There’s nothing like getting the lowdown on an illustrious career straight from the horse’s mouth — especially if that career is Robert Altman’s. Nicely coinciding with his recent lifetime achievement Oscar, the extremely welcome addition of Altman to Faber’s excellent Directors on Directing series at last rectifies what had long been a glaring omission, and his personal account of a six-decade career defined by risk and experimentation is every bit as fascinating — and, of course, as frank — as you’d expect.
Expertly engaged by interviewer David Thompson (who produced an absorbing 2001 BBC TV docu on the making of “Gosford Park”), Altman candidly discusses his youth in Kansas and a near 20-year apprenticeship in television that led to remarkably diverse films that defy easy categorization. But, then, as Altman comments, that’s always been his driving intent: “They’re meant to be hard to categorize.”
He explains why Sally Kellerman looked so shocked in “MASH’s” infamous shower scene — Altman was standing by the camera with his pants down and weighs in on his 1992 showbiz satire, “The Player.” “What we show is a very, very soft indictment,” he says. “Hollywood is much crueler, uglier and more calculating than you see in the film.”
Throughout, the straight-talking Altman emerges as a truly independent filmmaker whose passionate engagement with the creative process — and his decided lack of concern with studio politics — makes it easy to see why he is lauded by today’s generation of directors.