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June 5 - August 31, 2015

The Complete Robert Altman

Although he is usually remembered as part of the “New Hollywood” wave of the 1970s, Robert Altman (1925-2006) was chronologically part of the generation of Sidney Lumet, Stanley Kubrick and John Cassavetes, all of whom were born in the 1920s. But while those men had all achieved some measure of success by the end of the 1950s, Altman was forty-four and had made five feature films before M*A*S*H brought him his first real acclaim. He would go on to become arguably a more innovative filmmaker than any of his contemporaries (including younger directors like Scorsese, Coppola, Bogdanovich or May) with his drifting camera and decentered shot composition, his experiments with cinematography and sound recording, his use of overlapping dialogue and ensemble casts, and his disregard for conventional narrative structure.

Born and raised in Kansas City, Altman left junior college in 1945 to enlist in the Air Force. Stationed first in Southern California and then in the South Pacific, Altman spent the postwar years bouncing between Los Angeles and New York, trying his hand at writing songs and screenplays before returning to Kansas City to work for the Calvin Company, a major producer of industrial films. He worked there for almost a decade, learning how to make movies while also working on local independent productions, which led to his being hired to direct his first feature, The Delinquents, shot in Kansas City in 1956.

Altman relocated to Los Angeles for good the following year and began working as a director for television, with his big break coming from none other than Alfred Hitchcock, who hired him to direct two of episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents after seeing The Delinquents. For the next decade, Altman directed episodes for several series and became one of the most sought-after television directors. This led to his being hired to direct a B-movie for Warner Brothers (Countdown), followed by an independent feature film (That Cold Day in the Park), and finally M*A*S*H, the most successful movie Altman ever directed and the achievement that launched the string of 1970s films that helped define that creative decade in American cinema.

Despite the acclaim they received, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye and Nashville were not commercial successes; by the end of the 1970s, even the critics had deserted Altman in the wake of idiosyncratic films such as Buffalo Bill and the Indians, 3 Women and Popeye. In the early 1980s, when Altman found himself unable to make a film at any of the studios, he turned first to directing theater and then to filming low-budget versions of such plays as Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean; Fool for Love and Streamers. By the end of the 1980s, Altman’s work of a decade earlier (especially 3 Women)was already being rediscovered, and the success of both The Player in 1992 and Gosford Park in 2001 guaranteed that he could continue to direct at a regular pace, if not at the breakneck speed of the 1970s, until his death in 2006.

Altman’s legacy is still being determined, in part because of the size and variety of his oeuvre. Although collaboration was crucial to his work, he remained an individual and idiosyncratic director. He loved classical Hollywood filmmaking even as he delighted in satirizing the industry and its history, turning increasingly to European cinema (Fellini, Renoir, Bergman) for inspiration. His disregard for storytelling kept him at the margins of the film industry, even as his love for actors, and their love for him, meant that he was able to work with almost every major star of the past fifty years. If he disdained narrative, he loved situations, using plot more as a way of throwing his characters together in various combinations rather than as a unifying thread. With his combined love of and derision for tradition, his assertions of individuality together with his need for community, his mixture of high and low, and his alternations between delicacy and crassness, Altman seems a uniquely American figure. If Griffith and Vidor are the quintessential American filmmakers of the first third of the 20th century, with John Ford taking over for the middle decades of the century, Altman is their equivalent for its turbulent final third. – David Pendleton

This retrospective includes all thirty-seven theatrical features directed by Altman, the feature films he directed for television in the 1980s, and a selection of his industrial films and shorts. It does not include any of the television specials or the many hours of episodic television that he directed.

Special thanks: Shannon Kelley, Todd Wiener, Steven Hill—UCLA Film and Television Archive; Gary Huggins; Jim McDonnell; Kyle Westphal—Northwest Chicago Film Society; Sophie Cavoulacos—Museum of Modern Art, New York; Amy Sloper—Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.

35mm trailers courtesy of the Packard Humanities Institute Collection at the Academy Film Archive

Film descriptions by Brittany Gravely, Carson Lund, David Pendleton and Jeremy Rossen

Friday June 5 at 7pm


Directed by Robert Altman. With David Arkin, Barbara Baxley, Ned Beatty
US 1975, 35mm, color, 157 min

Following dozens of characters around the title city in the days before a political rally featuring country music performers, Nashville brought its already-celebrated director to the pinnacle of acclaim. It is quintessential Altman in its loose narrative structure and large ensemble cast—Altman is said to have ordered screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury to up the number of characters in her script from sixteen to twenty-four. At the same time, it finds this most idiosyncratic of filmmakers engaged with the national mood to an unusual extent. Made in the final days of the Nixon presidency and just ahead of the celebration of the nation’s Bicentennial, Nashville operates on three layers: beyond the loving satire of country music—often misinterpreted as snobbish condescension—lies a prescient cautionary tale about the intertwining of politics and show business, as well as an allegory about Hollywood struggling to respond to a changing nation. The large cast of characters allows the film to move from one register to another as it orchestrates its ideas about politics, big business, entertainment, and a society undergoing rapid change.

