Robert Altman is the most quintessentially American of contemporary directors. His films cut across virtually all genres--from Western (McCabe and Mrs. Miller) and science fiction (Quintet) to detective story (The Long Goodbye) and musical (Popeye)--offering us what Vincent Canby once called a "Gallery of American Portraits." And though few of his movies have met with huge commercial success (apart from the blockbuster M*A*S*H) Altman's unique vision of our society, his distinctive directorial signature, and his defiance of conventional film "language" have all helped reinvent the way we look at America.
In Robert Altman's America Helene Keyssar shows why it is time we consider this unusual auteur among the pantheon of great directors. Informed by a vast knowledge of both film history and the most up-to-date critical theory, Keyssar offers a new and much-needed context for evaluating and understanding Altman's ouevre. Divided into five sections, Robert Altman's America identifies the peculiarities of the Altman style, discusses his films from both a feminist and political perspective, and offers a chapter-length discussion of one of his most important films, the 1975 Nashville, a "gleeful vision of an American landscape perpetually exploding upon itself." An especially helpful film chronology is also included in an appendix.
Through the course of the book, Keyssar shows how Altman's approach to filmmaking subverts the very notion of the idea of "authorship," or of a single creative force behind a picture. While his point of view is always present, Altman's films are to a great extent the result of collaborative efforts with screenwriters, playwrights, and actors. His montage of images, the cacophonous intermingling of conversations--in essence, his deliberate ambiguity--undermine, Keyssar demonstrates, the singular authority of the director. Altman's lens, we come to recognize, is a dispassionate "penetrator of culture": his films do not tell us about America; rather, they fuse the myths of American life with the facts of history and allow the viewer to make his own interpretation of the American Dream.
Robert Altman's America is an indispensable guide to the work of one of our finest and most enigmatic filmmakers. Anyone interested in contemporary cinema--and contemporary society--will find its insights compelling and richly rewarding.show more