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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

entry arrow1:05 AM | A Robert Altman Completist's Checklist

I'm glad I was born the year I was born, in 1975. (That dates me, but who cares? I'm proud of my age.) Imagine having to play catch-up with all of the world (and culture and history) if I were born much later. Yesterday, I watched Robert Altman's A Wedding [1978], and that got me to looking at his filmmography to see what else of what he directed I've missed. It turned out to be a lot, which is a shame, really. And so I've decided to proceed with this goal of watching the rest of his ouevre (minus his television efforts, just to make my objective a reachable one).

And I began by rewatching what is perhaps considered his greatest film -- Nashville, which just happened to be released on the year I was born. And perhaps the stars have much to do with my attraction to Altman films: I find his story-telling technique -- the overlapping dialogues, the huge ensemble casts, the interconnected storylines, the solipsistic tendencies, the epic consideration in minutiae a closed world -- very appealing, and I find that informing much of my long fiction. My novel Sugar Land, for example, is in spirit Nashville, only set in Negros Oriental, with sugar and a serial killer as the pivotal narrative devices instead of country and gospel music and American politics.

When I saw the film again, I noticed several things that I've seen later on expanded in his later films: for example, Geraldine Chaplin's hopelessly lost BBC documentarian Opal is the prototype for Kim Basinger's Kitty Potter in Prêt-à-Porter [Ready to Wear, 1994] and Lauren Hutton's Florence Farmer in A Wedding [1978]. It made me wonder what that these characters revealed about Altman's idea of "journalism." Was it as crackpot or as lost as he made the profession appear to be in his films? It is informative, for example, that he used this device of the documentarian to make sense the cacophony of characters in these films. (In an interview with Roger Ebert, he said that the Hutton character in A Wedding was armed with an album of all the family members in the entourage, to help herself -- and the audience -- in making sense of who's who. In the final cut, however, that never panned out.) Perhaps the documentarian is the stand-in for the audience, in all our loony and lost bit, having completely given up understanding the specific world we have just been observing in all its idiosyncrasies. (Or perhaps the documentarian is Altman himself, reacting to the world he has attempted to document in film?) At the end of Prêt-à-Porter, Basinger's Potter gives up her mic in exasperation over the lunacy of the French high fashion industry. At the end of Nashville, Chaplin's Opal is seen rushing about the crowd after the assassination, asking "What happened? What happened?"

But these are my best scenes from Nashville. This one with songwriter Ronee Blakley as country star Barbara Jean singing and then having a very public nervous breakdown...

And this one with Keith Carradine as Tom Frank singing "I'm Easy" to Lily Tomlin (look at her face -- it explains exactly why she was nominated for an Oscar for this film, a feat she shared with Blakley), and followed by the heartbreaking scene of Gwen Welles as Sueleen Gay, a simple girl who can't sing but dreams of country music stardom, forced to make a striptease for a bunch of men in a political fundraiser...

And here's the director talking about the making of the film...

So, let's see... What other Altman films have I missed?

☐ A Prairie Home Companion [2006]
☑ The Company [2003]
☑ Gosford Park [2001]
☑ Dr. T and the Women [2000]
☐ Cookie's Fortune [1999]
☑ The Gingerbread Man [1998]
☐ Kansas City [1996]
☑ Prêt-à-Porter [1994]
☑ Short Cuts [1993]
☑ The Player [1992]
☐ Vincent & Theo [1990]
☑ Aria (Segment "Les Boréades") [1987]
☐ Beyond Therapy [1987]
☐ Fool for Love [1985]
☐ O.C. and Stiggs [1985]
☐ Secret Honor [1984]
☐ Streamers [1983]
☐ Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean [1982]
☐ Popeye [1980]
☐ HealtH [1980]
☐ A Perfect Couple [1979]
☐ Quintet [1979]
☑ A Wedding [1978]
☑ 3 Women [1977]
☐ Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson [1976]
☑ Nashville [1975]
☐ California Split [1974]
☐ Thieves Like Us [1974]
☐ The Long Goodbye [1973]
☐ Images [1972]
☐ McCabe & Mrs. Miller [1971]
☐ Brewster McCloud [1970]
☐ M*A*S*H [1970]
☐ That Cold Day in the Park [1969]

See my other Completist List: Woody Allen.

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