I have yet to see his last film, A Prairie Home Companion but I find it strange that in the last month, I've been inexplicably drawn to his films, watching old favorites such as Short Cuts and Gosford Park and The Company and McCabe and Mrs. Miller and The Player (and even the much-spanned Pret-a-Porter).* Today, Mr. Altman is dead at 81 from complications of cancer. I find myself seriously grieving. (The last time I grieved like this for a cultural icon, it was for Susan Sontag.) Earlier this year, while receiving his honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement (he's been nominated for Best Director five times, but never won one -- a travesty of epic proportions), Mr. Altman broke his silence about a heart transplant he had a few years ago. Yet he continued working, churning out a slate of films in recent years that would constitute a "comeback" of sorts. He was truly an amazing director, defining the very word "maverick."
At the moment, signs of his influence are everywhere: in the overlapping dialogue and interlocking scenes of a television show like The Wire, for example, or in the multiple narratives drawn together around a theme or a location, in films like Babel, Bobby, Crash and Fast Food Nation. And in the last year of his life, the Hollywood establishment, which had often treated Mr. Altman like a crazy old uncle, hailed him as a patriarch, presenting an honorary Academy Award as compensation for the half-dozen he should already have had. He accepted it with his usual wry, brusque grace, after allowing himself to be upstaged by Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep, whose tribute -- one talking over the other, no sentences finished or thoughts completed, all of it perfectly timed -- was funnier and more moving than any Oscar moment had any right to be.
Here's the clip from the 2006 Oscar telecast with Altman muses Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep giving an introduction to the director in the trademark Altman style of "overlapping dialogue":
This is the trailer to what critics claim to be his finest film, Nashville:
This is from 3 Women:
YouTube has the whole Brewster McCloud movie. This is the opening credits:
This is from The Long Goodbye:
This is from California Split:
This is from Popeye:
This is the magnificent opening shot of The Player:
This is from The Company:
This is from A Prairie Home Companion:
This is a clip of Altman being interviewed about the making of M*A*S*H, his second film, but the one that made his reputation: