Let the Sunshine In
The film’s confidence comes in part from the acceptance of the things that can’t be known.
* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.
For some reason I have the notion that the guy with the camera, getting the low-angle shots of Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley) against that American flag that stretches across the Parthenon from sea to shining sea, is the cinematographer Paul Lohmann. Is that right?
I didn't know it at the time, but 35 years ago the course of my life was set into motion. It began, no doubt, the previous summer with Roman Polanski's "Chinatown," followed the next June by Robert Altman's "Nashville." If those two movies -- seen at the impressionable ages of 16 and 17 -- don't thoroughly transform your world, then I don't know what would. I'd always loved the arts, but from that moment on I knew for certain that movies were the art form of the century -- my century -- because never before could such vibrant, kinetic masterpieces have been born. They made me feel fortunate to have come into the world just at the moment in human history when, at long last, such miracles became possible.
Here's the late, beloved Henry Gibson on my favorite sitcom, "The Dick Van Dyke Show," in 1966. (When I grow up, I still want to be Rob Petrie.) On "Laugh-In" (1968-1971), he was known for his recitations, which began with him holding a large artificial flower (he himself was only 5'3") and announcing: "A poem... by Henry Gibson." This particular poem, originally penned by a guy named Frank Stanton circa 1920, later became a song by Gibson and Richard Baskin, performed by Haven Hamilton at the Grand Ole Opry (and sponsored by Goo Goo Candy Clusters) in Robert Altman's "Nashville" (1975). Full lyrics to Haven's inspirational anthem below:
(via Robert C. Cumbow, >Richard T. Jameson)
My favorite documentary of 2007 (which I haven't had a chance to write about yet) is Gary Hustwit's "Helvetica," a look at a ubiquitous typeface. It's the kind of movie that helps you to see the world around you anew, freshly attuned to all the fonts in your world. Me, I'm a Helvetica guy. I hate fonts that call attention to themselves, and Helvetica is so clean and strong and elegant you can do almost anything with it just by varying sizes, colors, weights, spacing and placement. Our good friend Larry Adylette, the superlative movie and music and pop culture blogger formerly known as The Shamus (and, before that, That Little Round-Headed Boy), has a few words on Helvetica (and "Helvetica") over at his new blog, Welcome to L.A. -- which is also the title of Alan Rudolph's funny-peculiar 1976 debut feature, starring Keith Carradine, Sally Kellerman, Harvey Keitel, Sissy Spacek, Lauren Hutton, Geraldine Chaplin, Viveca Lindfors and Richard Baskin. (A parenthetical time-out to say: "Hello, Larry!," as they used to remark on NBC for a very short time in 1979-80 after McLean Stevenson left "M*A*S*H," thus providing Garry Shandling with a great network-meeting joke in an early episode of "The Larry Sanders Show.") Larry writes: Just like film bloggers who parse every frame of "No Country For Old Men," these font fanatics have obsessed about every curve and dimension of Helvetica. To them, Helvetica is either a perfect, easily readable form of mass communication or something akin to Anton Chigurh with a coin and an air-tank gun. They are an argumentative, often hilarious bunch...I have no idea what he's talking about.
But that's not really the reason for this post. It's about an entirely different (serif) font, Trajan, which as Kirby Ferguson of Goodie Bag details in the above movie, has become the movie font. "Trajan is the movie font," he says -- and then goes on to show you so many examples your head will spin. In the end, though, like me, he's a Helvetica guy. Look at those end credits. Not Trajan. Helvetica. I'll write more about "Helvetica" later, because I'm fascinated with it (the font and the movie) and I already want to see it a third time.
(tip: Ali Arikan)
P.S. Karsten (in comments below) offers an explanation for the film-font phenomenon with a link to this animated murder mystery, "Etched in Stone." (link opens new browser tab/window)
"Nashville" 25th reunion. (photo by Jim Emerson)
When the doctor says you're through Keep a'goin! Why, he's a human just like you -- Keep a'goin!
-- Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) in "Nashville"
View image 24 of your favorite stars.
Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld so I can sigh eternally
-- Kurt Cobain, "Pennyroyal Tea"
It's true that all the men you knew were dealers who said that they were through with dealing every time you gave them shelter
-- Leonard Cohen, opening lyrics for "McCabe & Mrs. Miller"
View image "Nashville" 25th reunion. Note gigantic Oscar at right; Altman got his own, regular-sized one six years later. (photo by Jim Emerson)
"However, the cortex, which is dwarfed in most species by other brain areas, makes up a whopping 80 percent of the human brain. Compared with other animals, our huge cortex also has many more regions specialized for particular functions, such as associating words with objects or forming relationships and reflecting on them. The cortex is what makes us human."
-- John J. Ratley, M.D., "A User's Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain"
I'm not sure what, if anything, meaningfully connects these fragments to the passing of Robert Altman -- or his films, as alive now as they ever were -- but they were all things I encountered during a day spent thinking about Altman and, to my surprise, not wanting to speak out loud about him to anyone. I talked to my mother on the phone. She asked hesitantly, "Have you heard any news today?" "Yeah," I said, and changed the subject. What can I say that isn't trivial? (Rhetorical question, please.)
In this state of grief, nothing I'm writing or thinking about Altman is adequate, or even makes much sense, in large part because a whole moviegoing lifetime of engagement with his movies (beginning at age 15) has so profoundly shaped who I am and how I experience the world. Like hundreds, thousands (millions?) of cinephiles and cinephiliacs, I found life (and, paradoxically, shelter) in Robert Altman's movies. "Nashville" is my church, to which I return again and again for joy, insight, inspiration and sustenance. (I haven't written about it for years, but I also know that I'm almost never not writing about "Nashville.")
To this day, I am in some deep but irrational sense convinced that the characters in "Nashville" (even though I know they're played by 24 of my very favorite stars!) continue to exist outside the parameters of the movie itself. I've met and interviewed, for example, Ned Beatty, but there's Ned Beatty the actor and then there's Delbert Reese, who is someone else entirely. Delbert exists, imaginatively independent of the great actor (one of my all-time favorites) who inhabited him in "Nashville." (This is most unlike the other most-influential movie in my life, Roman Polanski's "Chinatown," made just the year before "Nashville," which is as "closed" a film as "Nashville" is "open." "Chinatown" ends so definitively that, "Two Jakes" aside, any life beyond the final frame is unthinkable.)
Right now I just want to share another fantastic memory: In 2000, I heard there was going to be a 25th anniversary reunion screening of "Nashville" at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. I'd moved back to Seattle by this time, but I bought tickets the moment they became available (for five bucks apiece) and went to LA for the event: My favorite movie, in a pristine print, in one of the finest movie theaters in the world, with most of those 24 favorite stars in attendance. It was... transplendent (as a Shelley Duvall character once said). I'll post an update with IDs later, but for now, see if you can identify the people onstage (taken with a now-primitive, but still beloved, Canon Digital Elph)
Pauline Kael's famous, ebullient review of "Nashville" here reminds us how exciting and innovative the movie was in 1975.
Principal population of "Nashville" after the jump: