Rather than explaining why Robert Altman has long been, and forever will be, my favorite filmmaker--just read the barrage of tributes all over the internet and you'll understand why, or watch MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER, THE LONG GOODBYE, BREWSTER MCCLOUD, NASHVILLE, SHORT CUTS, THREE WOMEN, CALIFORNIA SPLIT, M*A*S*H, THE PLAYER, IMAGES, and VINCENT & THEO--I thought I'd tell you a story, which just might be my favorite story ever.
Earlier this year, I accompanied my good friend Jane Rizzo to a private party at Elaine's, which Elaine threw for Bob in order to welcome him home from London, where he'd directed an opera (Jane was the associate editor on TANNER ON TANNER and A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION). There were only thirty people in the back room, and with the exception of Altman's Sandcastle 5 production team (Lowell, Wren, Jacob, Josh, Molly), I didn't know anyone else in attendance. I chatted briefly with Bob and told him that I'd hopefully see him the following weekend at the Sarasota Film Festival, though I doubted I'd make it into the gala dinner since I didn't have a tux. He replied, "I'm not wearing a goddamn tux." The only stranger I found myself talking to was Paula Schwartz, a gossip columnist for the New York Times, who was unimpressed that Bob Balaban and Robin Williams were the only other celebrities in attendance. I jokingly informed her that she was in the presence of another celebrity, the up-and-coming filmmaker named Michael Tully. She asked me a little bit about COCAINE ANGEL, before leaving me behind to approach Robin Williams. Anyway, that was that. Until the following Tuesday afternoon, when I received a call from Mark Rabinowitz, who jumped through the phone to tell me that I had actually made it into the Boldface Names column in the New York Times. I couldn't believe it.
But here's where the story gets good. Apparently, that same Tuesday morning, Bob was reading the paper in the Sandcastle office. When he got to the part about me, he stopped. He lifted his head and asked aloud, to no one in particular, "Who the fuck is Michael Tully???"
If that is not the most delightful and hilarious story I've ever heard, it's surely in my top three. In light of today's news, it has become downright mythical.
If there is one director whose catalogue could be used to teach film history on a truly broad scale, it is Robert Altman. He has made films in almost every single genre, and even when they are on the unsuccessful side of the concession stand, they are nonetheless fascinating, challenging, and achingly humane. Thank you, Mr. Altman, for inspiring my life. Good luck to you, wherever you end up.