohemian musician in a traveling rock band, eventually choosing a life of uncertainty over loneliness. 110 min.
Go to Health
1980. USA. Directed by Bill Tannen. With Dick Cavett, Henry Gibson, Carol Burnett. A rarely seen pseudo-documentary with Cavett interviewing the HealtH cast on set. Digital projection. 14 min.
1980. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Altman, Paul Dooley, Frank Barhydt. With Carol Burnett, Glenda Jackson, Lauren Bacall, James Garner, Alfre Woodard. Described as a “mess, but a glorious one” by The New York Times and “the world’s worst movie” by President Reagan, Altman’s most illusive feature is a free-form satire of the American political convention process. The director referenced 1950s presidential candidates Adlai Stevenson (Jackson) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (Bacall) in conceiving his lead characters. 105 min.
1980. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Jules Feiffer. With Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Ray Walston, Paul Dooley. After a notorious five months on location on the rocky coast of Malta, Altman’s big-budget comic-strip musical was a critical disaster that set his career back for a decade—despite its box-office success. The breezy, off-kilter whimsy of Feiffer’s script is matched by Wolf Kroeger’s exceptional production design and Harry Nilsson’s subtly influential score. 114 min.
A Honeymoon for Harriet
1950. USA. Directed by Maurice Prather. Screenplay by Robert Altman. Produced by the Calvin Company. With lotus Corelli, James Lantz. In this comedy, sponsored by International Harvester, a country wife discovers that new farm equipment is a higher priority than she is. Digital projection. 21 min.
A Prairie Home Companion
2006. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Garrison Keillor. With Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Lindsay Lohan, Woody Harrelson, Kevin Kline. In the last of Altman’s backstage stories, performers of a popular radio show facing cancellation rally for its final broadcast, as sinister and angelic figures hover. The director’s final film is a meditation on death and a fittingly nostalgic tribute to the ensemble character of his work. 105 min.
1983. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by David Rabe, from his play. With Matthew Modine, Michael Wright, Mitchell Lichtenstein, David Alan Grier. Altman’s powerful adaptation of Rabe’s play revolves around four soldiers awaiting deployment to Vietnam. Suspicions of homosexuality spark heated words and antics in the barracks, as tensions and fears play out over the course of a frenzied evening. The claustrophobic one-room set stands in for postwar American society, where everything from highways to the draft brought people of different backgrounds together more than ever before—not always with harmonious results. 118 min.
The Magic Bond
1956. USA. Written and directed by Robert Altman. With Joe Adelman, Owen Bush, Kermit Echols, James Lantz, Keith Painton. Produced by the Calvin Company. A promotional short for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Episodic lessons challenge apathy and neglect at a time when generational shifts were beginning to threaten traditional values. Digital projection. 28 min.
1983. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Donald Freed, Arnold M. Stone, based on their play. With Philip Baker Hall. The restless surveillance of Altman’s camera is key to this effective adaptation of Hall’s ferocious one-man stage portrayal of disgraced ex-president Nixon. His fictionalized railing against exile from the seat of power has been likened to the director’s volatile feelings of estrangement from Hollywood in the 1980s. 90 min.
O.C. & Stiggs
1987. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Ted Mann, Donald Cantrell. With Daniel H. Jenkins, Neill Barry, Paul Dooley, Jane Curtin, Martin Mull, Dennis Hopper, Melvin Van Peebles. Thirty years after The Delinquents, the director revisits teensploitation with a film loosely based on characters from National Lampoon magazine. With male leads lacking the endearing chemistry of Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland in MASH, a project with comparatively irreverent and raucous situations, the film earns its place in the Altman canon as a meditation on distinctly American landscapes of wealth and consumption. 109 min.
Fool for Love
1985. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Sam Shepard, from his play. With Shepard, Kim Basinger, Harry Dean Stanton, Randy Quaid. In a rundown desert motel in the American West, themes of incest and child abuse are touched upon when a cowboy (Shepard) attempts to reunite with a woman he claims is his sister. The visual elements of the film’s numerous flashbacks, executed with ceaselessly fluid camera movements across its sets and the surrounding landscape, become as meaningful an experience as the scripted narrative. 106 min.
Vincent and Theo
1990. USA. Directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay by Julian Mitchell. With Tim Roth, Paul Rhys, Johanna ter Steege. Altman's foray into the period biopic follows Vincent van Gogh and Theo, his art-dealer brother who supported him financially and emotionally. The onscreen bond between by Tim Roth and Paul Rhys gives depth to this otherwise familiar topic, with each man stifled by bourgeois values in his own way. This portrait of an uncompromising artist rejected by the Academy elicits comparison to Altman himself, who spent the 1980s in the margins. The director’s fate changed more quickly than his subject’s; the following year, Altman returned to Hollywood success with The Player. 133 min.
1987. Great Britain. Directed by Nicolas Roeg, Charles Sturridge, Jean-Luc Godard, Julien Temple, Bruce Beresford, Altman, Franc Roddam, Ken Russell, Derek Jarman, Bill Bryden. With Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Theresa Russell, Buck Henry, Bridget Fonda. Produced during his exile in Paris, “Les Boréades,” Altman’s episode in this anthology film of opera “greatest hits,” is set in a French madhouse—and is markedly less ambitious than those of his international colleagues. 90 min.