Friday, May 15, 2009

SIN-E-FILE (Robert Altman)

Listening again to the late great Robert Altman's commentary track on his early masterpiece McCabe and Mrs. Miller (far and away my favorite Western), I realize I usually don't enjoy hearing the director talk about his own movie on the commentary track. Often he or she is either not forthcoming enough or can't help but sound totally pretentious.

There are exceptions. Coppola's are sometimes more entertaining than the film (Finnegan's Rainbow) and Scorsese's can almost pass for an objective film historian's. But Robert Altman's track on MaMM is absolutely fascinating and educational beyond measure. Unfortunately, he shares track time with the producer of the film, David Foster, who is incredibly self-aggrandizing and boring as hell. But luckily Altman has the majority of the time. Altman's tone lacks pretension and importance, he sounds just like a guy passing on information and ideas(and that's just what he is!). I want to share an interesting bit:

"The dialogue in these types of films, it seems to me, is part of the character of the actors and it's not the words that are important, it's not what words are said because that's too related to theater where you're trying to advance plot by the words. When you have close-ups of people and faces that you can push up right into the audience, it's just better that the words just come from the moment or from the actors themselves, I feel.

Some films are more "film-like" than others. If one reads this statement and thinks that Robert Altman doesn't respect the script or doesn't believe in "storytelling", that would be a misconception. It's just that Altman, like the other truly great film artists, tells the story with images and sound, which is what separates film from its brother (literature) and sister (theater) arts.

Do check out McCabe and Mrs. Miller if you haven't. And if you have, then I recommend you listen to the commentary. It's interesting and a lot of fun.

-Peter Rinaldi


Brian Hughes said...

I can't help but to hear Leonard Cohen's soundtrack ... it's so, so strange to choose a city poet/songwriter like Cohen for M&MM, but somehow, the music is perfect for the piece. I can't imagine the film without it.

Peter Rinaldi said...

totally. there's a really amazing cohen story he tells on the commentary.