Auteur Robert Altman Passes Away at 81

by | November 21, 2006 | Comments

Robert Altman, the esteemed and venerable director of "M*A*S*H," "Nashville," and "The Player," died Monday from complications due to cancer. He was 81.

During his half-century within the business, Altman directed over 30 feature films, which were only the tip of a filmography that included dozens of shorts, TV movies, documentaries, and miniseries. In 2002, after his Best Director nomination for "Gosford Park," he joined the exclusive no-Oscar club: along with Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese, no other director has been nominated for five Best Director Oscars without a single win.


A sprightly Altman with Ryan Phillippe on the set of 2001’s "Gosford Park"

Altman started his career in the 1950s and 1960s directing shorts and television shows, including eight episodes of "Bonanza" and two episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." His first feature, the obscure 1968 sci-fi epic "Countdown," starred James Caan and Robert Duvall.

In 1970, Altman jumped into the spotlight with the brilliant "M*A*S*H." Not only was it a critical darling (with 93 percent on the Tomatometer), it had given Altman his first Best Director nod and another for Best Picture), it was also his biggest box office hit.

"He was the last great American director in the tradition of John Ford," said Elliot Gould, whose role in "M*A*S*H" made him a star. "He was my friend and I’ll always be grateful to him for the experience and opportunities he gave me."

On the set, Altman was famously democratic. He allowed actors to stray from the script, improvise, and watch the dailies for their input and chance to change the direction of their movie.


Altman’s "M*A*S*H* (1970), "Nashville" (1975) and "The Player" (1992)

"He loved the chaos of shooting and the sociability of the crew and actors — he adored actors — and he loved the editing room and he especially loved sitting in a screening room and watching the thing over and over with other people," said Garrison Keillor, who wrote Altman’s last movie, "A Prairie Home Companion." "He didn’t care for the money end of things, he didn’t mind doing publicity, but when he was working he was in heaven."

With "M*A*S*H" and 1975’s "Nashville" (an even bigger critical success with 94 percent on the Tomatometer, and again earning Altman Best Picture and Best Director nominations), the term "Altman-esque" to describe films of large ensemble casts and loose narratives was forever entrenched into the film buff vernacular.

Altman slipped into what some perceive as a dry spell after "Nashville," though his output never slowed. During the 1980s, he experimented with wildly different genres and sources, including theatrical one-man movies, ("Secret Honor"), comic strip adaptations ("Popeye"), and raunchy teen comedy ("O.C. and Stiggs").

In 1992, Altman staged a vital comeback in the form of "The Player," his first critical and commercial accomplishment in over a decade (which now sits at a 100% Tomatometer). Just one year after, Altman offered his most stunning and ambitious movie ever, "Short Cuts," a three-hour adaptation of several Raymond Carver stories. 1999’s "Magnolia" took heavy inspiration from "Short Cuts" and, in fact, "Magnolia" director P.T. Anderson was the back-up director for "Prairie Home Companion" if Altman was unable to finish it.


Altman’s "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (1971), "Short Cuts" (1993), and "A Prairie Home Companion" (2006)

This past March, Altman received a Lifetime Achievement Oscar award for "a career that has repeatedly reinvented the art form and inspired filmmakers and audiences alike." During the ceremony, he revealed that he received a heart transplant ten years earlier but kept it a secret, afraid that it would prevent him from finding work.

To quote Keillor again: "He and I once talked about making a movie about a man coming back to Lake Wobegon to bury his father, and Mr. Altman said, ‘The death of an old man is not a tragedy.’ All of us who worked with him had the great privilege of seeing an 81-year-old guy doing what he loved to do. I’m sorry that our movie turned out to be his last, but I do know that he loved making it. It’s a great thing to be 81 and in love."

It’s been joked that Altman proffered the cinema of "People Standing Around Talking and Using Hand Gestures." Altman himself had a variety of ways to illustrate his natural, organic way of filming. With "Gosford Park," it was as though "throwing pearls onto a parquet floor — we would see who was going to bump into whom and how it would all fit together." And with 2003’s "The Company," the structure was "a clothesline to hang the dance and then the lives of the characters."

"No other filmmaker has gotten a better shake than I have," Altman said while accepting the Lifetime Oscar in March. "I’m very fortunate in my career. I’ve never had to direct a film I didn’t choose or develop. My love for filmmaking has given me an entree to the world and to the human condition."