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Saturday June 6 at 9pm

Kansas City

Directed by Robert Altman. With Jennifer Jason Leigh, Miranda Richardson, Harry Belafonte
US 1996, 35mm, color, 115 min

The middle-aged housewife of a Kansas City legislator is kidnapped in the suburbs while a petty crook is held captive downtown by the nastiest thugs in the city. Politics, class conflict and pulp fiction all converge in Kansas City; yet Altman seems equally interested in simply documenting superlative jazz performances. This is not to suggest, of course, that the director was bored by the municipal subtexts stirred up by his sensational plot (after all, he was from Kansas City and devoted years to getting this production off the ground), but rather that his democratic approach to the narrative makes no fuss about emphasizing any particular facet of the local texture over another. In the central kidnapper-victim dynamic, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Miranda Richardson bat around time-killing conversation until a complex quasi friendship emerges; meanwhile, in a jazz club back room, Dermot Mulroney endures the Corleone-esque intimidations of Harry Belafonte as Michael Murphy’s high-profile vigilante pulls strings behind the scenes. The distinctive charm of Kansas City is in witnessing Altman orchestrate this three-strand, high-stakes time bomb without ever accelerating his typically leisurely tempo.

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Monday June 8 at 7pm

Short Cuts

Directed by Robert Altman. With Andie MacDowell, Bruce Davison, Julianne Moore
US 1993, 35mm, color, 189 min

Prefiguring a string of turn-of-the-21st-century multi-narratives through which a large cast of characters crisscross, Short Cuts remains the most richly woven of the era—not due to a cleverly circular precision or overarching moral message, but rather because of its open, improvisational structure allowing for even more overlapping layers of connective tissue. Revising his ensemble method for a new age, Altman’s disconcerting symphony of several Raymond Carver stories and one original strand ingeniously creates links between the different tales’ disaffected, alienated denizens of Los Angeles—including a phone sex operator, a make-up artist, a news commentator, an artist, a doctor, a baker, a waitress, a chauffeur, a police officer, a pool cleaner, an alcoholic jazz singer and her suicidal daughter, a young boy, and an anonymous dead body found floating in the river. If anything, they are united by a faulty central nervous system of emotional and sexual repression expressed indirectly, inappropriately or violently. Altman’s miraculous ability to elicit natural performances from his large cast of actors and musicians combines with his orchestral sense of life’s construction—a delicate balance of the haphazardly entropic and the uncannily synchronous. Print courtesy of Warner Bros.

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Friday June 12 at 9pm

A Wedding

Directed by Robert Altman. With Desi Arnaz, Jr., Carol Burnett, Geraldine Chaplin
US 1978, 35mm, color, 124 min

Valuing character over plot, Altman seemed to revel in ensemble casts and in structuring his films around events that throw the characters together. In this case, there is little story other than that generated out of the ritual that gives the film its title. A Wedding respects the classical unities of time and place, taking place on the afternoon and evening of the wedding reception, in the mansion occupied by the family of the groom (except for the prologue, set in a nearby church, that depicts the actual ceremony). Looking to outdo himself, Altman decided—rather arbitrarily—to double the size of Nashville’s cast, and so A Wedding features forty-eight characters. This number leaves the film little time to develop these figures in any depth; rather, the fun, as with a cartoon or commedia dell’arte, comes from watching the characters careen into each other in a kind of perpetual motion in brief episodes that run the gamut from farcical to bittersweet.

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Saturday June 13 at 7pm


Directed by Robert Altman. With Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt
US 1970, 35mm, color, 116 min

M*A*S*H remains a landmark of Hollywood’s attempt to reach out to the counterculture, a gesture that helped make the film so financially successful that Altman was able to get funding from one studio or another for the rest of the 1970s. The tale of US Army medics near the front lines during the Korean War eschewed the action of the battlefield for the black-and-blue humor of the medical corps assigned to try to patch up those casualties still alive. With its large cast and loose, episodic structure, the screenplay—by formerly blacklisted writer Ring Lardner, Jr.—was rejected by most of the important directors of the time before it was offered to Altman. Of course, both of these aspects were precisely what drew Altman to the script, which gave him a forum to express his own anti-establishment and anti-war views in a manner both indirect and savage.

Preceded by

Ebb Tide

Directed by Robert Altman. With Lili St. Cyr
US 1966, digital video, color, 4 min

In 1966, Altman made a few short films set to music and designed to be shown on movie jukeboxes in bars and roadhouses. Ebb Tide is one of the racier ones, featuring stripper Lili St. Cyr.

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Sunday June 14 at 7pm

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

Directed by Robert Altman. With Paul Newman, Joel Grey, Kevin McCarthy
US 1976, 35mm, color, 123 min

Empathy and mockery are hung in precarious balance in Altman’s deconstructionist Wild West romp. Released five years after McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Buffalo Bill sees the logically crooked endpoint of the earlier Western’s concern for the decimation of the small community from the forces of capitalism: here, powerful men have propped up their own dubious community built on the willful propagation of myth. Like McCabe, Buffalo Bill presents a makeshift mini-universe dropped into the center of the wilderness, in this case a circus town comprising the ludicrously patriotic variety show act of cultish personality William Cody (Paul Newman, in a standout performance even with the goofy wig). When a pair of quietly indignant Indians arrives and Newman’s buffoonish alpha male tries to integrate them insensitively into his show, what results is a wave of dialectical comedy built on the visitors’ deadpan indifference to the white collective’s transparent embrace of illusion. Altman’s camera alternates regularly between warm proximity and studied distance, a fitting approach for a film functioning as both bittersweet entertainment and ideological critique.

