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Retro/Active: 20 Years of ‘The Player’

Retro/Active: 20 Years of 'The Player'

“I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process.” — Griffin Mill, “The Player

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Robert Altman’s “The Player,” one of the greatest Hollywood satires of all time.  To celebrate, see why we must never eliminate the film writer from the artistic process by checking out Edward Copeland‘s extensive look back at the film and its many (MANY) celebrity cameos.  Copeland’s piece draws heavily on information from the long out-of-print Criterion Collection laserdisc of the film, which featured a different Altman commentary track than the one currently available on New Line DVD.  The earlier disc included some interesting tidbits about the film that I never knew before, like this startling revelation about “The Player”‘s ending (so, y’know, SPOILERS coming for a movie you’ve had 20 years to watch):

“One instance that I know for certain Altman mentioned on the Criterion laserdisc that can’t be found anywhere on the New Line DVD concerns the screenwriter that stalks studio executive Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) — even after Mill unintentionally kills the wrong writer, David Kahane (Vincent D’Onofrio), that he believes to be responsible. I remember at the time when I heard it on the laserdisc, it provided another laugh because unless you happened to be a voice recognition expert with a tremendous memory, you likely wouldn’t have gleaned this from the movie itself. Kahane’s failed screenwriter buddy Phil (Brian Brophy) eulogizes his dead friend at a graveside service and turns it into a tirade about Hollywood, which he pronounces guilty of ‘assault with intent to kill’ though he blames society for Kahane’s actual murder. ‘And the next time we sell a million dollar script and nail some shitbag producer, we’ll say that’s another one for David Kahane.’ At the end of the film, as Griffin drives home, fellow exec Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher) tells him he just has to hear this movie pitch. Another voice gets on the speakerphone and reminds Griffin that he used to be in the postcard business. He then pitches the events in Griffin’s life (and the movie you’ve just watched to him) and it’s Brian Brophy’s voice again as Phil, though the name Phil never comes up. Without Altman mentioning it on that Criterion laserdisc, I wouldn’t know that. Since it’s not on New Line’s version, fewer people will.”

So is Phil supposed to be Mill’s stalker all along, or was the use of Brophy’s voice simply a sly in-joke by Altman?  You can rewatch the film today — it’s available to rent on Amazon Instant Video — and decide for yourself. Now: can we talk about something other than Hollywood for a change? We’re educated people.

Read more of Edward Copeland’s “Untold Stories of Robert Altman’s ‘The Player’ or Who the Hell is Thereza Ellis?

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