Goodbye, Mr. Altman

By twhalliii | THE BACK ROW MANIFESTO by Tom Hall November 22, 2006 at 7:50AM

Goodbye, Mr. Altman
0

I arrived in Sarasota at 3:00am after an 18 hour drive from Brooklyn, and the first thing I heard upon waking was the news that Robert Altman had passed away. I had the ultimate privilege of hosting Mr. Altman and the East Coast Premiere of his film A Prairie Home Companion as the Closing Night Film at the 2006 Sarasota Film Festival. We had a great Q&A after the screening, and he was as open and honest with the audience as he was in seemingly every aspect of his creative life. We also were honored to present Mr. Altman with the festival's 2006 Regal Cinemas Lifetime Achievement Award, and he gave a rousing, politically uncompromising acceptance speech at the dinner, inspiring conversation at the festival and bringing a focus to the impact that art and artists should have on our communities. I was thrilled to have been able to meet him, to be able to host him, and to talk with him a little and share my appreciation for his work. There are not many opportunities in life to tell a great artist how you feel about what they have given to you, but I am luckier than most to have been given the chance to tell Robert Altman how much his films mean to me.

On learning of his death today, I was shocked and saddend, but the more I thought about it, the more I was reminded how lovely and fitting A Prairie Home Companion is as his final film; The movie is the story of the end of an era, of a certain way of life and of making art. I thought of the film's final scene, when Death (played by a warm, tender Virginia Madsen) arrives at a small diner, populated by the film's main characters. Recognizing her instantly, they exchange nervous glances, wondering for whom Death has come calling. As generous as ever, Altman pulls his camera away, out the door of the diner and into the night, never resolving Death's intentions and providing hope that life goes on while always aware that the end is, for all of us, inevitable. I can't think of a more lovely final shot in any Director's career, nor one more haunting; Maybe he knew more than he was letting on. Looking back on his work, from M*A*S*H to Nashville to The Player to A Prairie Home Companion, Altman seemed to be implicitly aware that death is to be expected, the inevitable conclusion to the long, complicated celebration that makes up our lives. When I heard he had died, I could only hope that the end came for him as lovingly as it came in the final shot of his final film; Oh so quiet, bearing a familiar and peaceful face.

During his stay at our festival, Mr. Altman posed for a series of photographs taken by the wonderful Getty Images photographer Carlo Allegri. I thought I would share them here, in memory of one of my favorite filmmakers. Goodbye, Mr. Altman and thank you so much for showing me how to tell it like it is.

Altman in Sarasota1.jpg
(© Carlo Allegri/ Getty Images)

Altman in Sarasota2.jpg
(© Carlo Allegri/ Getty Images)

Altman in Sarasota3.jpg
(© Carlo Allegri/ Getty Images)

Altman in Sarasota4.jpg
(© Carlo Allegri/ Getty Images)

Altman in Sarasota5.jpg
(© Carlo Allegri/ Getty Images)

Altman6.jpg
(© Carlo Allegri/ Getty Images)

This article is related to: Industry