This weekend, Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion opens nationwide. With the timing of Altman’s honorary Oscar earlier this year, as well as this film’s positive buzz, a lot of people (including L.A. Weekly, below) are looking back at the lengthy and impressive canon of one of the few living legends in American filmmaking, with a career that began in the 1950s and has had its fair share of peaks and valleys. Altman is a master storyteller, personifying whatever it means when people say “independent spirit.” Personally, I’m a big fan and was very proud to program Prairie as our Opening Night Film this year. Altman’s films can never receive enough attention.
Whether it’s the agitprop comedy of M*A*S*H, the whimsical ensemble of Nashville, the pitch-black tones of The Player, or the masterful use of characters in Short Cuts, he’s terrific. I even find guilty pleasure in re-watching the so-so Ready to Wear (a mediocre film that was misrepresented as a “murder mystery” and forgotten) when it airs on cable TV. I’ll admit I can never really bring myself to re-watching missed opportunities like Dr. T & the Women or The Company, but thankfully he rebounded with his assured hand in Gosford Park. I even owned the Gosford boardgame (yes, it existed) until I gave it to Harry Knowles as a gift. For L.A. Weekly, Altman sits down (or lies down, as you’ll read) with Scott Foundas to discuss his influential career:
“I’m here in a way under false pretenses,” he said while accepting his long-overdue honorary Oscar earlier this year, just before stunning the crowd with the revelation that 10 years ago he underwent a complete heart transplant. And over the course of our conversation, he mentions no less than two upcoming projects he plans to film in the near future, one of which — a feature adaptation of the documentary Hands on a Hard Body — already exists as a series of note cards and photographs taped to a marker board adjacent to where we are sitting. In other words, Robert Altman has many stories left to tell.
“You can sit on the street corner and watch people die just walking past you,” he says. “Some guy’s coming down the street with a cane and a shopping bag and you know this cocksucker’s not going to be alive in two years. Then you see little babies being pushed in their carts who have no idea what the quality of their lives is going to be. It’s very . . . I don’t even know what I’m talking about. But that’s the kind of thing that impresses me right now.”