Robert Altman

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Robert Altman

Robert Bernard Altman (born February 20, 1925) is an American film director known for making films that are highly naturalistic, but with a somewhat skewed perspective. Altman was born in Kansas City, Missouri, USA.

As a director, Altman favors stories showing the interrelationships between several characters; he states that he is more interested in character motivation than in intricate plots. As such, he tends to sketch out only a basic plot for the film, referring to the screenplay as a "blueprint" for action, and allows his actors to improvise dialogue. This is one of the reasons Altman is known as an "actor's director," a reputation that helps him work with large casts of well-known actors.

He frequently allows the characters to talk over each other in such a way that it's impossible to make out what each of them are saying. He notes on the DVD commentary of McCabe & Mrs. Miller that he lets the dialogue overlap, as well as leaving some things in the plot for the audience to infer, because he wants the audience to pay attention. Similarly, he tries to have his films rated R (by the MPAA rating system) so as to keep children out of his audience--he does not believe children have the patience his films require. Such a tendency sometimes spawns conflict with movie studios, who do want children in the audience because of the size of the demographic.

Altman is a man who makes films when no other filmmaker and/or studio would. He was reluctant to make the original 1970 Korean War comedy M*A*S*H because of the pressures involved in filming it, but it still became a critical success. It would later inspire the long-running TV series of the same name.

In 1975, Altman made Paramount's Nashville, a semi-musical with a political theme set against the world of country music. Nearly all of his co-stars wrote the songs for the film (one of which won an Academy Award).

The way Altman made his films initially didn't sit well with audiences. In 1976, he attempted to find some of his artistic freedom by founding the original Lions Gate Films. The few films he made for the company, including A Wedding, 3 Women, and Quintet, were critically acclaimed but seen by very few people.

In 1980, he attempted a movie musical for Disney and Paramount, a live-action version of the comic strip/cartoon Popeye (which starred Robin Williams in his big-screen debut). The film did make money, but it was seen as a failure by some critics. During the 1980's, Altman did a series of films, some well-received (the Richard Nixon drama Secret Honor) and some critically panned (the poor O.C. & Stiggs). He also garnered a good deal of acclaim for his presidential campaign "mockumentary" Tanner '88, for which he earned an Emmy Award.

Altman's career began to reach his peak when he directed 1992's The Player for New Line subsidiary Fine Line Features. A satire on Hollywood and its troubles, it was nominated for three Academy Awards, including one for Best Director (Altman). Although it did not win any awards, Altman at last got the acclaim his body of work seemingly deserved.

After the success of The Player, Altman directed 1993's Short Cuts, an ambitious adaptation of several short stories by Raymond Carver, which portrayed the lives of various citizens of the city of Los Angeles over the course of several days. The film's large ensemble cast and intertwining of many different storylines harkened back to his 1970s heyday, and earned Altman another Oscar nomination for Best Director. It was acclaimed as Altman's best film in decades (Altman himself considers this, along with Tanner '88, his most creative work) and, along with The Player, cemented his reputation as one of America's best filmmakers.

Working with independent studios such as Fine Line, Artisan (now Lions Gate, ironically the studio Altman helped to found), and USA Films (now Focus Features), gave Altman the edge in making the kinds of films he has always wanted to make without outside studio interference. Altman is still developing new projects today, including a movie version of the public radio series A Prairie Home Companion [1] ( (Interestingly, the Guy Noir segment of the June 4, 2005 episode of A Prairie Home Companion parodies Altman, describing him directing a fictional movie "People Standing Around Talking and Using Hand Gestures" [2] (

His films M*A*S*H and Nashville have been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

Selected filmography

Additional resources

  • The director's commentary on the McCabe & Mrs. Miller DVD, while focusing on that film, also to some degree covers Altman's general methodology as a director.

External links

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