Until I read Richard Schickel’s “Altman lovers read no further” (Book review of Mitchell Zuckoff’s Robert Altman – The Oral Biography, October 22, Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times), I felt like I was the only person noticing that Emperor Altman had no clothes.
Yes, actors loved working with him — unless the actor took a break from their self-absorption long enough to notice how he treated the rest of his colleagues on the film (ask his writers; ask music arranger Van Dyke Parks; ask production designer Wolf Kreuger. Sadly, it’s too late to ask Harry Nilsson about his devastating experience with Altman on Popeye — but you can read about it).
In the early days of his career Altman made a few decent, quirky films: That Cold Day in the Park, Brewster McCloud and McCabe & Mrs. Miller. But shortly after he started being celebrated by the film press, he began to produce a long string of self-indulgent crap. His filmography includes what is perhaps the worst and most painfully pretentious film ever created by a celebrated director: Quintet.
My wife, sons and I all agreed to bail from Gosford Park after suffering through an incredibly long first hour in which the slightest semblance of a story had yet to kick in.
Films are supposed to be condensed, heightened versions of reality. I work in the film industry and love films about our work world. Amazingly, The Player was a heavily diluted version of what it’s like to work in our business.
That Altman was boozing and smoking weed throughout the making of his films explains a lot.
Thank you, Mr. Schickel.