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Friday June 19 at 9pm

Vincent & Theo

Directed by Robert Altman. With Tim Roth, Paul Rhys, Adrian Brine
Netherlands/UK/France/Italy/Germany 1990, 35mm, color, 138 min

Known for scene-scanning telephoto shots that seek to dissolve the traditional limitations of the frame, Altman might have seemed a counterintuitive filmmaker to take on a film about painting, which must always work within a static canvas. But Van Gogh, of course, is no ordinary painter. As portrayed by Tim Roth in the placid historical snapshot Vincent & Theo, Van Gogh's fatal frustration is his inability, despite a career-long knack for pictorially implying movement and spatial vibration, to get beyond the tyranny of the frame. If there's a generous streak within Altman's mournful, fatalistic period piece, it is in granting Van Gogh the pictorial totality that he never discovered as an artist. This director-to-subject commiseration would seem a natural byproduct of the fact that Altman, like Van Gogh, struggled consistently with the business world throughout his career, crafting work the only way he knew how. Vincent & Theo reminds us that while communities, business trends, and tastes are evolving entities, genius is a rare beast that, if not nurtured, spoils the one who holds it.

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Sunday June 21 at 4pm

Fool for Love

Directed by Robert Altman. With Sam Shepard, Kim Basinger, Randy Quaid
US 1985, 35mm, color, 107 min

Sam Shepard’s play Fool for Love became Altman’s fourth independent, small-budget theatrical adaptation during his estrangement from Hollywood. Altman explores another tumultuous relationship in the Southern, Faulkner-esque tale of a cowboy who comes back to town in an attempt to reunite with his former love May. Altman expertly blends in flashbacks as the camera pans slowly and dreamily around a rundown Mojave Desert hotel bathed in neon and dust. Yelling, kicking and screaming their way through the pain of a volatile relationship, the lovers’ reality swirls feverishly in and out of focus and time. Surveying all the action is the motel's owner Harry Dean Stanton, who watches with a mixture of concern and resignation. Altman miraculously manipulates the beautifully pulp surfaces to expose the dark, unexplored, inarticulate depths of complex bonds.

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Friday July 3 at 7pm

Brewster McCloud

Directed by Robert Altman. With Bud Cort, Sally Kellerman, Michael Murphy
US 1970, 35mm, color, 104 min

Given virtual carte blanche after M*A*S*H’s explosion at the box office, Altman responded with even greater irreverence toward fame, spectacle, civilization and any standard narrative arc. Occasionally digressing from the film’s central location, the Houston Astrodome, and the basic premise that the awkward Icarus of the title wants to fly, Altman discharges a frenzied parade of speculative asides, self-mocking jokes, cinematic allusions, avian lectures, serial killings, freak accidents and red herring characters such as Michael Murphy’s McQueen-like investigator, who is hot on the whole ambiguous scene. Disrupting the relentless satire with truly shocking, tragic bursts, Altman unearths an emotional layer within his slice of absurd Americana and introduces the world to Shelley Duvall as the Astrodome’s tour guide.

Preceded by

The Party

Directed by Robert Altman. With Robert Fortier
US 1966, digital video, color, 4 min

Set to music by Herb Alpert, this brief comedy uses only visual humor to detail a swinging gathering disrupted by an inept guest, with echoes of Jacques Tati and Blake Edwards. Digibeta presentation courtesy of the Robert Altman Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

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Friday July 3 at 9:30pm

Secret Honor

Directed by Robert Altman. With Philip Baker Hall
US 1984, 35mm, color, 90 min

In the one-man play filmed while he taught at the University of Michigan, Altman’s usual ensemble cast is less stripped away than perhaps concentrated all in the figure of Richard Milhous Nixon—or his half-fictional spectre, as piercingly inhabited by brilliant character actor Philip Baker Hall. Surrounded by presidential portraits and his own image on surveillance cameras, Nixon records his feverish, stream-of-consciousness confession on the same machine that led to his descent. His racing, stuttering, humorous, pitiful delivery unravels like an urgent exorcism not only of Nixon’s sins but of the entire country’s. Some of his conspiratorial admissions are brilliant explanations—whether true or not—of the deeply convoluted layers of political denial, corruption and media collusion. Yet perhaps the most difficult revelation Altman offers is that within that dark web of money and power is an actual, empathetic human being, wrestling with a mass of personal demons and at the mercy of ungovernable forces.

