Altman Review & Interview with Ron Mann (2014 Venice Film Festival)

Posted 9 years ago by myetvmedia

Director Ron Mann openly praises maverick filmmaker Robert Altman as his hero. Mann’s new documentary ‘Altman’ screened at the 71st Venice Film Festival, makes no bones about this adulation. But the result is not an indiscriminate work of idealized hero worship, it is an important and successful attempt at understanding what Altman’s art was all about; and how he transformed the way films were being made in America.

That Altman eschewed the Hollywood studio system and did so vociferously during his career is now part of the Altman legend. Trying to capture his influence in filmmaking as an art form, Mann opens each chapter of his documentary with a brief but enlightening response to what ‘Altmanesque’ means? True to Altman’s own organic approach to ensemble filmmaking, Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin, Elliot Gould, James Caan, Paul Thomas Anderson and several others attempt a definition. Williams’ response, like many of the others is quite compelling, “expect the unexpected”. And following Altman’s surprising critical and box office success with MASH (1970), indeed the unexpected was the bar whenever Altman sat in the Director’s chair.

ALTMAN TRAILER from filmswelike on Vimeo.

Mann also closes each chapter with Altman ‘home movies’, variously depicting his burgeoning family, particularly his boys, more intimate and familiar details generously provided by his wife Kathleen who narrates long stretches of the film. Rather than coming off as a sanitized depiction of his life, Kathleen Altman’s matter of fact style and the intimacy of her knowledge of the man gives the viewer a rare and sensitive peek into Altman’s character. Mann also lets Altman speak for himself at every opportunity much like Bruce Weber did with Chet Baker in his groundbreaking documentary ‘Lets Get Lost’. And like Weber’s ‘Lets Get Lost’, Mann’s soundtrack sets the tone for each of the decades that Altman worked in — including the opening and closing song ‘Let’s Begin Again’ a wonderfully melodic and moving tune in the ‘West Coast Cool’ style and surprisingly written by Altman himself. Buried in Altman’s archives, Mann mined this gem from a 1950’s score of a never produced Altman musical.

Mann provides the necessary documentary coverage of the Altman ‘oeuvre’ providing several examples of his innovations in filming technique and experimental content. Some of Altman’s important works and not necessarily his most popular or successful, MASH (1970), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), Popeye (1980), Tanner (1988 for TV), The Player (1992) and Gosford Park (2001) are given more detailed treatment while many others are glossed over. Mann’s choices overall deepen our insight into periods where Altman was the toast of the town and then others where “no one was calling”. In the end, Hollywood is reconciled to Altman by providing him with a special Academy for Lifetime Achievement in 2006 but this is presented and framed by Mann for what it is; a veneer to reclaim an irreverent filmmaker who started out his career by “pissing off” the Studio Executives in Hollywood, fired as it were while directing ‘Countdown’ (1968), for having characters naturally speak their lines over one another.

Altman soldiered on with his art even after setbacks that might have ended many other careers and Ron Mann celebrates this achievement as one paving the way for many other independent filmmakers. Anyone that is remotely interested in the independent filmmaking challenge of formulaic Hollywood, Mann’s film ‘Altman’ will become an important source document. And its no surprise that Mann’s eloquent reverence of his hero pervades the screen. And why shouldn’t it? It is precisely and most importantly an homage to a courageous and inspiring individual with a unique art. Altman plays next at TIFF14 where a major Robert Altman Retrospective has been mounted recently.

Alfredo Romano

Subscribe to
Our Youtube
Subscribe to
our RSS

ETV Newsletter

Get the latest on the media landscape and the minds that create inspiring, paradigm-shifting ideas. Sign up and stay in the loop.

Follow Us
On Twitter
Visit Our
View Our
Flickr Stream
View Our
Vimeo Stream
View Us On

Advertise with Us