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Robert Altman

We pay tribute to one of the most distinctive and audacious American directors.

May 2021

‘If I made a film that everybody liked, it would be pretty terrible’
Robert Altman

Introduction

  • Robert Altman, Outsider and Innovator: An Illustrated Online Talk

    Robert Altman, Outsider and Innovator: An Illustrated Online Talk

    An illustrated online introduction to the technical innovations, stylistic trademarks and thematic preoccupations of a major American filmmaker.

  • Women in the Films of Robert Altman: An Online Panel Discussion

    Women in the Films of Robert Altman: An Online Panel Discussion

    An illustrated discussion examining the representation of women and female experience in Altman’s distinctive movies.

  • The James Dean Story

    The James Dean Story

    A decidedly poetic documentary about the star and cult hero made after his recent death.

  • That Cold Day in the Park

    That Cold Day in the Park

    A lonely woman invites home a mute young dropout she notices on a park bench, with unsettling consequences.

  • M*A*S*H

    M*A*S*H

    Altman’s first major hit is an anarchic black comedy set at a military hospital during the Korean War.

  • Brewster McCloud

    Brewster McCloud

    Altman’s imaginative blend of fantasy, allegory, satire and movie parody.

  • McCabe & Mrs Miller

    McCabe & Mrs Miller

    Altman’s wintry western about a gambler and a brothel madam in business together is the first of his masterpieces.

  • Images

    Images

    Susannah York excels in Altman’s unsettling study of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

  • The Long Goodbye

    The Long Goodbye

    Altman’s updating of Raymond Chandler’s classic detective novel to 70s LA makes for one of his greatest movies.

  • Thieves Like Us

    Thieves Like Us

    Altman’s tender, witty tale of rural bank-robbers in 1930s America is one of his warmest and most underrated films.

  • California Split

    California Split

    Altman’s bittersweet exploration of the highs and lows of gambling follows two friends on a casino spree in LA and Reno.

  • Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson

    Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson

    Altman’s corrosive comedy about Buffalo Bill’s travelling Wild West show highlights white America’s delusional myths about itself.

  • 3 Women

    3 Women

    Altman’s daringly dreamlike blend of comedy and drama concerns the encounter at a desert health-spa of three very different women.

  • A Wedding

    A Wedding

    There’s intrigue and scandal galore in Altman’s comedy about two dissimilar ‘society’ families coming together at a wedding party.

  • Quintet

    Quintet

    Altman’s visually striking sci-fi parable envisages an apocalyptic ice age where a group of strangers play a mysterious, possibly lethal game.

  • A Perfect Couple

    A Perfect Couple

    Altman’s underrated updating of romantic comedy conventions benefits from excellent lead performances.

  • HealtH

    HealtH

    The American (political) way is satirised in Altman’s ensemble piece about a Florida health-foods convention.

  • Popeye

    Popeye

    This magnificent live-action musical tribute to the classic comic strip features pitch-perfect performances, a sassy script and witty songs.

  • Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean

    Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean

    Altman’s utterly cinematic adaptation of Ed Graczyk’s play about women friends gathering for a James Dean fan club reunion.

  • Streamers

    Streamers

    A taut, claustrophobically intense tale about tensions between US army recruits waiting to be sent to Vietnam.

  • Secret Honor

    Secret Honor

    Philip Baker Hall excels in Altman’s adaptation of a one-man play about Richard Nixon pondering his Watergate pardon in the Oval Office.

  • OC & Stiggs

    OC & Stiggs

    A dark, cynical, cartoon-like satire about two delinquent Arizona teens tormenting their nasty neighbours.

  • Fool for Love

    Fool for Love

    This riveting film charts the fraught encounter between a rodeo drifter and his former lover at a Mojave Desert motel.

  • Beyond Therapy

    Beyond Therapy

    A bold, brash but touching comedy about the trials and tribulations of modern love, featuring a gallery of colourful New York archetypes.

Introduction

Of the American filmmakers who found success in the 1970s, Robert Altman was the most distinctive and audacious.

With the remarkable string of films from M*A*S*H to Popeye, Altman proved himself an influential innovator – experimenting with multitrack sound, overlapping dialogue, complex compositions and camera movements, large casts and freewheeling narratives – and a canny critic of American society and the myths that country perpetrated through movies. Using irreverent humour and focusing sympathetically – but never sentimentally – on losers and loners, Altman overturned the heroic conventions of genre, revealing a culture obsessed with money, celebrity and power, and tainted by corruption, violence, injustice and self-delusion. Independent and iconoclastic, in the 1980s Altman adapted stage-plays to cinematically expressive effect and worked impressively for television (sadly, some material is unavailable for this two-month season). Throughout his career, he continued making fresh, intelligent, thought-provoking films, many of them genuinely great, all utterly his own.

Geoff Andrew, season curator

Want more?
Check the BFI YouTube channel for an additional online discussion on Robert Altman’s work
See our screenings of Nashville and our Big screen classics at just £8.

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