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Rudolph vs. Schickel Over Altman

by Anne Thompson
October 29, 2009 11:46 AM
6 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

I was on a plane to London when I read ex-Time critic Richard Schickel's LAT attack on Robert Altman. I've disagreed with Schickel before; at his best he's a cranky curmudgeon who isn't interested in reading or hearing any point-of-view other than his own.

While he has written many graceful book reviews over the years for the LAT, this recent one on Mitchell Zuckoff's Robert Altman: The Oral Biography is less about the book than an angry diatribe against the late director of such films as M.A.S.H., The Player, Nashville and A Prairie Home Companion who Schickel considers to have been out of control. He maligns Altman's working methods without giving enough credit to the films themselves.

Thompson on Hollywood

I have always considered Altman to be a master auteur, one of the best independent filmmakers ever--in fact a model for many directors of how to get your way inside the Hollywood system. Yes, of course Altman was an ornery pain-in-the-ass to just about everyone he dealt with on the producing and distribution side. And he could be his own worst enemy. But actors loved working for him for a reason. He had a rare command of the form and many of his films stand the test of time, from A Wedding and Gosford Park to The Long Goodbye and Vincent and Theo.

Here's Patrick Goldstein's take on this, along with a rousing defense by Alan Rudolph (Choose Me) of his one-time mentor.

Maybe Schickel was railing against someone who was just as big a crank as he is.

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6 Comments

  • Brian | November 2, 2009 4:01 AMReply

    As someone who was a fan of Altman back in the 1970s, a time when my college classmates and I regularly attended his new films, I have to say that my longtime admiration of Altman is somewhat tempered by the fact that I've only rarely revisited his films and have seen only three films of his since POPEYE (1980), the last being THE PLAYER in 1992, some 17 years ago.

    I tend to agree with Schickel. Altman's sensibility was somewhat childish and he had a troubled adolescent's view of adult institutions. Sure, that appealed to me in my high school/college years, but I've grown up since then and have learned that adult institutions are much more complex than Altman presented them. I don't have to like those institutions, but I would prefer to see them presented with some accuracy and some complexity.

    The great American filmmakers that I continue to revisit may not have had any greater respect for these institutions but they presented them with more plausibility and believability. I'm thinking particularly of Robert Aldrich (esp. ATTACK!), John Ford, Howard Hawks, Don Siegel, Anthony Mann and John Sturges. Some of these men were still making films when I'd discovered Altman (with M*A*S*H) and I like to think I understood the difference even then.

  • cadavra | November 1, 2009 9:41 AMReply

    Richard Schickel hates pretty much any film book not written by Richard Schickel. The Times should have retired him long ago.

  • William | October 31, 2009 8:11 AMReply

    The book is a revelation and very well done.

  • mitkid | October 30, 2009 2:37 AMReply

    Who cares if he was ornery, an Altman movie was always worth seeing, and always had his obvious and worthy imprint.

  • brian burnett | October 30, 2009 2:15 AMReply

    Who cares about Altman's 'working methods' when he scaled the absolute heights as a director and writer - his freewheeling style, with layers of overlapping dialogue, is deceptively simple, but oh-so-complex, and we have an unforgettable body of work, to endure much longer than the scribblings of Mr Schickel.
    Thank you, Anne, for confirming Altman's genius - his films have pride-of-place in my collection.

  • Sergio | October 30, 2009 2:13 AMReply

    Maybe I'm a crank too but I tend to lean more on Schickel on this one. I never got Altman. I found his technique sloppy and slapdash as if he had no intetrest what was going on on the screen. I just tried a few weeks ago to watch yet again The Long Goodbye and I just barely made it through. What's the point of doing a detective movie if you obviously have no respect for the genre? Granted there are a few Altman films I like like Short Cuts (to me his best film) and Gosford Park. Lucky Schickel perhaps never saw his film O.C. and Stiggs, one of the funniest stories ever from the old National Lampoon magazine which Altman completely destroyed, trashed and buried on film. A devestating and completely unfunny disaster that has no relationship to the actual short story

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