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Sunday July 5 at 5pm


Directed by Robert Altman. With James Caan, Joanna Moore, Robert Duvall
US 1968, 35mm, color, 101 min

Altman’s dramatic televisual origins surface in his early feature about a US astronaut flying to the moon. Released, with an impressive degree of prescience, just a year before the actual moon landing, Countdown seems more striking as the cinematic precursor to That Cold Day in the Park and M*A*S*H. The film reveals some evidence of prototypical Altman with its nearly ensemble cast—including Robert Duvall, James Caan and Altman regular Michael Murphy—as well as its staid focus on the earthly human dimension of the space race versus dazzling interstellar action and technology. However, compared to later work, a melodramatic sheen tends to override more understated Altmanesque moments, such as the realistic space flight depicted as simultaneously mundane and transcendent. Ultimately unhappy with the director’s risky decisions, such as a darker ending and overlapping dialogue, the studio substantially edited the final version and kicked Altman off of the film and into his own, independent orbit.

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Monday July 6 at 7pm


Directed by Robert Altman. With Marcello Mastroianni, Sophia Loren, Kim Basinger
US 1994, 35mm, color, 133 min. English, French and Italian with English subtitles

The fashion industry is less in the director’s crosshairs than, it seems, many critics had hoped; rather, its behind-the-scenes insular cattiness is simply on facetious display. A glittering ensemble of fictive characters mixed with fashion figures and celebrities playing themselves blends unscripted, documentary moments into a half-synthetic, half-natural matrix of comic dramas erupting during Paris Fashion Week. When a leader in the fashion industry mysteriously dies, the event causes just as much of a stir as any runway splash and, in keeping with Altman’s elliptical tendencies, serves to tease more than determine the narrative arc. With a cast of actors spanning time and the Atlantic—Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Sally Kellerman, Tim Robbins, Anouk Aimée, Rupert Everett and Forest Whitaker among them—the whirling, star-studded tapestry, like an haute couture spread, unwittingly excites and disconcerts the dazzled eye.

Preceded by

The Model’s Handbook

Directed by Robert Altman. With Dorian Leigh
US 1956, digital video, b/w, 13 min

This promotional film provides helpful hints for aspiring models and a behind-the-scenes look at the Ford Modeling Agency, for whom it was made. Altman intended the film as the first of a weekly series, but the project never took off.

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Friday July 10 at 7pm

California Split

Directed by Robert Altman. With George Segal, Elliott Gould, Gwen Welles
US 1974, 35mm, color, 111 min

As freewheeling and restless as Elliott Gould’s perpetually talking Charlie, California Split takes place within the parallel dimensions of casino and racetrack—perfect stages for Altman’s spectacularly realized universes of informally controlled chaos. After Charlie senses a certain kinship with a fellow cardsharp, played by George Segal, these two wandering souls enter into a loosely symbiotic camaraderie—even suffering beatings, robberies and jail time together. Based on the autobiographical script by Joseph Walsh—Gould’s longtime friend who also makes an appearance—the film innocently and giddily follows the buddies’ mostly legal adventuring while gently frustrating their obsessive play with symptoms of deep discontent. Introducing his innovative eight-track sound recording system for the first time and casting most of the extras from Synanon, an addiction recovery center, Altman packs the frame with the dense texture of that time and those places. The immersion in background dramas, cross-conversations and the nonstop, beguiling cacophony of visual and aural chatter imparts a startling believability to each crest and trough within the funny friendship’s assembly and disassembly. Print courtesy of Sony Pictures

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Saturday July 11 at 7pm

Thieves Like Us

Directed by Robert Altman. With Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, John Schuck
US 1974, 35mm, color, 122 min

Thieves Like Us is an earth-toned, understated portrait of Depression-era gangsters in Mississippi that, in good Altman fashion, presents no heroes or even Bonnie and Clyde-like antiheroes, but the ordinary dreamers of Edward Anderson’s 1937 novel. Spending time with a band of ex-cons in their unguarded and awkward moments—around the dinner table, self-consciously flirting or telling bad jokes—Altman unfurls psychologically scenic tableaux grounded in an unflappable everydayness. Even the unglamorous coupling of Keith Carradine’s Bowie and Shelley Duvall’s Keechie arises from a genuine, mutual affection rather than out of desperation, violation or dangerous thrill: Keechie remains unimpressed and vaguely disappointed with Bowie’s unconventional profession. Apparently ignorant of Nicholas Ray’s more romantic take in They Live by Night (1948), Altman only wryly folds in elements of drama, performance and show business, as when the gangsters critique the coverage of their hijinks in the papers or when Romeo and Juliet plays on the radio. Meanwhile, he maintains an authentically felt consideration of these weary lives, their tragic foibles and those who do not perish in blazes of glory, but either die unceremoniously or bitterly toil on. Print courtesy of Park Circus

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Thursday July 16 at 7pm

The Laundromat

Directed by Robert Altman. With Carol Burnett, Amy Madigan, Michael Wright
US 1985, digital video, color, 59 min

