Auteurism is a kind of romance. There’s the rush of recognition when you see that first film by a soon-to-be favorite director, the presence of a unique soul whose predilections and perspective radiate through the familiar confines of cinematic syntax and speak directly to you. The initial thrill deepens into something familiar yet rewarding over the next film or two. Their flaws become all too apparent over time, but perhaps you learned to forgive those. What keeps you up nights is something more fundamental: the possibility that the quirks and oddities and flights of fancy that initially drew you to them might not stand up to scrutiny after all. Watching a bad movie from a revered director is like watching your significant other get drunk at a party. Normally appealing eccentricities become shrill and sloppy. Purported charm and quick wit begin to look suspiciously like threadbare shtick. You can’t just walk away—but you wonder: is this what other people see in them all the time?
This feeling of queasy recognition settled over me as I watched O.C. and Stiggs, Robert Altman’s 1985 would-be teen-flick satire. It’s not like I was expecting wonders. Generally considered among the lowest points in Altman’s roller-coaster career, the film moldered in the MGM vaults for three years after Altman completed postproduction, only to be manhandled by critics and ignored by the public when it received a limited theatrical release in 1987. Read Matt Connolly’s entry in Reverse Shot’s “Simply the Worst” symposium.