Friday, July 28, 2006

Robert Altman is really old.


Me and OMGIMike made it back from northern Michigan, alive, although we did get caught in 2 1/2 big-ass thunderstorms and 2 traffic jams. But it was straight because we had sandwiches that we stole from band camp and an ipod full of Indian Music. We heard that Wendys’ in MI have this special cherry frostie that doesn’t exits anywhere else in America (because it’s the Cherry State), but the Wendy’s we stopped at didn’t have them and seemed surprised that we expected them to. So I got chocolate, dammit. I thought the cherry frostie accounted for 60% of Michigan's tourism, but I guess it has more to do with all the lakes. Sadly, you can’t believe everything you hear about Michigan because everyone from Michigan is a liar.

Anyway, I saw the new Robert Altman film A Prairie Home Companion. I’ve never been that big of a fan of his, but he’s such a formal master that he’s usually worth watching. I actually thought it was pretty great. Like most of his classic work, (ie Nashville, MASH, Short Cuts), it was a big ensemble piece where a bunch of handpicked actors, mostly Altman repertory veterans, are given near-free reign to improvise their way through a large interlaced narrative that, although wandering, is always governed by Altman’s omniscient and fatalist (almost fascist) structure. As a consequence of this dense overhead view, emotional and personal character content is largely sacrificed for a greater socio-cultural angle. In otherwords, the movies are often distant or cold (and long), which doesn’t always translate to an entertaining 2-3 hours. Indeed, Home Companion seemed to be retreading this form at its surface, but I felt that it had a sincere warmth and depth (of character rather than analysis) that his previous “big picture” works often lack. The man is getting real old. I think he started directing in the early 50’s, and apparently there’s been a lot of gossip about this being his last flick. All I can say is that it certainly seems that way; the movie is drenched with a teary-eyed optimism only possible through the lens of nostalgia, and rather than pushing us through scenes to drive home a central point, the camera work and pacing lovingly meander through every backstage moment and on-stage performance. It’s as if the old man is taking his time, relishing his last cinematic outing. Here, the camera seems to be an active participant in the experience, rather than an offscreen force controlling the outcome.

I know I’ve already written too much, but a few weeks later I saw a fantastic Altman movie from ’85 I had never heard of called Fool For Love, which both starred and was based on a play by the great Sam Shepard. Rather that having a huge scope, it paired the focus down to four residents at a mysterious run-down New Mexican motel, probing their pasts and identities. I won’t go into how great it was, but it was one of the best films I’d seen in a while; existing in this strange yet extremely entertaining mix of hard-lined realism and surrealist dream-scape. Definitely my favorite Altman flick. I’m sure that no one who gives a fuck is reading this, but if you’ve seen the movie please help me figure out why it was so awesome.

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