A fine example of both Altman’s 1980s telefilms adapted from plays and his love of working with actresses, The Laundromat is primarily a long conversation between two women of different ages and from different classes who find themselves thrown together in the setting that gives the film its title. Over the course of a long, rainy laundry night of the soul, they gradually come to confide in each other. In this one-act written by Marsha Norman, Altman successfully cast against type Carol Burnett, one of many popular comedic entertainers—like Lily Tomlin, Henry Gibson and Cher—the director would place in serious roles. Digibeta presentation courtesy of the Robert Altman Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Beyond Therapy

Directed by Robert Altman. Julie Hagerty, Jeff Goldblum, Glenda Jackson
US 1987, digital video, color, 93 min

Based on the play by Christopher Durang, who has since rejected Altman’s wild co-screenwriting liberties, Beyond Therapy takes the director’s anarchic composition to manic heights. The film opens onto frenetically choreographed action and distracted non sequiturs from an endless array of quirky characters. Within an Eighties therapy culture in full, neurotic bloom, the therapists are indistinguishable from their patients. Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Guest play lovers whose discontent intensifies when Julie Hagerty’s flighty Prudence enters the picture through a personal ad. Set in New York yet filmed in Paris, Altman’s relentless exercise in absurdity is a pastiche of dysfunctional people in a dysfunctional world, with homosexuality—a recurring theme in his Eighties films—distinctly not considered part of that dysfunction.

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Friday July 17 at 9:15pm

The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial

Directed by Robert Altman. With Eric Bogosian, Jeff Daniels, Brad Davis
US 1988, digital video, color, 100 min

Once again Altman directs an adaptation of a play on one set and destined for television broadcast. The material here is Herman Wouk’s 1953 courtroom drama about a naval officer on trial for leading a rebellion on ship against a bitter, obsessive and vindictive captain. Hired to remake material that had been a hit both on Broadway and as a Hollywood film, Altman was told that he could not change a word of Wouk’s script. Instead, he worked with his actors to bring out the ambiguities—about military ethics, warfare and authority—that underpin the play’s often-straightforward morality. Altman’s choice of a gymnasium basketball court for the proceedings gives the film an ironic touch of nostalgic Americana. Digibeta presentation courtesy of the Robert Altman Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

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Sunday July 19 at 4:30pm

A Perfect Couple

Directed by Robert Altman. With Paul Dooley, Marta Heflin, Titos Vandis
US 1979, 35mm, color, 111 min

With a clear adoration for quirky, offbeat performers usually relegated to “character actor” status, Altman selected Paul Dooley and Marta Heflin as the little-known, unassuming leads for his romantic-despite-itself comedy. “Sheila312” and “Alex207” meet through a video-dating service, and the unlikely match endures a battery of awkward trials, including facing each other’s unconventional, patriarchal families: Alex’s eccentric, overbearing Greek dynasty and Sheila’s bohemian rock band community. With a naturalistic emphasis on co-screenwriter Allan Nicholls’ actual, fleeting Seventies’ rock/funk/disco group formed with out-of-work actors, A Perfect Couple perhaps mirrors many of the dynamics within Altman’s own ramshackle ensembles. Ultimately, the film celebrates the socially mutant members of a mixed-up America and posits a comic, if at times melancholic, possibility of hard-earned tolerance, forgiveness and love in the face of profound difference.

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Thursday July 23 at 7pm

A Prairie Home Companion

Directed by Robert Altman. With Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Garrison Keillor
US 2006, 35mm, color, 105 min

Altman’s final curtain call aligns perfectly with that of his onscreen subjects in A Prairie Home Companion, his condensed depiction of a final performance of Garrison Keillor’s beloved Midwestern radio show of the same name. As community portraits go, the film stands out in Altman’s career as uncharacteristically sweet and flattering, a fond elegy to an eccentric troupe of entertainers the likes of which have been largely siphoned out by capitalist mass culture. Tribute is paid in a charmingly choreographed tango onstage—where Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson and Keillor himself, as lightly fictionalized versions of the variety show’s familiar cast, belt out folk ditties—and offstage, where performers frantically prep for airtime while reminiscing about the institution’s healthier days. The atmosphere is electric, and Altman’s camera follows suit, never ceasing its roving movement and rarely shrinking its panoramic viewpoint for fear of missing out on any of the gregarious activity in the theater. Yet in spite of all this positive energy, A Prairie Home Companion ultimately exposes its melancholic heart: an angel of death (an ethereally moving Virginia Madsen) stalks the premises, and later she is one-upped by Tommy Lee Jones’s heartless Texan bureaucrat carrying the threat of a wrecking ball. Altman died only months after the film’s release, and it is hard to think of a more appropriately bittersweet swan song. Print courtesy of Warner Bros.

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Friday July 24 at 9pm


Directed by Robert Altman. With Susannah York, René Auberjonois, Marcel Bozzuffi
US 1972, 35mm, color, 101 min

Made for a small budget after the success of M*A*S*H, Images was a personal project for Altman, one of his only films for which he is the sole credited screenwriter. Alternately dreamy and nightmarish, this psychological thriller, about a woman convinced that those around her are not who they say they are, is a relative of Polanski’s Repulsion, except that here the protagonist’s possible instability is related not solely to her sexuality but also to her creativity. Describing Altman’s fascination with female characters who are “difficult, suffering, searching women,” lead actor Susannah York wrote, “his experience of women is that they are more complex, more emotional, more demanding, and at the same time more understanding creatures, in general, than men.”

