Filmmaker Ron Mann assembles home video footage, talking heads and interviews to take a look back over the career of director Robert Altman.
From the outset, it is clear that director Ron Mann has great affection for Robert Altman, but doesn’t set out to only show the director’s triumphs, but also the long and often arduous journey that Altman had to go on in order to reinvent cinema, to bring in naturalism, and become a renowned director. The film starts at the beginning, with Altman’s time as a crewman in the US Army Airforces during World War II, but moves swiftly on to take a look at the career that Altman found in his hometown in Kansas, before taking his ideas all the way to Hollywood.
Altman is interspersed with talking heads and interviews, and footage of some of his most famous collaborators – including Robin Williams, Bruce Willis, Elliot Gould and Lily Tomlin – giving their personal definitions of the word ‘Altman-esque’. This is a lovely touch, and allows the audience to see the respect and love that Altman commanded in his colleagues, but it does turn the film into a hagiography at times, when combined with the rest of the film.
The film has unprecedented access to archive footage, which paints the picture of the man as well as the director, but very rarely does the film make comment about Altman that is anything other than praise. Yes, Altman’s films are often wonderful and changed the way that Hollywood thought about realism, but the only hint that the man behind the camera wasn’t perfect is a comment by one of his sons, that he was never home during their childhoods.
Mann obviously conceived of, and constructed Altman with a great deal of affection, but it is this that means the film feels rather thin and one sided. That said, fans of Robert Altman, and the curious alike, will find something here to engage with and admire.