Robert Altman Dies at 81

Today I am sad to report that we have lost our greatest living American movie director. Robert Altman made many of the finest movies of our lifetimes, and he was one of the true film artists. I think the only overtly commercial picture he ever made was Popeye, way back when. He always stuck to his own unique style, telling stories that interested him, and throwing a wide canvas to many of our greatest actors.

I'm sure each of you has their own Altman memories, from the man or his movies. Here's a little antecdote from me. When I was growing up, my grandfather was virtually addicted to the Popeye movie. It's not a movie that anyone really remembers fondly (Robin Williams refers to his lost-in-drugs days as "the Popeye years"), but for years this was the first video my grandfather would show off to visitors. "The Popeye movie! Let's watch the Popeye movie!"

I don't think anyone in my immediate family knows who Robert Altman is. Until I mention The Popeye Movie.

Also, I'd like to note something about that picture that's probably lost to most thinkers today. Was it a good movie? Not really. Was it a bad movie? No, not really. The really distinctive thing about Popeye was the way that Altman gleefully trashed and toyed with the original characters. It really is a warped interpretation, like throwing the Popeye characters into an alternate universe that's quirky, funny, and extremely surreal.

You'll never see this unorthodox treatment for, say, the Harry Potter franchise. Because that's exactly what it is - a corporate, commercial franchise, a money-making scheme. You can't make any real changes for fear of alienating that built-in audience that's expecting no surprises. Altman would have none of that. Even on a weaker picture like Popeye, he's willing to charge ahead, much up the formula, and repaint the canvas on his terms. He was an artist in an age of corporatism.

Now the Supreme Being has Altman all to Himself. May his soul be at peace.


Oliver said...

Please remove my 'Pom Poko' essay/blog from your list of links, as *%!'ing technical problems with the hosting site forced me to delete the whole *%!'ing thing.

Chris Sobieniak said...

The Popeye movie was something I used to had a thing with wanting to watch when I was 5! It somewhat hold up my interset well until I saw it years later and could figure out why many have had distain tastes over it, but I still liked it's surreal qualities and gritty backdrops. I sorta liked the idea of a Popeye whom didn't like spinach at all until his own pappy had to shove it at 'em!

Anonymous said...

Heh, heh. Well, having just seen Nashville (among others), I agree that Altman was one of the great American directors (I personally place Martin Scorsese a notch above him).

Any particular favorite Altman films of yours, Daniel? Mine would be MASH, Nashville and Gosford Park.

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