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A look at the life and work of the iconic American filmmaker. Check out his classic M*A*S*H on December 2 &3!

To his detractors, Hollywood moguls among them, Robert Altman was the director who hit a home run with M*A*S*H in 1970 and then proceeded over the next 36 years to demonstrate why he shouldn’t be in the studio big leagues.

Poster art for AltmanRon Mann’s well researched and authorized doc hits all the high notes of Altman’s six-decade career – which, besides M*A*S*H, included McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nashville, The Player, and Gosford Park – while also finding the lighter side of his many flops.

For example, the debacle of 1980’s Popeye, a failed blockbuster starring Robin Williams in his first major screen role, is summed up by a withering review by outraged film critic Gene Shalit, who called Altman’s direction ‘ponderous, hesitant and almost incoherent’.
“The impish Altman, seen and heard via archival interviews, might well have agreed with Shalit, although he preferred to call his loose-limbed and influential filmmaking style ‘observational’.

Mann scores interviews with many Altman actors, but he eschews the usual lengthy straight-to-camera epistles and instead asks them to define the term ‘Altmanesque’. Among the many who rise to the challenge is Robin Williams, filmed about a year before his untimely death, who offers ‘expect the unexpected’ as his summation of the man’s style.

The same might be said of this doc, which serves up a trove of Altman arcana, including Super 8 footage that proves how much of a family man this independent-minded filmmaker was. Occasional gripes to the contrary – an Altman son complains ‘we were not his priority’ – the film establishes Altman as more than just a mercurial director and industry scold.

The best summary of ‘Altmanesque’ may be non-verbal. It’s a photo of a Panavision camera on a movie set. Altman has taped over ‘Pana’ and written in ‘Altman’s’ to drive home his point that ‘Altman’s Vision’ is defiantly his own.

The man wasn’t always humble, but he possessed a true artist’s ability to see and to depict the world on his own unconventional terms.

– Peter Howell, The Toronto Star

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