Tuesday, May 24, 2005

robert altman, you fat bastard

I was relatively unemployed for most of the fall, having just a few design projects here and there and my meager musician earnings to help with the groceries and bills and whatnot. It was time well spent though. I would get up at a decent hour and walk the dog before working for a while on the computer. After lunch I would have a glass or two of peach iced tea, each with a shot of orange brandy, and retire to the porch or couch with a Raymond Chandler novel, working my way from The Big Sleep to Playback some eight novels later. However, if you ever take it upon yourself to run through these books (and I highly recommend that you do), do yourself a favor and leave Playback out of it. I know you won’t—you’ll finish The Long Goodbye and will need another Marlowe fix despite any and all warnings—but I should warn you nonetheless. I won’t get into it here but I’ll tell you that it ends abruptly and in a pathetically lazy plot twist that had me wanting to dig up Raymond’s corpse and slap it around a bit. Then maybe I would buy it a martini and we’d share a few unfiltered Camels at a roadside diner somewhere.

This is the thing to keep in mind: He made a horrible mistake of the ending, but it was his universe to fuck up. Also, he was the master of noir literature or pulp fiction or whatever name you want slap on the genre, and you can’t be too pissed when you weigh all the great work that came before that disappointing conclusion. However, you shouldn’t allow such graces for Robert Altman.

The first thing that you need to know about Robert Altman is that no Robert Altman film is a safe bet. He’s a gamble. People will tell you that he is great, and he has done some great work (Short Cuts, Gosford Park, MASH, maybe The Player and…well, that’s about it), but the man also has the ability to take a good story, actors, cinematography, and the like and combine them into an end result that feels sitting through a grade school production of La Dolce Vida. I don't like La Dolce Vida.

I knew what to expect from Altman when I rented the DVD of his 1973 adaptation of Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, which is probably my favorite of the novels. I knew also that a comparison to other Chandler adaptations was setting the bar way too high. The Big Sleep (1946), easily the most famous Marlowe film, was done by Howard Hawks with a William Faulkner screenplay and Humphrey Bogart sharing the screen with Lauren Bacall at the height of their being Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Can any film, with the possible exception of the original Cannonball Run, ever hope to measure up? Of course not. Were films to contemplate such things they would no doubt be ashamed to place themselves in the same medium.

I knew all this going in. I lowered my expectations and hoped for the best. I didn’t expect to see Bogart; the face of Elliott Gould is clearly depicted on the cover. It is hard to mistake the face of Elliott Gould for someone else, except maybe Dustin Diamond in another forty years or so. Elliott Gould is not Humphrey Bogart. That having been said, Gould’s performance was probably the one thing that I liked. He had a horrible script that bore little resemblance to the novel but managed to make the most of it.

I won’t go into my laundry list of grievances here for the two, possibly three of you who accidentally wander into this space (unless, of course, one of you happens to actually be Robert Altman), but you should know that Altman gives it an unforgivably horrible and cheesy Hollywood action film-esque ending that is even more unbelievable than Chandler’s conclusion to Playback. It wasn’t the typical Altman fuck up and I was woefully unprepared to view it. I immediately wanted to dig up Chandler so the two of us could repeatedly bitch slap Altman in tandem, leaving him a bloody hog-squealing pulp of an overrated film maker before heading out for a dozen martinis and a couple of the rarest steaks allowed by law.
Thank you. I’m glad I got this all out in the open.


Blogger Calvin Coltrane said...

Thank your Mr. Camino! I have long held a grudge against Altman for the empty feeling that consumed me while enduring The Player.

1:59 PM  

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