Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. Canada, 2014. Sphinx Productions. Screenplay by Len Blum. Cinematography by Simon Ennis. Produced by Ron Mann. Music by Phil Dwyer, Guido Luciani. Production Design by Matthew Badiali, Craig Small. Film Editing by Robert Kennedy.
Ron Mann gives a wonderful overview of the career of filmmaker Robert Altman, the American auteur who reached his height at a time when the notable artists of singular vision were coming from Europe. Altman got involved in screenwriting and directing after serving in World War II, making industrial films before a feature debut (The Delinquents) got him noticed by the world of television, which in turn became a long run of gigs directing episodes for many years. Ever the experimental artist, his desire to push the boundaries of the medium eventually made him a pariah in the television industry, but being as relentless as he was creative, he made his way into features anyway. His naturalistic style of having actors speak over each other’s lines got him barred from the Warner Bros. set after Jack Warner viewed the dailies for Countdown, but once the public got wind of his masterful MASH (in which his criticism of Vietnam was very thinly veiled as Korean War comedy), the career we know him for as helmer of classics like Nashville and 3 Women was off and running. Mann’s streamlined documentary moves clearly through Altman’s filmography as he went up and down in popularity, as Altman himself describes it a straight line in his artistic development that was sometimes in favour with the wavering tastes of audiences but other times quite distant. The low period of disastrous critical response (A Perfect Couple, Quintet, Popeye) is described honestly and without a hint of self-pity, a time when Altman was truly looking like a man who couldn’t sync up with the ever-changing industry (his O.C. and Stiggs being his flat-out declaration that the flavor of teen-oriented exploitation in the early eighties was something he refused to celebrate). Then The Player put him back on top of the game with its poignant satirizing of the movie business, the unashamed admission of his inability to fit in with the game players making him a maverick all over again and leading to the era of Short Cuts, Kansas City and eventually his last masterpiece, Gosford Park. This wonderful serving of cinematic indulgence will be endlessly enjoyable for anyone who is a movie lover or specifically a fan of the man himself, though at 100 short minutes is too short and could definitely stand an extended version like Robert Weide’s Woody Allen documentary had when it was released on television.