Click here to learn more about anamorphic widescreen!
Go to the Home Page
Go to The Rumor Mill
Go to Todd Doogan's weekly column
Go to the Reviews Page
Go to the Trivia Contest Page
Go to the Upcoming DVD Artwork Page
Go to the DVD FAQ & Article Archives
Go to our DVD Links Section
Go to the Home Theater Forum for great DVD discussion
Find out how to advertise on The Digital Bits

Site created 12/15/97.

The Digital Bits logo
page created: 11/21/06

The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

The Damndest Thing You Ever Saw
Robert Altman, 1925-2006

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Every movie fan has a short list of favorite filmmakers, directors they will follow through thick and thin, anticipating their every release with an enthusiasm bordering on obsession. Robert Altman was high on my list but unlike the other directors whose careers I follow, I sat down to each new Altman film with a mixture of excitement and dread. Altman was not a man of in-betweens. His movies either raised the bar for what was possible with cinema or completely and utterly failed to get out of the starting gate.

This hardly makes Altman unique. Every director strikes out a time or two at bat. But usually this is a result of too many cooks (usually studio execs) sticking their noses in and trying to dilute what makes the director special. Not so with Robert Altman. Each and every one of his movies is unmistakably his own. Even something like Popeye, a glorious mess of a would-be blockbuster, is instantly recognizable as a Robert Altman film.

Popeye, perhaps not surprisingly considering my age, was the first Altman movie I ever saw, though I obviously didn't realize it at the time. When I finally started to take an interest in specific filmmakers, I started my investigation into Robert Altman's work with M*A*S*H, the movie that made his career and defined what would be a Robert Altman film. At the time, I didn't think much of it but something about it made me want to seek out his other work. I tried Nashville next and was hooked for life. To this day, there has never been another movie quite like Nashville, a sprawling epic revolving around characters rich and poor, famous and struggling to be discovered. It's funny, sad, exhilarating and shocking, often simultaneously. Nashville opened my eyes to a whole different kind of storytelling on film. It was the first movie I ever saw that made me realize that films were capable of the same kind of depth and ambition usually found in novels. It remains one of my favorite films of all time.

Altman continued to win me over with movies like The Long Goodbye, one of his most underrated films, Secret Honor, and, of course, his 1992 "comeback" film, The Player. Even movies that didn't quite succeed entirely, like the flawed but fascinating McCabe & Mrs. Miller, had moments of absolute perfection. But at the same time, Altman tested my patience with movies like Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean and the annoyingly quirky Brewster McCloud. After The Player, his work became even more erratic, following up the amazingly ambitious and memorable Short Cuts with the borderline unwatchable Prêt-à-Porter. I say "borderline" because a few years later, Altman made Dr. T and the Women, which really is impossible to sit through (I made it, somehow, and have regretted it to this day).

Fortunately, Altman went out on a very high note with this year's A Prairie Home Companion. Fittingly, it's a movie about death and saying goodbye. It's also appropriate and typical of Altman that this is the most joyous, celebratory movie about death you'll ever see. It's one of the best films I've seen this year and I can think of no more fitting tribute to Altman than to give it a spin now that it's on DVD.

Robert Altman was a pioneer, a visionary, an iconoclast. Yeah, these words are thrown around too frequently but they fit no one better than Robert Altman. For over thirty years, he followed his heart and made the movies he wanted to make, critics, studios and sometimes even audiences be damned. In the increasingly corporate environment of filmmaking, he gave us hope that it was still possible to stay true to your own voice, despite the odds. I'll miss the queasy anticipation of sitting down to a new Altman film, not knowing if I was going to get another Nashville or another Beyond Therapy but, as I have for the past couple decades, I'll continue to revisit his films and discover new pleasures in even the least of them. This year, Christmas will definitely smell like oranges.

Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke - Main Page
E-mail the Bits!

Don't #!@$ with the Monkey! Site designed for 1024 x 768 resolution, using 16M colors and .gif 89a animation.
© 1997-2015 The Digital Bits, Inc., All Rights Reserved.