To capture a filmmaker’s entire fifty-year career in just over an hour and a half seems like an impossible task, but this is exactly what filmmaker, Ron Mann attempts, to mostly great effect, in his latest documentary, ALTMAN, which celebrates deceased American filmmaker, Robert Altman.
Mann’s film begins in the ‘50s, as a then unknown Altman struggles to get his artistic vision across while directing TV, under the tough supervision of studio heads. After being fired, multiple times, Altman ventures out on his own, making the Vietnam War comedy, MASH in 1970. After winning the prestigious Palmes d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival that year, the film explodes across the United States, pushing Altman to the forefront of the American cinema scene. Altman would go on to make some of the most important films ever made, including the classic, NASHVILLE. (Click here to see BSR’s Top 5 Altman films list.)
The most impressive thing about Mann’s documentary is that it acknowledges almost every single film Altman made. From the hits (THE PLAYER), to the flops (POPEYE), to even some of Altman’s unreleased short films, including the extremely funny “Pot au feu”, which features a group of people at a house-party sharing a joint while doing random things.
While all viewers can learn something about Altman from the film, it may not be the best choice for those who were not already familiar with his work. For starters, the film divulges some of the final scenes from some of his finer efforts, which would spoil them for any who haven’t seen them. In addition, the film does not explain in depth what made Altman so great. Fans of Altman’s don’t need to be told this, as they already know, but it could’ve been touched upon more in the film. While Mann does acknowledge that Altman is responsible for implementing overlapping dialogue in film, he misses many of Altman’s other great accomplishments.
Too detailed for the unfamiliar and perhaps not detailed enough for the fans, ALTMAN is at times a missed opportunity but still a thoughtful tribute to one of America’s best auteurs.