Socialist Worker

Robert Altman 1925-2006

by Mark Brown
Issue No. 2029

Robert Altman, who has died aged 81, was one of the greatest filmmakers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The US director often humbled the Hollywood studios with brilliant movies that were made with small budgets.

They highlighted his refreshingly rigorous yet open-ended approach to film directing (full of improvisation and over-lapping dialogue).

With his highly successful 1970 film M*A*S*H, Altman proved that there was an audience in the US for films which were artistically independent and politically radical.

Although the movie’s producers insisted that its setting be designated as a US military field hospital in Korea, the world knew that this sharply satirical dark comedy was aimed, primarily, against the ongoing war in Vietnam.

Altman hated the— politically much tamer—TV series spawned by the film.

The Hollywood establishment (which grudgingly awarded him an honorary Oscar earlier this year, having failed to award any of his films) feared and disliked Altman.

He reciprocated their antipathy. And his 1992 film The Player is widely considered to be cinema’s wittiest and most intelligent satire of Hollywood.

Although Altman will be remembered for his sharp deconstructions of the American dream, one of his greatest films was a scintillating satire of the British class system.

By turns hilariously tongue-in-cheek, deeply moving and genuinely enraging, Gosford Park slaughtered a herd of “Middle England’s” sacred cows—from the country house whodunit, to Upstairs Downstairs.

Robert Altman was a genuine radical.

When filming McCabe and Mrs Miller in Canada during the Vietnam War, he hired a team of US conscientious objectors as extras.

More recently, the director outraged the US right by proclaiming his “embarrassment” at the nationalistic flagwaving that followed the events of 9/11.

Altman once said that, for him, retirement from filmmaking would come only with death. He was setting out on another movie project when he died.


Article information

Obituary
Sat 2 Dec 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2029
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