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Robert Altman 1925-2006

Robert Altman was my favorite director. While I would not call him the greatest, I would call him one of the most original. Sitting down to view his latest, I never knew if I was going to get something amazing like Short Cuts, or something horrid like Prêt-à-Porter.

One thing was for certain, you would get something unlike the typical Hollywood fodder. Actors loved him and would often drop everything to work for him. Looking at the cast listing for an Altman film was often a who’s who of talent.

My heart sunk when I heard of his passing. His vision and originality was something special in this time of cinematic mediocrity. His only interest was in making a film whose final cut would interest him. He was known as an actor’s director, one that rarely told an actor what to do, he would simply have them do what they thought they should do. This is part of reason actors were willing to put salaries aside to join an Altman production.

Over the span of his career, he was nominated for Seven Oscars before getting an Honorary Oscar for “For a career that has repeatedly reinvented the art form and inspired filmmakers and audiences alike.”
He also won an Emmy for “Tanner 88” and a Golden Globe for Gosford Park.

His passing saddens me for quite selfish reasons, I know I shall never again experience anything quite so magical as an Altman film. I will to go back and revisit such classics as M*A*S*H*, Short Cuts, The Player, Nashville and Gosford Park.

Jeremy Lynch

The following is a release from Altman’s Sandcastle 5 Productions:

NEW YORK (November 21, 2006) – Academy Award® winning film director Robert Altman died Monday, November 20 in Los Angeles from complications due to cancer. He was 81. He had lived and worked with the disease for the last 18 months, a period that included the making of his film A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION, which was released this summer. His death was, nevertheless, a surprise: Altman was in pre-production on a film he had planned to start shooting in February.

Altman is survived by his wife, Kathryn Reed Altman and six children, Christine Westphal, Michael Altman, Stephen Altman, Connie Corriere, Robert Reed Altman and Matthew Altman, twelve grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Altman died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, surrounded by his wife and children. Memorial services are being planned.

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Throughout his extraordinary career, Robert Altman surprised, entertained and challenged audiences with vibrant, freewheeling films that stretch the boundaries of the medium. He was the recipient of an Honorary Academy Award at the 78th Academy Awards presentation on March 5, 2006, in a ceremony recognizing “a career that has repeatedly reinvented the art form and inspired filmmakers and audiences alike.”

Altman’s more than thirty features bear witness to an extraordinary creative range: films made with enormous casts (NASHVILLE, SHORT CUTS), as well as with a solitary cast member (SECRET HONOR); films celebrating male camaraderie (M*A*S*H*, CALIFORNIA SPLIT) and those exploring women’s consciousness (IMAGES, THREE WOMEN, COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN). He inverted, satirized and enriched genres like the western (McCABE AND MRS. MILLER), the gangster melodrama (THIEVES LIKE US), the detective film (THE LONG GOODBYE), the biography (VINCENT AND THEO) and the English drawing-room whodunit (GOSFORD PARK). His source material included comics (POPEYE), the ballet (THE COMPANY), the theatre (STREAMERS, FOOL FOR LOVE, Harold Pinter’s THE ROOM and THE DUMB WAITER), contemporary politics (“Tanner ’88” and “Tanner on Tanner”) and contemporary literature (SHORT CUTS).

Altman’s work with actors was legendary. His use of music broke ground in films as different as McCABE AND MRS. MILLER, NASHVILLE, and KANSAS CITY. He was applauded for the technical innovation of multi-layered soundtracks and for his pioneering use of the zoom lens. While his subjects and themes were diverse, he often cast an irreverent eye on the institutions, mores and foibles of American life, matching that with an encompassing, unsentimental humanism.

Altman received five Academy Award® nominations for Best Director (GOSFORD PARK, SHORT CUTS, THE PLAYER, M*A*S*H*, and NASHVILLE), and three for Best Film (GOSFORD PARK, M*A*S*H*, and NASHVILLE).

