I emailed back:
It's too bad, of course, but not surprising, and it makes him one of only two major directors I can think of who went out at the peak of his powers, after a long career, and with a final film which was fitting (in subject and style) to be his final film. John Huston is the other, and he knew and planned that The Dead would be his last. Altman's situation was different (he wasn't directing from a hospital bed, for one thing), but he obviously knew it was possible it would be the last one. He knew that, at the end of A Prairie Home Companion, the person the Dangerous Woman was coming for might be him.
It's too bad there won't be any more, but there are a hell of a lot of good ones (and quite a few great ones) to look back on. Going out as he did, after a long life doing what he wanted, and doing it as well as anybody ever has, that's the best deal any of us can hope for.
In other news, I scurried out today at lunch time and bought Against the Day, the new novel by Thomas Pynchon. I've read the first chapter already, and I'll write about that more here when I'm not supposed to be working.
I just read that Elliot Gould said of Altman, "He was the last great American director in the tradition of John Ford." I think this is very true, much more accurate than all the descriptions calling him a maverick and a Hollywood outsider. Ford, Hawks, Huston, these were directors who knew how to make the films they wanted to make, within the Hollywood establishment, entertaining and artistic and individual. As the saying goes, a film where you could tell who the devil made it, which was certainly true of Altman.
He was the last, the next generation were all the film school graduates: Scorsese, Spielberg, Lucas and Coppola (pere). A very different breed.
I talk about the honorary Oscar and Altman's influence on me here.
My Robert Altman reviews are here.