American Exuberance: The Films of Robert Altman

Programmed by Samuel Puliafito

Essay by Samuel Puliafito

No director has so successfully melded popular instincts with an auteristic creative vision as Robert Altman. Altman's successes can be seen as rejections of both the banal sentiment of mass Hollywood and the austere focus on technique of the art house. Instead, he distills aspects of both to create films of pathos and cinematic beauty.

His greatest films tinker with genre. The Long Goodbye revises a classic hard-boiled detective tale. McCabe & Mrs. Miller flouts masculine and feminine stereotypes in its interpretation of American Western mythology. Nashville appropriates our cultural language to create an endearing and epic vision of mid-twentieth century America. Frequently, his work, in all its vitality, leaves the viewer with an exuberance and a feeling that they better understand the people around them.

Yet, the dominant thematic subject of Altman's films is loneliness. Several of his central characters are loners. People, who in their lack of companionship, find solace in their lonesome corners of desire. Brewster's obsession with flight. Marlowe's apathetic quest for truth. Frances Austen's frustrated sexual yearnings.

There may never be a shot so poignant as the one that closes California Split as it frames Bill Denny (George Segal) in what should be the happiest moment of his life, utterly alone.

And Altman's ensemble films only accentuate the sense of loneliness around his characters by their diminishing ability to act in a world of babble and appearance. Instead, they must find hope in their private affairs: familial ties and friendship.

Altman's vision of America is at once terrifying and optimistic. The threats of militarization, apathy, consumerism, and most damningly, cynicism, are leveled only by the forces of truth, understanding, and, most importantly, humor.

Altman has heart.


2014-04-02 @ 7:00 PM 9:30 PM


(Robert Altman, 1970) · Winning the Palme d'Or in 1970, MASH launched Robert Altman's career. Following the goings-on of the personnel at a field hospital in the Korean War, the film's satire of rampant militarization, frustrated sexual yearnings, and religion is darkly hilarious. Over the melody of the movie's theme song, "Suicide is Painless," surgeons crack jokes as they operate on bloody patients and pull pranks on their colleagues in this funny and humanistic war film.

runtime: 116 min format: 35mm


2014-04-09 @ 7:00 PM 9:15 PM

Brewster McCloud

(Robert Altman, 1970) · Starring Bud Cort prior to Harold and Maude fame, Brewster McCloud follows the endeavors of a reclusive young man living in the Houston Astrodome as he attempts to learn to fly. During his stay in the stadium, a series of inexplicable murders occur throughout Houston, and Brewster is implicated. Full of beautiful wide shots of Houston and references to many other films like The Wizard of Oz, Brewster is among Altman's most eclectic work.

runtime: 105 min format: 35mm


2014-04-16 @ 7:00 PM 10:00 PM


(Robert Altman, 1975) · Borrowing from musical, political homily, and celebrity, Nashville appropriates our shared cultural language to create a pastiche of twentieth-century America. Featuring a massive ensemble cast, myriad storylines, and a full repertoire of original music, the film is the high-water mark of Altman's exuberant and intense personal style. Appropriately, the movie climaxes at the Nashville Parthenon, a full-scale replica of the Athenian original.

runtime: 159 min format: 35mm


2014-04-23 @ 7:00 PM 9:15 PM

California Split

(Robert Altman, 1974) · Bill Denny (George Segal) and Charlie Waters (Elliott Gould) form a warm friendship over a romp of gambling and drinking. But as their luck turns, their fortunes take a dive. Addicted and with nothing to lose, they bet everything they have on an all-or-nothing trip to Reno to win in a high-stakes poker game. With its relaxed characterization and subtle humor, California Split is the most understated and devastating film of Robert Altman's career.

runtime: 108 min format: 35mm


2014-04-30 @ 7:00 PM 9:30 PM

The Long Goodbye

(Robert Altman, 1973) · In this re-imagining of Raymond Chandler's novel, Elliott Gould plays a modern day Phillip Marlowe, a private detective looking into the apparent suicide of his best friend and working to find Roger Wade, an alcoholic writer who has gone missing. Set against a backdrop of moral ambiguity and shifting times, and beautifully shot in Los Angeles, Marlowe's search for truth is a powerful indictment of the encroaching hypocrisy and cynicism of the 1970s.

runtime: 112 min format: 35mm, Print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive


2014-05-07 @ 7:00 PM 9:30 PM

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

(Robert Altman, 1971) · A western in the Pacific Northwest? In McCabe & Mrs. Miller Robert Altman adapts his casual, naturalistic style to the Western. In this convention-busting film, he casts Warren Beatty as a foolish businessman and Julie Christie as his intelligent and powerful business partner. Set to the music of Leonard Cohen, and with warm, enchanting camerawork by Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), McCabe & Mrs. Miller is cinematic poetry.

runtime: 120 min format: 35mm, Print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive


2014-05-14 @ 7:00 PM 10:00 PM

That Cold Day in the Park

(Robert Altman, 1969) · In this slow burning thriller, Sandy Dennis, fresh off an Oscar win for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, plays Frances Austen, a wealthy single woman who holds a younger man captive. Poorly recieved upon its release, the film is a precursor to later works, including 3 Women. Shot in Vancouver, the film works as a study in the pathology of loneliness, gradually building tension until it reaches the emotional heights of its tightly wound protagonist.

runtime: 113 min format: 35mm, Restored print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funding provided by The Film Foundation and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.


2014-05-21 @ 7:00 PM 9:15 PM

Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean

(Robert Altman, 1982) · After finding success directing various plays in the 1970s, Robert Altman began a series of adaptations to the screen. The first of these adaptations, Come Back to the Five and Dime finds the local James Dean fan club of yore reconvening. As each member of the club returns, their relationships are drawn through reminiscences on the past. The movie, an adaptation of Ed Graczyk's 1976 play, retains all the theatricality of Altman's Broadway rendition.

runtime: 109 min format: 35mm, Restored print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funding provided by The Film Foundation and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.


2014-05-28 @ 7:00 PM

Short Cuts

(Robert Altman, 1993) · Adapted from the stories of Raymond Carver, Short Cuts deftly balances humor and drama, training its eye on the intersecting lives of an ensemble cast of characters (including Tom Waits and Jack Lemmon) in early 1990s Los Angeles. A spiritual successor to Nashville (and the most significant predecessor of P.T. Anderson's Magnolia), more acutely aware of human foibles and minor tragedies, Short Cuts is an epic, veristic masterpiece of modern life.

runtime: 187 min format: 35mm


2014-06-04 @ 7:00 PM

The Player

(Robert Altman, 1992) · Opening with a single take that lasts nearly eight minutes, The Player follows venal Hollywood executive Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins), who murders an aspiring screenwriter he believes is sending him death threats, and then works feverishly to cover it up. Filled with over 60 cameo appearances ranging from Hollywood outsiders to established stars, this cutting satire of Hollywood relaunched Altman's career after a creative and financial lull in the 1980s.

runtime: 124 min format: 35mm


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