Altman’s numerous awards include: at Cannes, the Palme d’Or/Best Film (M*A*S*H*), and Best Director (THE PLAYER); the New York Film Critics Circle, Best Film (THE PLAYER, NASHVILLE) and Best Director (GOSFORD PARK, THE PLAYER, NASHVILLE); the Venice Film Festival Grand Prix, Best Film (SHORT CUTS); the British Academy Award (BAFTA) for Best British Film (GOSFORD PARK), Best Director (THE PLAYER) and Best Foreign Television Series (“Tanner 88”); opening night of the New York Film Festival (SHORT CUTS, A WEDDING); and an Emmy for Best Director (“Tanner ’88”).

Career honors have been bestowed by, among others, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Venice Film Festival, the American Film Institute, the Directors Guild of America, the Society of American Cinema Editors, the Cinema Audio Society, the American Society of Cinematographers and the Independent Feature Project.

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“I was friends with Bob for 20 years before we worked together on GOSFORD PARK. It was then that I experienced the real magic of Robert Altman. When he was working he had a youthful joyfulness that was just amazing.” – Bob Balaban

“I have always admired Robert Altman’s films and it was an honor to work with him on A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION. We had so much fun working on that project over the past year and I know that he went out ‘with his boots on’.” – Bob Berney, President of Picturehouse

“He was a great man of the cinema and a great man. Everybody who had the privilege to know him will miss him hugely.” – Kenneth Branagh

“There’s no one I’m prouder to have worked with. He was an ecstatic…a magician…a conjurer…a mischievous boy. Perhaps unprecedented. He understood and could express that uniquely American shapeshifting goofiness more than anyone. He was the deepest ocean and the lightest feather at the same time…we all loved him so very much.” – Richard Gere

“Mr. Altman loved making movies. He loved the chaos of shooting and the sociability of the crew and actors — he adored actors — and he loved the editing room and he especially loved sitting in a screening room and watching the thing over and over with other people. He didn’t care for the money end of things, he didn’t mind doing publicity, but when he was working he was in heaven.

He and I once talked about making a movie about a man coming back to Lake Wobegon to bury his father, and Mr. Altman said, “The death of an old man is not a tragedy.” I used that line in the movie we wound up making — the Angel of Death says it to the Lunch Lady, comforting her on the death of her lover Chuck Akers in his dressing room, “The death of an old man is not a tragedy.” Mr. Altman’s death seems so honorable and righteous — to go in full-flight, doing what you love — like his comrades in the Army Air Force in WWII who got shot out of the sky and simply vanished into blue air — and all of us who worked with him had the great privilege of seeing an 81-year-old guy doing what he loved to do. I’m sorry that our movie turned out to be his last, but I do know that he loved making it. It’s a great thing to be 81 and in love.” – Garrison Keillor

“It was inspiring to know that Robert was in preproduction on his next film. Working with him was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I am blessed to have worked with him and to have known him as Bob. My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Kathryn and his children.” – Virginia Madsen

“A great man has left this stage. If Bob had his way I’m sure he would want the speeches about him to be short and to the point. In my too brief time with him, his life seemed to be concerned with two things, telling it like it is and having fun. Every one of us has a lot of living to do if we are to follow his example. My thoughts and prayers are with Kathryn and his family, the immediate family and the gloriously extended one. I guess I’ll see him in the next reel as he used to say.” – John C. Reilly

“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Robert Altman, a great friend and inspiration to me since I had the honor of meeting him in 1990. His unique vision and maverick sensibilities in filmmaking have inspired countless directors of my generation and will continue to inspire future filmmakers. He leaves behind a legacy of great American films and he will be deeply missed.” – Tim Robbins

“Bob’s restless spirit has moved on — I have to say, when I spoke with him last week, he seemed impatient for the future. He still had the generous, optimistic appetite for the next thing, and we planned the next film laughing in anticipation of the laughs we’d have. What a gent, what a guy, what a great heart. There’s no one like him and we’ll miss him so.” – Meryl Streep

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Donations in his name can be made to the Cedars-Sinai Hospital Heart and Lung Transplant Unit.