Preceded by

Pot au feu

Directed by Robert Altman. With B.C. Altman, Helen Matthews Altman
US 1965, digital video, color, 11 min

In this comedy short, shot as a lark with friends, Altman presents a cooking show devoted to teaching the finer points of pot smoking, which was one of the bon vivant’s favorite pastimes when not on set. The film became part of Altman’s portfolio and is said to have helped get him the job directing M*A*S*H. Digibeta presentation courtesy of the Robert Altman Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

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Saturday July 25 at 7pm


Directed by Robert Altman. With Carol Burnett, Glenda Jackson, James Garner
US 1980, 35mm, color, 98 min

HealtH finds Altman, after Nashville, trying his hand once again at political satire. The film ostensibly concerns the rivalry between two women—one an uptight octogenarian, the other an earnest campaigner against materialism and commercialism—for control over a health-food empire. The battle between the supporters of each candidate spreads through the usual large Altman cast of characters. Having soured on American politics during the Nixon presidency, Altman here seems to be predicting—and spoofing—the then-upcoming presidential race between Reagan and Carter. (The film was shot in 1979, and the director himself said he had the 1950s contests between Eisenhower and Stevenson in mind.) HealtH marked the end of Altman’s five-film contract with Fox; after the failures of A Wedding, A Perfect Couple and Quintet, the studio lost faith in him and delayed the release of HealtH for two years. When he saw the film at the White House in 1982, Ronald Reagan described it in his diary as “the world’s worst movie.” Print courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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Monday July 27 at 7pm

O.C. and Stiggs

Directed by Robert Altman. With Daniel H. Jenkins, Neill Barry, Paul Dooley
US 1987, 35mm, color, 109 min

Based on a series of articles in National Lampoon magazine, O.C. and Stiggs was ostensibly pitched, produced and marketed under an assumption of it as a conventionally entertaining teen sex comedy made to build off the subgenre’s success in the early Eighties. Needless to say, Altman’s finished film, a carnival ride through suburban Arizona lacking in both clear-cut jokes and a clear-cut target for its satire, did not strike box office gold quite like its predecessors. The movie’s unhinged flashback structure follows, but struggles to keep up with, the hijinks of two obnoxious loafers as they terrorize an upper-class family with the help of a throng of Scottsdale miscreants. Over the course of two hours, gaudy sets full of expensive props are gleefully vandalized and rearranged in long shots that seem both amused and horrified by the booze-fueled recklessness. It is no surprise that Melvin Van Peebles and Dennis Hopper show up in preposterous supporting roles; Altman’s madcap comedy pits the lingering outrage of Seventies counterculture against the urbane complacency of Reagan’s middle class and finds only more confusion in the aftermath of the conflict. Print courtesy of Park Circus

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Thursday July 30 at 7pm

The Player

Directed by Robert Altman. With Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward
US 1992, 35mm, color, 123 min

Like Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, a film self-consciously referenced a number of times throughout, Robert Altman's The Player lays all its thematic preoccupations and meta-fictional density bare in its opening credit sequence, a several-minutes-long, expertly choreographed tracking shot around a fictional Hollywood studio lot. The ongoing debate on the relative values of story craft and directorial virtuosity, the opportunism of studios eager for the next big hit, the perpetual recyclability of the Tinseltown production machine and the paradoxical anxiety over authorial plagiarism—all are seen by Altman as endemic to the state of the movie business in the early Nineties. In the thriller plot that follows—a purely insider affair in which Tim Robbins’ cheery executive is terrorized by an anonymous screenwriter whom he has unwittingly wronged—these concerns develop increasingly deadly stakes. Featuring an ever-expanding universe of familiar faces called upon to embody caricatures of venal Hollywood types, the mercilessness of The Player’s satire is arguably unsurpassed in Altman’s career. By the same token, the multiple films-within-the-film witnessed along the way all resemble Altman films, indicating that, for all the bitterness directed at the gatekeepers of the entertainment industry, some is still reserved for self-effacement. Print courtesy of Warner Bros.

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Friday July 31 at 9pm


Directed by Robert Altman. With Paul Newman, Bibi Andersson, Fernando Rey
US 1979, 35mm, color, 118 min

A rare science fiction foray from Altman, Quintet is set in a future ice age where people in an otherwise barren society gather with religious zeal to play a mysterious board game that is suddenly transformed into a life-or-death struggle by corrupt, power-hungry officials. With beautifully dystopian winter vistas filmed in the Arctic Circle and on the site of Montreal’s former Expo ’67 complex, the all-encompassing alternate reality of Quintet offers no comfort or solace. However, it is the hopeless darkness that makes any sign of humanity shockingly foreign and blindingly bright and perhaps helps explain why Altman later remarked, regarding the film’s poor critical response, “I have this great optimism that always translates into pessimism.” Print courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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Saturday August 1 at 7pm

That Cold Day in the Park

Directed by Robert Altman. With Sandy Dennis, Michael Burns, Susanne Benton
US 1969, 35mm, color, 112 min

