Robert Altman distrusted the
attention span of kids and therefore always insisted that his films get as hard
an “R” rating as possible, and boy he knew how to stick a burr under the
saddles of both critics and censors. The six films playing at the Roxie’s
Altman Festival (September 20-22) are all adult entertainment from a master who
hailed from the birth place (Kansas City, Missouri) of both Disney and
Hemingway and managed brilliant swipes at the mythology of both.
Brewster McCloud: The least seen of
Altman’s better work, this ditzy treasure celebrates my queer hometown and
America’s libertarian capitol, Houston Texas. Starring two Altman discoveries,
Bud Cort and Shelley Duvall, Brewster honors human kind’s primal desire
to fly and delivers perverse tributes to The Wizard of Oz, Bullitt, top
40 radio and 1970’s “8th Wonder of the World,” Houston’s Astrodome.
Brewster can still shock as
well as titillate: Margaret Hamilton’s racist “N” word spewing, national anthem
worshipping diva, Sally Kellerman’s parody of her “Hot Lips” nude scene from MASH,
a serial killer who leaves a trail of bird droppings on the victims, two of
my hippy newspaper pals smoking real joints at a swank hotel, a five minute
masturbation scene featuring the surprisingly buff twenty-two-year-old Cort –
whose sublime work was a rehearsal for his suicidal grandma dating imp in Harold
and Maude -- and a glorious Fellini like ending where the star is
introduced as a dead bird boy.
Brewster follows on the
heels of MASH as an Altman sound banquet: here the director employs
Houston’s then top rated KILT radio as a narrative device and has irrepressible
fun with Rene Auberjonois as a silly pompous bird lecturer.
Not on DVD and hard to find on
cable or VHS, Brewster McCloud is a grand introduction to what went down
when the 60’s met the 70’s. (Plays with O. C. & Stiggs/Roxie/9-20)
Three Women: Altman’s most European art film like
work, this dream inspired, haunting feminist fable features awesome turns from
Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Janice Rule.
(Plays with California Split/Roxie/9-21)
The Long Goodbye: In 1973 Altman got a whole
lot of grief for this noir spoofing masterwork from anal retentive, middlebrow,
Raymond Chandler, Humphrey Bogart worshipping critics. They were idiots.
Opening with a wonderfully wacky
vignette of our hero Philip Marlowe trying to fool his pussy with an off-brand
tin of cat food and being taken in by his friend Terry Lenox (Jim Bouton), The
Long Goodbye sustains the illusion that Chandler’s tough guy private dick
has woken up from a long sleep and finds him marooned in a 1973 LA full of
false friends, adulterers, alcoholic blocked writers, vicious mobsters and
insanely corrupt cops on both sides of the border. Plays in an odd way like a
minor key version of Chinatown, both films feature scary villains played
by movie directors. On Golden Pond’s Mark Rydell is perhaps the most
insidiously charming Jewish mobster ever – I still wince before the scene where
his character smashes a Coke bottle in the face of his model pretty girlfriend
just to prove to Marlowe what he’s capable of.
Next to The Player, probably
Altman’s richest tapestry of celebrity cameos: Nina Van Pallandt, snatched off
the Johnny Carson Show as the personification of the Raymond Chandler blonde,
ex-pitcher Bouton mimes qualities that made him baseball’s tell-all bad boy
memoirist (Ball Four) and Sterling Hayden is hilarious as a Hemingway
like macho drunk, a role second in his canon only to his purity obsessed
general in Dr. Strangelove.
(Plays with Thieves Like Us/Roxie/9-22