Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Kael of the Week: On Altman

"Robert Altman is all of a piece, but he's complicated. You can't predict what's coming next in the movie; his plenitude comes from somewhere beyond reason. An Altman picture doesn't have to be great to be richly pleasurable. He tosses in more than we can keep track of, maybe more than he bothers to keep track of; he nips us in surprising ways. In The Long Goodbye, as in M*A*S*H, there are climaxes, but you don't have the sense of waiting for them, because what's in between is so satisfying. He underplays the plot and concentrates on the people, so it's almost all of equal interest, and you feel as if it could go on indefinitely and you'd be absorbed in it. Altman may have the most glancing touch since Lubitsch, and his ear for comedy is better than anybody else's. In this period of movies, it isn't necessary (or shouldn't be) to punch the nuances home; he just glides over them casually, in the freest possible way... Maybe the reason some people have difficulty getting onto Altman's wavelength is that he's just about incapable of overdramatizing. He's not a pusher."

-From review of The Long Goodbye
The New Yorker, October 22, 1973

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