Initially leaving critics and audiences slightly chilled, That Cold Day in the Park marks a critical turning point for Altman as his earliest feature film to expressively and naturalistically convey the sociopsychological themes that would recur throughout his career. Sandy Dennis’ lonely, wealthy, repressed Frances is the first of many Altman women who are imprisoned within cryptically prismatic emotional confines. In this case, the peculiar, nervous Frances responds by trapping a differently estranged creature in an impromptu web of dependence. Aided by atmospheric New Hollywood cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs, Altman artfully deploys mirrors, translucence, and a sensual, disorienting darkness while disclosing information in seductive, veiled increments. His audience is therefore alert and sensitive to the subtle fluctuations and power shifts within Frances’ obsessive relationship with her mysterious prisoner. 35mm restored print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive; restoration funded by The Film Foundation and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

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Sunday August 2 at 4pm


Directed by Robert Altman. With Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Ray Walston
US 1980, 35mm, color, 114 min

Except for his evident fascination with eccentrics, Robert Altman might seem an odd choice to direct a live-action film about the famous animated sailor. But in the end, this Popeye is another of Altman’s many investigations into the workings of a community. Plot and incident are less the point here than is the observation of Popeye and Olive Oyl, their son Swee’pea, their parents, their friend Wimpy and the other inhabitants of the seaside town of Sweethaven. While Altman tips his hat to the Fleischer brothers’ cartoons of the 1930s, Jules Feiffer’s screenplay resurrects the populist sentiment of E.C. Segar’s original comic strips. 35mm print courtesy of the Robert Altman Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

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Monday August 3 at 7pm


Directed by Robert Woodburn. With Jerry Wallace, Noralee Benedict, Hobie Shepp
US 1956, 35mm, b/w, 58 min

Scripted by a twenty-eight-year-old Robert Altman after a brief, frustrating sojourn in Los Angeles trying to find work as a Hollywood screenwriter, Corn’s-A-Poppin’ is a zero-budget backstage musical that serves as an early example of Altman’s fondness for musicians and performers as characters. The plot concerns the efforts to defend the Pinwhistle Popcorn Hour—a down-home variety show with acts ranging from ex–hog-caller Lillian Gravelguard to Hobie Shepp and His Cow Town Wranglers—from corporate sabotage engineered by a rogue PR man in his bid to gut the Pinwhistle empire. Shot in Kansas City by a band of young talent schooled in the production techniques of the Calvin Company—the Midwest’s most innovative industrial film studio—Corn’s-A-Poppin’ experienced extremely limited play at rural drive-ins and hootenannies before disappearing for decades. Although Altman would not direct his own feature for another year, this film looks forward to Nashville and, even more uncannily, his last film, A Prairie Home Companion, half a century later. Restored by the Northwest Chicago Film Society in conjunction with the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, with funding from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Preceded by

The Sound of Bells

Directed by Robert Altman. With Keith Painton
US 1952, 16mm, color, 22 min

Another short made by Altman in Kansas City, The Sound of Bells finds the filmmaker working in a warm, folksy vein to tell a tale of two Christmases, a Santa in need and a Good Samaritan. Print courtesy of Gary Huggins

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Friday August 7 at 9pm

3 Women

Directed by Robert Altman. With Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Janice Rule
US 1977, 35mm, color, 116 min

One of Altman’s most hallucinatory creations was actually conceived from a dream he had of Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek in the desert, starring in a film about “personality-theft.” Every frame tinged by an ineffable eeriness and a subtly stylized aesthetic, the film opens onto a disturbing space of reflected and imperfect doubling, of disempowered projection onto unstable surfaces. The naïve blank slate of Spacek’s Pinky Rose parasitically attaches to Duvall’s Millie Lammoreaux who in turn has crafted an entire persona from the empty promises of consumer culture. Hypnotically saturating Millie in equal parts pathos and comedy, Duvall improvises dizzy monologues as if her life were a Redbook or Woman’s Day magazine. Meanwhile, the “third” woman expresses herself silently and potently through mythic paintings and mosaics depicting a domineering patriarchy. The triangulated transference of personas turns alternatingly imperceptible and jarring corners, transforming the film and reassembling the alienated trio into an unconventional configuration, the door to which Altman leaves open just enough for the viewer to participate in its reformation.

