All That and More: Robert Altman, Dead at 81


Filmmaker Robert Altman died Monday night, at the age of 81. Nominated for five Academy Awards for directing, Altman won an Oscar for lifetime achievement this year. The AP called Altman, whose credits span the creative cosmos from Mash in 1970 to Nashville in 1975 to A Prairie Home Companion in 2006, a “caustic and irreverent satirist.”

In recent years, Voice critics have suggested he was all that and a few other things, too.

A selection of recent reviews:

A Prairie Home Companion

In “The Long Goodbye: Keillor and Altman team up for an elegiac backstage musical,” Rob Nelson wrote:

“Tellingly, Altman never shows the audience: For this gently fictionalized backstage musical set at the show’s real home in St. Paul, Minnesota, the audience is Robert Altman, and so is the master of ceremonies.”

Tanner ’88, from 1988

In “Remembrance of Wacky Political Conventions Past”, Joy Press wrote: Long before K Street, Garry Trudeau and Robert Altman devised this mock-documentary miniseries, which snuck a fictitious candidate named Jack Tanner (Michael Murphy) in among the multitudes of Democratic contenders.

The reconceivedTanner on Tanner, from 2004
In “My Fake Candidate: Robert Altman and Cynthia Nixon talk about Tanner,” Press wrote:

“If radicals can’t actually achieve change in any meaningful way, what’s left for them to do with their good intentions? Well, you can make a documentary.”

The Company, from 2003

In “Tough Guys Shouldn’t Dance: Altman Ballet Sprains an Ankle”, Michael Atkinson wrote:

“Looking ahead to his 79th birthday, Robert Altman has been plugging away on movie sets, manufacturing adroit classics, odious train wrecks, and—most often—ambitious mediocrities for more than five decades.”

Gosford Park, from 2001

In “To the Manor Born,” Dennis Lim wrote:

“As with Altman’s best movies, Gosford Park is above all an entrancing hum of atmosphere and texture.”

Dr. T and the Women, from 2000

In “Dolorous Haze,” Lim wrote:

“Robert Altman calls his latest film a ‘love letter to the women of Dallas,’ but it’s hard to detect anything resembling affection in Dr. T and the Women—at best, a snickering empathy for Richard Gere, cast effectively enough as the squintingly perplexed, emasculated center of a raging estrogen tempest.”

Cookie’s Fortune, from 1999

In “Spring Fever,” J. Hoberman wrote:

“Even more than Woody Allen, Altman is a filmmaker who aspires to the choreographed and socially astute ensemble humanism epitomized by Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game. But unlike Renoir, he has a saturnine temperament—he cannot help but condescend to half of his characters and ridicule the rest.”