better than nothing

This year, an honorary Oscar will be given to Robert Altman. That's always bittersweet, because it pretty much seals that he'll never get a real one. And, since he's been my favorite movie director for most of the last 30+ years, and he's still in his prime (at 81), that's really too bad. He's been nominated as best director five times, not always for his best work, and he's never won.

The most galling was 2002, when not only did he direct a masterpiece (Gosford Park), but there were even two other directors in the running (David Lynch, for Mulholland Drive, and Peter Jackson, for the first Lord of the Rings movie) who were, in my humble opinion, better than the actual winner (Ron Howard, for A Beautiful Mind).

But, to concentrate on the positive, Altman's movies are as good as ever, and he's still making them. A Prairie Home Companion comes out in June (though he's now at the age when he needs another director on set in case he can't finish a movie).

Once, years ago, he was asked how he felt about that the fact that, at that time, many of his best movies weren't available on video. He said, "What can I do? I make another movie."

Thinking back, I think I have been more influenced by Robert Altman's movies than by any writer I've ever read. For a specific example, the "big chapters" in U-town: Curse the Darkness, The Funeral and The Burning. All those characters, all those plot lines, all those conversations and cross-purposes. Where did I learn to do that if not from McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Nashville? I had a writing professor once who said that the hardest thing to write was a party, and, if I've done it well (a funeral, a large one, is structurally the same as a party), I didn't learn it from reading, but from seeing Robert Altman's movies.

For another example, as I wrote once, many of Robert Altman's films begin by thrusting us into the middle of a complex story and letting us figure out characters and plots and motivations (and even names) as best we can. Well, looking back at the beginnings of both A Sane Woman and U-town, it's pretty obvious that I do that, too.

I could go on, but you get the idea. By the way, there's a pretty good article about Altman and the Oscar here.

On other fronts, I am finally (more or less) better from the flu, and if it seems like a while ago when I first mentioned it, I agree. 🙂

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