The Theory of Chaos

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


"Our mandate was bad taste. If anybody had a joke in the worst taste, it had a better chance of getting into the film, because nothing was in worse taste than that war itself."

-Robert Altman on
M*A*S*H, his first success as a filmmaker, and its release at the height of the Vietnam War

Altman is dead. Long live Altman.

There may never be another filmmaker who could be as great as Altman was while simultaneously making so many bad movies. He was stubborn, infuriating, low, anarchic, and beautiful. But when he was great there was no one behind a camera that could capture so much humanity in front of it. They say the only true cynics are the ones who used to be romantics – I think that Robert Altman never stopped loving the movies, and he never stopped loving people. And that’s why there is so much bitter, ferocious beauty in his best work.

In the 70’s alone he directed
M*A*S*H, Brewster McCloud, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye, Nashville, and over a half-dozen other features. But that was the 70’s, possibly the greatest decade in American cinema. There was practically a masterpiece a month down at the neighborhood theatre. And while the rebels and film school snots of that era burned out or sold out, he kept right on being cranky Altman; through flops and fallow years, just kept on making films. He was a filmmaker – no pretension, no calculation, no pandering. He just made films, and kept on making them.

The Dangerous Woman came for Altman, and I bet as they walked off the stage together, they had a fascinating conversation.


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