A recent thoughtful appreciation of the acclaimed director by Patrick Goldstein [“He played by his own rules,” Los Angeles Times Nov 22, 2006] illuminates some personal aspects of an exceptional artist:
Robert Altman cared; he did not stoop to conquer. As he said of today’s movie studios: “They sell shoes; I make gloves.” ….
Altman always had an air of impatience about him, perhaps because he was such a late bloomer. He first came to Hollywood in 1946 after flying B-24 bombers during the war. He failed over and over, ending up making industrial films in Kansas City, his hometown. He spent much of the 1960s working in obscurity, doing episodic television. He was 45 by the time he had his first, and biggest, hit: “MASH,” in 1970. After that, he never stopped working.
Anne Rapp, one of Altman’s favorite screenwriters, said the director was like a farmer. Each new film was like a spring crop. Boom or bust, he was always thinking about the new planting. Altman was making good movies long after most of his peers had given up the ghost because he refused to rely on craft alone.
Even as an old man, Altman never lost his curiosity about the strange ways of the world. Always willing to experiment, he happily gave his trust to inspiration and improvisation. In Hollywood, filmmakers often say, “I’ll do one for the studio, but then I’ll do one for me.” With Altman, all the movies were for him. And thanks to his fierce refusal to compromise, they are all for us too.
[See listing of Patrick Goldstein columns]
Related book: Altman on Altman