Monday, June 29, 2015
Altman (2014 film)
Directed by Ron Mann and written by Len Blum, Altman is a documentary that explores the life and career of one of American cinema’s great artists in Robert Altman. Featuring audio interviews with his widow Kathryn Reed Altman, their children, and the people who had worked with him. The film plays into Altman and his peculiar approach to filmmaking and storytelling along with rare footage of behind-the-scenes footage and rare home movies provided by his family. The result is an enchanting and exhilarating portrait of one of American cinema’s great voices.
The term “Altmanesque” is something that best describes the style of the kind of films that Robert Altman makes which are based on real things that are happening with overlapping dialogue while refusing to play by traditional and conventional aesthetics that usually happens in mainstream cinema. For those that had worked with him and those like Paul Thomas Anderson who was inspired by him, it’s a term that means many thing. Especially to a man that didn’t live his life by conventional means as he was someone that liked to have a good time and treat his actors and collaborators as part of his family. It’s a film that isn’t just a tribute to Altman but also to his body of work which were all defined by its refusal to play by the rules whether they were successful or not.
Each chapter opens with a collaborator of Altman such as Lily Tomlin, Lyle Lovett, Sally Kellerman, Elliott Gould, Michael Murphy, Paul Thomas Anderson, Keith Carradine, Robin Williams, and several others to each define the term “Altmanesque” in their own way. These chapters would play into Altman’s early life where he served in the U.S. Air Force in World War II and later found his way into the film industry when he co-wrote the screen story for a film called Bodyguard in 1948 for RKO Pictures. The film would also play into Altman’s time doing industrial films and documentaries during the 1950s, his work on various TV series where he would meet his third wife Kathryn Reed, and his first films as a feature-film director where he would clash with studio heads about how to tell a story.
By the time he broke through with M.A.S.H. in 1970, things would definitely go up as Altman would often have his own family on the set where director Ron Mann would reveal not just a few rare short films but also some rare behind-the-scenes moments and such to show how Altman’s children were part of the set. Notably as his son Stephen would start out as a props man and later be his father’s production designer while Matthew Reed Altman would become a camera operator for much of his father’s films. The success that Altman would have for much of the 1970s where he was able to remain independent while working with studios gave him the chance to create a studio of his own in Lion’s Gate Films (not the US/Canada studio of the same name) that launched the career of Alan Rudolph and several others.
The film would play into Altman’s own innovations as a filmmaker where he would find new ways to record a lot of overlapping dialogue through little microphones on the actors while Altman and a sound mixer would find out which dialogue to use and how to mix it right the way to make it feel natural. While his innovations would be used for a lot of films by other filmmakers including Hollywood, the film also played into Altman’s own exile from Hollywood until 1992’s The Player where he made a big comeback. Some of the scenes that Mann would create would be presented through the work of art directors/animators Matthew Badiali and Craig Small who would create some background images of what Altman might’ve been doing during those times.
With the aid of cinematographer Simon Ennis in shooting some of the testimonies from Altman’s collaborators and Kathryn Reed Altman for its ending along with editor Robert Kennedy to compile footage of Altman’s earlier work and rare home films. Even as the sound work of John Laing would help play into Altman’s innovations in capturing overlapping dialogue while the music of Phil Dwyer and Guido Luciani is playful with its jazz-based score. Music supervisor Mike Rosnick would maintain that sense of playfulness with the music to play into the different periods of time.
Altman is a phenomenal documentary film from Ron Mann. It’s a film that anyone who loves the work of Robert Altman must see this not just for some of the rare home movies and interviews he does but also into a study of his methods. For anyone new to Altman might think of the film as a nice place to start though his own work is the best way to look into the man and his work. In the end, Altman is a remarkable film from Ron Mann.
© thevoid99 2015