A guide to the latest and greatest on Netflix, On Demand, and Blu-ray/DVD, including "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Magic in the Moonlight," "Frank," and Criterion editions of "Safe" and "Time Bandits."
Welcome to a special Halloween edition of the Newsletter! Marie writes: the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in Paris is considered one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, in addition to being the final resting place of many a famous name. From Édith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt and Chopin to Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and Georges Méliès, the well-known sleep on the tree-lined avenues of the dead and which you can now explore in a virtual 360 degree tour...
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.
"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:
You always know with a Robert Altman film that you'll get some kind of nudge, a dig in the ribs to wake you up and make you think differently. In the days when he was riding high with "M*A*S*H" and "Nashville," and now in these latter days when his eccentricity isn't fashionable, that hasn't changed. When you ask him why he's working in Paris or on Broadway or cable TV, Altman always grins and says, "I fiddle on the corner where they throw the coins." It's one of his favorite expressions. But he fiddles where he damn well pleases.
SANTA FE, NM - Matt Dillon is improbably handsome, a fact that has been noticed by several million teenage girls. He is the first star in a long time who inspires his fans to squeal aloud, which they are doing right now during his latest hit, "The Outsiders." It must be a little humbling for Francis Ford Coppola (who made "The Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now") to realize that his latest movie is No. 1 on Variety's current list of box office winners primarily because it stars a good-looking 18-year-old kid from Mamaroneck, NY.
LOS ANGELES - "What the neighbors say," Shelley Duvall confided to me, "is that when Yvette Mimieux lived here, she kept leopards up here on her property and all sorts of other animals and a monkey that escaped and conducted a reign of terror against the poor people living down the hill." Yvette was an animal lover?
LOS ANGELES - Robert Altman is in an unsettled frame of mind these days. He has moved his Lion's Gate Films out to a large, nondescript factory building in West Los Angeles, and there he sits and broods about the current state of the American film industry. "We are adrift," he declares. "There is nobody at the helm. There is no rudder. The bridge is cut off from the rest of the ship. You don't negotiate with them anymore. You plea bargain."
Film director Robert Altman isn't a stockholder in Twentieth Century-Fox, but if he were, he'd ask this question at Fox's summer board meeting, which will be held here in Chicago Thursday: "When is Robert Altman's new movie 'Health' going to be released?" The studio apparently has no plans to release.
T. PETERSBURG BEACH, Fla. - The old hotel rises next to the sea like a birthday cake on an acid trip. It is pink and white and impossibly ornamented with towers and gables, and out in front there are these enormous 6-foot lemons and bananas and watermelons. The hotel is named the Don CeSar Beach Hotel, and no cost was spared when it was constructed just in time to go bankrupt in the Depression. It sat empty for years, It housed Navy officers during the war, it was restored to its former grandeur in 1970, and now Robert Altman is shooting his next movie here.
CANNES, France -- Yes, it was very pleasant. We sat on the stern of Robert Altman's rented yacht in the Cannes harbor, and looked across at the city and the flags and the hills. There was a scotch and soda with lots of ice, and an efficient young man dressed all in white who came on quiet shoes to fill the glasses when it was necessary.
He's a big, cheerful, bear-like man with the ability (unusual among film directors) to poke fun at his own work. "I stay with my films all the way," says Robert Altman. "Through the editing, through the post-production, all the way until they're in the theater and really failures."