Robert Altman a Sharpshooter with New Series
Patton, Charlie, The Florida Times Union
If someone had taken a poll in 1975 to name the great American
movie director of the next two decades, the names at the top of
the list would have been Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Altman.
Coppola had just made the two Godfather movies.
Altman, meanwhile, was on a roll that began with 1970's box
office sensation M*A*S*H, continued through such critical
favorites as McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye and Thieves
Like Us, and climaxed with Nashville.
Nashville was the movie Pauline Kael, then the most
influential critic in America, called "the funniest epic vision
of America ever to reach the screen."
But neither Coppola nor Altman could sustain success.
Coppola never recovered from making Apocalypse Now, considered
at the time the most expensive failure in movie history, then
following with One From the Heart, a box office disaster.
Altman's decline was less spectacular but more pronounced. Bad
movies like Buffalo Bill and the Indians led to unwatchable
movies like Quintet, which led to unreleasable movies like Health.
By the 1980s, he was adapting stage plays, an odd development
for a director who was a pioneer in the use of sound and of
Altman made a comeback in 1992 with The Player, the delicious,
meticulously plotted satire of Hollywood, but couldn't sustain
it. Ready to Wear, Short Cuts and Kansas City were all
Film historian David Thomson argues, I think accurately, that
Altman's weaknesses are his misanthropy and his disinterest in
structure. Atmosphere and attitude predominate, plots meander,
and the characters, while quirky, are rarely likable. …