a film by Ron Mann
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Ron Mann's new documentary "ALTMAN" is an in-depth look at the life and times of filmmaker Robert Altman (M*A*S*H, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Nashville, The Player, Gosford Park, and many more.) While refusing to bow down to Hollywood's conventions, or its executives, Altman's unique style of filmmaking won him friends and enemies, earned him world-wide praise and occasionally scathing criticism, and proved that it IS possible to make truly independent films.
Maverick. Auteur. Rebel. Innovator. Storyteller. Rambler. Gambler. Mad man. Family man. Director. Artist.
Robert Altmanʼs life and career contained multitudes. This father of American independent cinema left an indelible mark, not merely on the evolution of his art form, but also on the western zeitgeist. Altman, Canadian director Ron Mannʼs new documentary, explores and celebrates the epic fifty-year redemptive journey of one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the history of the medium.
The very term “Altmanesque” has come to denote a cinematic style characterized by dark humor, chaotic choreography, overlapping and sometimes murky dialogue, multi-layered storylines, iconoclastic characters, omniscient cinematography, and a seat-of-the-pants ensemble approach to imagining and crafting a film. With the late director himself acting as guide, Altman takes the audience on an expansive and revelatory road trip through the highs and lows of this uncompromising visionaryʼs life and career.
With its use of rare interviews, representative film clips, archival images, and musings from his family and most recognizable collaborators, Mannʼs Altman is a dynamic and heartfelt mediation on an artist whose expression, passion and appetite knew few bounds.
ALTMAN: A FILM BY RON MANN
Altman is renowned filmmaker Ron Mann's new impressionistic documentary celebrating the life and art of Robert Altman, the genre-busting maverick filmmaker whose half-century career reinvented not only what a movie could be but also how we might view ourselves.
Robert Altman has long been known as a man who took Hollywood by the throat and never let go, but his rise to prominence was not a fast one. It was only after toiling in relative obscurity through much of the 1950s and 1960s as a maker of industrial films and as a respected if unheralded television director that he lucked into a gig at the helm of an off-beat Korean War film about a ragtag medical team operating a mobile surgical unit near the front lines. Those of a certain age might well recall the buoyant, off-kilter thrill of experiencing M*A*S*H upon its release. With its airy fly-on-the-wall floating narrative and dead-eyed critique of the status quo, Altman plunged us into his grim but comedic vision of men and women on the fringe of both war and sanity.
It was here that the Altman template was more or less set. M*A*S*Hʼs genre- and technique-twisting modus operandi would alternately endear him to audiences coming of age (and rage) in the era of Vietnam and Watergate and mark him among the budget- and image-conscious Hollywood execs as a force to be reckoned with but never counted out.
Altmanʼs oeuvre set the frontier Western on its ear (McCabe & Mrs. Miller, 1971), meditated on horror and schizophrenia (Images, 1972), transformed noir gumshoe Phillip Marlowe into a mumbling nebbish (The Long Goodbye, 1973), presented an hallucinatory tapestry of a self-obsessed America perched to
devour itself (Nashville, 1975), stared coldly at tarnished iconography (Buffalo Bill and the Indians, 1976), journeyed into the female soul (3 Women, 1977), critiqued the flimsy ritual of marriage (A Wedding, 1980), gave surreal life to cartoon characters (Popeye, 1980), bared the ugly essence of Nixonian political corruption (Secret Honor, 1984), empathized with artistic neglect (Vincent & Theo, 1990), satirically castigated the culture of celebrity (The Player, 1992), ruminated on the fickle role that chance and luck play in our lives (Short Cuts, 1993), revisited the city of his youth while co-mingling two indigenous American art forms: jazz and film (Kansas City, 1996), observed the destructive influences of class and power (Gosford Park, 2001), and reveled in pure Americana (A Prairie Home Companion, 2006). His unflinching dedication to collaborative creation is illustrated through all the crowning glories, misses, near misses, catastrophes, and utter catastrophes of Altmanʼs career.
Altman himself acts an impish, deadpan guide through Mannʼs deft and recognizable use of archival footage, images, and interviews. In this first-ever feature film tribute to Robert Altman, Mann gives his audience unprecedented access to the Altman vault. Utilizing choice clips from his dozens of films, and new cameos with key Altman players (Lily Tomlin, Robin Williams, Lyle Lovett, Julianne Moore, Elliott Gould, Sally Kellerman, Philip Baker Hall, Paul Thomas Anderson) and family members (Altmanʼs widow Kathryn), Altman is the first documentary to present the director and his work in an inspired form that echoes Altmanʼs own approach.
Like a jazz musician taking a long, always unpredictable half-century solo, Altman was in constant motion, relentlessly blurring the line between his life and art. From his relatively genteel childhood as the son of an insurance salesman with a weakness for poker, in an otherwise rough-and-tumble Depression- and Prohibition-era Kansas City, through dozens of WWII bombing missions in the Pacific Theater, to his over-extended apprenticeship as a director of industrial and exploitation films, and his years of work as a go-to television helmsman, Altman's late emergence as a take-no-prisoners cutting edge artist was a surprise to just about everybody – except, perhaps, himself. And when his slow fall from show biz grace led to self-imposed exile in France, he countered with a comeback in a series of cherished films and was embraced by the very industry that left him on the scrap heap.
Was there ever another director so alternately reviled and acclaimed by critics and executives alike? Or one in whose hands no script (if there even was one) was safe? Poet, prophet, scalawag, gambler, outsider, raconteur, husband, ex-husband, father, grandfather, lover, heart transplant recipient, Robert Altman never ceased to paint a cinematic portrait of the world around and within him. The perplexing, enigmatic joy of human behavior expressed in his art changed the manner in which films are made and experienced. Indeed, much of what is now labeled "independent cinema" can be traced to Altman and all the tools in his toolbox.
It has been said that there are no second acts in America. The mere existence of Robert Altman and his unruly canon would seem to refute F. Scott Fitzgerald's aging aphorism. Or maybe there were no second acts with Altman at all — just one long ride down a rolling river, surviving by wits, and wits alone.
Ron Mannʼs film is a profound exploration and celebration of Robert Altman: the man, the myth, and the movies. Altman stands as a tour-de-force documentary, imbued with the aesthetics of its subject and chronicler alike; a truly “Altmanesque” study.
Canadian filmmaker and producer Ron Mann is renowned for his genre-bending approach to documentary cinema that explores art forms and contemporary popular culture with vision and verve. From jazz (Imagine the Sound, 1981), spoken word (Poetry in Motion, 1982), comics (Comic Book Confidential, 1988), dance (Twist, 1992), marijuana (Grass, 1999), car culture (Tales of the Rat Fink, 2006), and fungus (Know Your Mushrooms, 2009), Mannʼs films invoke the ethos and spirit of his subjects in resonant and contemporary ways.
Kathryn Reed Altman
A partner and collaborator in every sense, Kathryn Reed Altman is Robert Altmanʼs widow and mother to two of his sons, Robert Reed Altman and Matthew Altman. They met in 1959 when he was directing an episode of the television series Whirlybirds, in which she had been cast. She was deeply involved with every one of his projects thereafter.
Associate producer of Tanner ʼ88, co-producer of Kansas City and Jazz ʼ34, and a producer of Tanner on Tanner, Matthew Seig continues to manage Robert Altmanʼs copyright and legal affairs.