Robert Altman, one of America's finest directors and a wilful, cantankerous son of a bitch, died yesterday in LA. He was 81. Like Hitchcock and Scorsese, he had been nominated for the Best Director Oscar a total of five times (the last being for Gosford Park in 2001), but never won it.
Having had a heart transplant a decade ago, a fact he kept to himself, the academy gave him the honorary statuette last year, paying tribute to the genius behind M*A*S*H, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nashville, Short Cuts and The Player, just in time as it turned out.
Altman started out in industrials before Alfred Hitchcock gave him a start directing episodes of his television series in the 1950s and went on to direct innumerable television shows and about 40 features, some of them the finest American film of the past forty years and some of them, it has to be said, the worst. His latest, A Prairie Home Companion, is awaiting an Irish release. One of the first films I watched with properly adult eyes was Short Cuts, while a student in Limerick in 1993. It had a profound effect on me; being cynical and funny and strange and sad.
A true maverick, Altman was always good for a quote. I like this: "This business is run by accountants who, as long as a film makes $40 billion, don't give a shit if it kills the whole goddamn industry. Everything can also be shown so quickly in the home now - which means that the people who go to movie theaters are teenagers who just want to get out of the house. The audience has changed and the content has changed to suit that audience."
I had just cracked the spine on the copy of Altman On Altman I bought earlier this year in LA. Might leave it back on the shelf for a while, now.
Eddie Copeland has a touching tribute
As does Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone & The Infield Fly Rule
Keith Uhlich bows his head at The House Next Door
The Guardian's obituary