At the end of Altman, Kathryn Reed Altman, the main narrator in this beautiful documentary, says that her late husband, Robert Altman, has attended a movie screening on the afternoon after the World War II, in 1945. The film was Brief Encounter, an outstanding production by David Lean, my favorite director when I was 14 years old, and still a beloved and important filmmaking to me. She said, in the last line of the documentary, that Altman didn't want to see a Hollywood production at that day. That he told her how the protagonist wasn't a babe or too interesting, but 20 minutes into the movie and he was absolutely enthralled with the character and the story, and had tears in his eyes. That is cinema, she says at last.
Altman was also a favorite of mine in the 90's. Trying to trace a line to the reasons of this favoritism, I reached The Player, 1992. Its audacious and famous opening scene, with 7min8sec without a break, is a film lesson both by its technique as the ironic text that pokes fun at Hollywood, criticizing its ways of making cinema. At that time, Altman already had an extensive and disturbed history with the industry, and what he had endured allowed him to write such an accurate and scorching criticism.
After that, his two following films were under my radar: Short Cuts, 1993, and Pret-à-Porter, 1994. I was a little disappointed at Dr T and the Women, 2000, but that was Altman: a diversified production on TV, cinema and theater. He wouldn't stop in front of a bad critic. After some changes, he would find a way to do what seemed to be his reason in life: tell about the world, his views about life and people and politics and art and movies through different media and stories. "I don't direct, I watch", he said once. A movie as a point of view about the world and humanity. That says all.
I was very emotional during the whole documentary. The choice of familiar narrators - his wife and sons, and himself in amazing interviews and testimonials - brings him closer to us. When they show him getting the Palme D'Or at Cannes in 1970 by MASH, I started to cry, stopping only in brief moments. In his second time winning Cannes, as best director, I surrendered to my emotion, and forgot any sense of decorum. Knowing more about Altman's life threw me back to the years that his movies meant so much to me.
He had many lives, as his movies. He reinvented himself in order to continue creating stories. He brought important technical advances to the cinema - all of them not for technical reasons in itself, but as a manner to enable a better voice to its characters and the story. He did try to insert life to films and TV shows. He produced a movie with his students when there were no money to produce it. He sold many houses, moved to Canada, France, and back to the US. During his life, one that could become a lot of different movies, he presented different stories to the world, some of them acclaimed by critic and public, other not so much. But his fundamental role in the movie's history is undeniable. To me, to my own story with movies, he is essential.
The point of view of some of his collaborators in movies, actors and filmmaking, is presented by answering a question: what is Altmanesque? The answers are amazing, as the people that answer them.
Of course I was crying at the final line, that furthermore quoted my favorite movie and director. Because when something makes sense to us, it is like that: it envelops many aspects of our lives, and nothing better to do that than fictional art. Specially movies, those amazing bits of life in images, sound and daring artists.
|Altman. Directed by Ron Mann. With: Kathryn Reed Altman, Robert|
Altman, Bruce Willis (my favorite answer :).Writer: Len Blum. Canada,
2014, 96 min., Color (Cable TV).
PS: Look, I love Hollywood movies, my biggest life references come from it, but there's no doubt that french awards know better. Altman got two wins at Cannes Festival, but haven't won any of his 5 Oscar nominations. It is not unusual for the Academy the attempt to atone its own stupidity, and a few months before his death, Altman received a Honorary Oscar, and of course his speech, despite being ironic, even if sweet at times, got me in tears again (or yet, considering the time I spent crying in this documentary).