A Farewell to Structured Chaos

I was getting ready to catch up on some posts when I saw this posted on Time Magazine's website.

I think anyone who loves movies not only knows the work of Robert Altman, but also knows the singular vision he brought to cinema, from the early 70s classics M*A*S*H, NASHVILLE, and THE LONG GOODBYE, into the 1-2 90s punch of THE PLAYER and the awesome SHORT CUTS and beyond, creating quieter if no less intimate films like GOSFORD PARK and last year's A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION.

Like others my age who have commented on his passing, my first Robert Altman movie wasn't a Robert Altman to me at all. To a kid of seven, there was only one name attached to that movie that mattered at all.

POPEYE.

I remembering loving that movie, bugging my mother for days to take us all to the theater to see it. When it arrived years later on television, my sister and I watched it constantly, singing along with Olive during "He's Large." The movie (and song) had the same impact on my wife, and we'll still occasionally break out a chorus or two when in the mood. To this day I still think the set design was fantastic, and in his own way I think Robin William's performance echoed one of Altman's signature calling cards in most of his films - that sense of things bubbling beneath the surface, a firm structure lying under the seemingly random burble of overlapping dialog used so well in many of his films. All of his mumblings and mutterings under his breath erupt in geysers of feeling whenever he's called upon to act.

Later on, of course, it was THE PLAYER that turned so many heads while I was in college. But for me SHORT CUTS was more signature Altman. I went to see it at first because it had Tom Waits in it, who I thought was the coolest guy on the planet (still do, actually). I came out of the theater stunned, not sure what I had seen, but knowing it was unlike what anyone else was trying who was considered a "mainstream" player.

Enormous casts, interwoven stories and dialog, structured chaos.

Over the weekend the Missus and I watched A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION. It was quiet, funny, sad, and brimming with the little flourishes that mark any film Robert Altman does. She hadn't seen as many of his films as I had, so we decided to rent a trio of his films via Netflix and have a little Robert Altman marathon. Yesterday NASHVILLE arrived, and we were deciding on the other two for this weekend. We were thinking about POPEYE again, or maybe A WEDDING, which neither of us had seen.

One more giant leaves the field, and the flicker grows a little more dim.