Tag Cloud

blockbuster psychological thriller Britbox 21st Century Fox Set visit zombie Spike Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Pride Month toy story Music Writers Guild of America Country crime drama CW Seed Schedule Paramount Network Red Carpet spider-man MCU diversity OWN facebook reviews Paramount Fall TV Horror Disney streaming service Tomatazos ITV Trophy Talk Musicals HBO Max golden globes sequel 007 cartoon science fiction Infographic movies Arrowverse Election 2018 A24 dragons Disney Channel The Purge Animation romance revenge Peacock sitcom Brie Larson TCA Winter 2020 Creative Arts Emmys 24 frames documentary MSNBC Elton John psycho Nat Geo American Society of Cinematographers anime GIFs YA crime Marathons canceled Bravo IFC Reality Competition Superheroe sag awards travel Oscars Classic Film Action adaptation Lifetime Christmas movies Binge Guide TruTV CMT WarnerMedia Biopics Hulu ABC Acorn TV Awards Tour Starz Polls and Games technology independent Cannes werewolf Sony Pictures indie vampires cancelled television USA Network Universal Apple cars Mystery reboot E! RT21 Discovery Channel green book ESPN franchise dramedy LGBTQ Cosplay social media Nominations Countdown singing competition CNN harry potter GLAAD BBC Emmys VH1 scary movies Video Games Tumblr SundanceTV TNT screenings TCA 2017 FX on Hulu Pixar Rock Sci-Fi Shudder latino Amazon Prime First Reviews E3 Epix The CW period drama Columbia Pictures dogs DirecTV Emmy Nominations Women's History Month Star Trek USA OneApp IFC Films Netflix Christmas movies Turner Classic Movies teaser Heroines Disney+ Disney Plus Family Tarantino ABC Family breaking bad festivals boxoffice composers what to watch Sundance TV Star Wars series binge Turner Cartoon Network ratings zombies Premiere Dates Marvel Studios NBC AMC SDCC YouTube Musical SXSW CBS spy thriller elevated horror Sneak Peek cancelled TV series NYCC witnail Syfy Fox News historical drama APB See It Skip It comiccon 2017 Comedy Central Mary poppins DC Comics space renewed TV shows political drama Black Mirror rotten movies we love doctor who screen actors guild VICE hispanic A&E RT History Super Bowl Teen President Mary Poppins Returns Calendar Holiday Ghostbusters Lionsgate National Geographic Apple TV Plus YouTube Red biography TLC theme song cancelled TV shows war BBC America dc Disney Pop TV Lifetime FX Marvel Television Ovation christmas movies Marvel PBS streaming Hallmark Christmas movies spanish language directors Year in Review anthology Drama Crackle politics San Diego Comic-Con Stephen King Trailer Film Martial Arts spinoff Shondaland quibi Lucasfilm Box Office Warner Bros. Hallmark FOX Travel Channel Vudu Dark Horse Comics The Arrangement aliens book CBS All Access Awards sports Summer Pet Sematary batman Western supernatural Interview Esquire Anna Paquin 2020 Rom-Com television mockumentary LGBT Comics on TV game of thrones PaleyFest Grammys Freeform Superheroes game show Showtime Crunchyroll History based on movie Podcast DC streaming service HBO 45 medical drama Baby Yoda 2019 Avengers 71st Emmy Awards Masterpiece Toys Logo crime thriller Black History Month TCM Pop Comic Book Quiz Academy Awards Kids & Family adventure comics cooking TBS Spectrum Originals DC Universe animated Character Guide First Look blaxploitation Extras Mudbound crossover 2016 transformers Comedy FXX Holidays tv talk Song of Ice and Fire hist cops The Walking Dead WGN versus free movies Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt strong female leads TIFF New York Comic Con miniseries Amazon Studios 20th Century Fox universal monsters Photos robots TV Land Mindy Kaling Walt Disney Pictures richard e. Grant Opinion docudrama cats spain Funimation GoT TV renewals Winter TV X-Men Film Festival Amazon Rocketman Tubi natural history El Rey The Witch romantic comedy dceu canceled TV shows MTV TV Chernobyl Reality Adult Swim TCA Rocky thriller nature zero dark thirty Endgame Food Network BET Spring TV children's TV comic Television Academy Winners cults Disney Plus movie Sundance Best and Worst Christmas DGA true crime Certified Fresh Nickelodeon Valentine's Day casting finale mutant justice league Captain marvel discovery stand-up comedy Apple TV+ police drama YouTube Premium slashers Mary Tyler Moore talk show halloween Sundance Now kids disaster video Trivia joker cinemax Fantasy foreign Amazon Prime Video ghosts Pirates south america Watching Series jamie lee curtis unscripted 2015 award winner Netflix cancelled Thanksgiving name the review Ellie Kemper serial killer