I was on a plane to London when I read ex-Time critic Richard Schickel’s LAT attack on Robert Altman. I’ve disagreed with Schickel before; at his best he’s a cranky curmudgeon who isn’t interested in reading or hearing any point-of-view other than his own.
While he has written many graceful book reviews over the years for the LAT, this recent one on Mitchell Zuckoff’s Robert Altman: The Oral Biography is less about the book than an angry diatribe against the late director of such films as M.A.S.H., The Player, Nashville and A Prairie Home Companion who Schickel considers to have been out of control. He maligns Altman’s working methods without giving enough credit to the films themselves.
I have always considered Altman to be a master auteur, one of the best independent filmmakers ever–in fact a model for many directors of how to get your way inside the Hollywood system. Yes, of course Altman was an ornery pain-in-the-ass to just about everyone he dealt with on the producing and distribution side. And he could be his own worst enemy. But actors loved working for him for a reason. He had a rare command of the form and many of his films stand the test of time, from A Wedding and Gosford Park to The Long Goodbye and Vincent and Theo.
Here’s Patrick Goldstein’s take on this, along with a rousing defense by Alan Rudolph (Choose Me) of his one-time mentor.
Maybe Schickel was railing against someone who was just as big a crank as he is.