Robert Altman's Subliminal Reality

Robert Altman's Subliminal Reality

Robert Altman's Subliminal Reality

Robert Altman's Subliminal Reality

Synopsis

With close readings of some of Altman's classics, Self asserts the value of Altman's work not only to film theory and the entertainment industry but to American culture itself.

Excerpt

Classical narrative cinema assumes the inevitability of certain functions— the authority of causal order and explanation, the efficacy of human agency, and the unself-conscious power of the storytelling machines of popular culture. Robert Altman asserts, however, that the goal of his movies is to capture “subliminal reality, ” which recognizes the unspoken, and unspeakable, dimensions in human interactions. Subliminal reality resides in lyrical fictions, in metaphoric discourse, and in inexplicable human associations. It arises from anxiety and doubt about ultimate meanings and values. It posits behavior as a gamble with random consequences and defines relationships in curious patterns of repetition. It glimpses the efforts of marginal men and women caught in irresistible systems that shape desire and action. It engages an active audience awareness as necessary and complicit in the construction of consequence. Subliminal reality paints myriad surfaces of the human enterprise to suggest rhizomes of subterranean tales. It tells meandering and unclosed stories, it depicts insecure and vulnerable social identity, and it critiques the assured simplicities of the entertainment business as false and destructive visions of social reality.

Subliminal reality in the films of Robert Altman displays the continuing vitality of an American art cinema. This cinematic practice means many different things in film history: a disparate film production derivative of European directors after World War II, a short-lived aspect of the counterculture resistance to mainstream values during the Vietnam War, the personal and anti-Hollywood movies of a handful of experimental auteurs in the late 1960s, the energetic renewal of Hollywood after its decline in the face of the antitrust decrees of the U. S. Supreme Court and the success of television, and the institutionalized aesthetic of a developing audience of postwar baby boomers. Within a critical context that occasionally dismisses the concept of art cinema in American film . . .

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