Here’s a funny thing: I wasn’t surprised in the least to learn that Robert Altman has died.
Maybe it’s that he’s been in notoriously ill health for so long, or that his last film, “A Prairie Home Companion”, was so suffused with a sense of mortality, but I kind of had a feeling this was coming. And this way, he goes out on a good movie instead of another Altmanesque failure.
Plenty of critics will step forward to defend Altman as an American master. I’m not one of them; he was a wildly inconsistent and self-indulgent filmmaker, and if he didn’t have a solid script behind him, his vaunted improvisational technique with actors could result in some dreadful films.
Consider the 1970s films Fox released earlier this year: Yes, “M*A*S*H” is as good (and as topical) as it ever was, and “A Wedding” has its moments … but who’d want to revisit “Quintet” or “A Perfect Couple”?
But that’s how it worked. Yes, we got “Nashville”, “The Company” and “Vincent and Theo”; we also got “Beyond Therapy”, “Pret-a-Porter” and “Cookie’s Fortune”. The bad ones were really bad, but the good ones were worth it, mostly. (I’m sorry, but I still think “Gosford Park” stops dead when Stephen Fry turns up.)
So there we are. A consistently inconsistent director makes a movie about death, and dies. There’s poetry in that, surely.
And I suddenly have a hankering to watch “The Gingerbread Man”.