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Saturday August 8 at 7pm

The Long Goodbye

Directed by Robert Altman. With Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden
US 1973, 35mm, color, 112 min

Echoing as much of Raymond Chandler’s novel as it does the author’s life, The Long Goodbye is perhaps Altman’s funniest valentine to Hollywood. While securing screenwriter Leigh Brackett, who co-wrote The Big Sleep (1946), which solidified Humphrey Bogart as Chandler’s hard-boiled 1940s detective, Altman made his Philip Marlowe a vulnerable, droll and mumbling Elliott Gould. From the blithely ingenious soundtrack to the casting of characters partially playing themselves, Altman wryly and improvisationally toys with the mythos of Hollywood as it intersects with the reality of Seventies Los Angeles. The film self-deprecatingly encapsulates the contradictions of the time by mixing the carefree and irreverent with uncomfortable confrontation and sudden violence. Sometimes off-frame or partly obstructed, the camera wanders as ambivalently as Marlowe does around a comic parade of deceptive characters and the elusive truth. The detective’s unpredictable path may encounter all of the essential elements of a classic noir; yet Altman’s translucent lens translates these into the disarming, detailed grain of a faded naturalism underscored by Marlowe’s irresolute refrain, “It’s okay with me.” Print courtesy of Park Circus

Preceded by

Speak Low

Directed by Robert Altman. With Lili St. Cyr
US 1966, digital video, color, 4 min

Speak Low finds Altman filming sophisticated stripper Lili St. Cyr in a brief bit of playful and naughty eroticism. Digibeta presentation courtesy of the Robert Altman Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

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Sunday August 9 at 4:30pm

Cookie’s Fortune

Directed by Robert Altman. With Glenn Close, Julianne Moore, Liv Tyler
US 1999, 35mm, color, 118 min

Despite subject matter that includes murder, suicide and racism, Cookie’s Fortune is one of Altman’s gentlest works, an exemplar of the mellowing in his last films. Although it does not feature a vast web of characters, the screenplay about a family willing to scapegoat its longtime handyman to preserve its reputation and fortune provides a number of leading roles for women, which was doubtless part of its appeal for the director. Beyond the central figures, Altman finds time to lovingly depict the pleasures of life in a small Southern town. Print courtesy of Focus Features

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Sunday August 9 at 7pm

The James Dean Story

Directed by Robert Altman and George W. George
US 1957, 35mm, b/w, 83 min

Opening with a nearly playful animated title sequence and point-of-view reenactment of Dean’s fatal crash, Robert Altman’s second feature and only full-length documentary hints at the director’s antagonistic yet fascinated relationship to celebrities and their blind worship. Fame, performance and sudden death are themes that would reemerge regularly in Altman’s fictional work—and of course with the very same legend in Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. Altman claimed that he had intended to present a more potent demystification of Dean by traveling back through the actor’s brief life to interview friends and relatives on location in Indiana, New York and California and by pouring over photos and archival footage, including Dean’s eerie traffic safety film. Instead, due to decisions made by his co-director and the studio—such as the portentous, poetic narration by the Shakespearean-trained Martin Gabel—Altman felt the end product simply continued Dean’s sentimental idealization. Ultimately, the film is charmingly quirky and innovative, and its enigmatic and oddly electric subject—who embodied youthful American angst—seems to defy unmasking. Altman surely recognized an affinity with Dean’s thoughtful, independent spirit who followed his instincts, no matter what the risk. 35mm print courtesy of the Robert Altman Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

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Saturday August 15 at 9pm

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Directed by Robert Altman. With Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, René Auberjonois
US 1971, 35mm, color, 120 min

Robert Altman’s sweetest and saddest movie. And one of the few that can be truly called a love story. A gambler arrives in a small western mining town, with only one ambition—to open a really great whorehouse. He is a simple man, and a fool, but he is wise enough to enlist the help of a really great whore. Her cynicism is slowly overcome, as she realizes this man is for real: that after a lifetime of being nobodies, they can actually achieve something great together. But the world isn’t kind to visionaries—and especially not to gamblers.

Young Keith Carradine stumbles into the crossfire; various frontier weirdos stumble around at the edges of the frame, lost in their own obsessions. The mud is everywhere. The final shootout in the snow might be the least heroic shootout in Western movie history. Vilmos Zsigmond’s gorgeous, milky photography and the music of Leonard Cohen makes it all seem wistful, like a half-remembered tragic dream. – Athina Rachel Tsangari

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Sunday August 16 at 7pm

Gosford Park

Directed by Robert Altman. With Eileen Atkins, Bob Balaban, Alan Bates
US 2001, DCP, color, 137 min

A consensus choice for one of Altman’s greatest artistic successes since his Seventies golden age, Gosford Park functions at least superficially as the director’s Rules of the Game,with one character’s admission that “we all have something to hide” offering a gloomier variant on Renoir’s democratic credo “everyone has their reasons.” Reinforcing the comparison, Altman’s film also shares with the French classic a rural estate setting in the Thirties, a prolonged game-hunting scene and an unambiguous emphasis on class distinctions. But Gosford Park ultimately departs from its regal predecessor in its pulpy whodunit yarn, a murder mystery that invites comparisons to Agatha Christie and the board game Clue. It is a dramatic framework that Altman uses less on its own terms than as a means of gradually teasing out the crisscrossing tensions within the estate’s dense network of pampered guests and demure servants. Altman’s trademark ensemble direction, here in particularly voluptuous form navigating the multidirectional activity and labyrinthine architecture of the estate, makes it such that the film’s mystery cannot be fully grasped on first viewing. It is a macabre brainteaser in appropriate perceptual disarray. Print courtesy of Warner Bros.

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Monday August 17 at 7pm

The Company

Directed by Robert Altman. With Neve Campbell, Malcolm McDowell, James Franco
US 2003, 35mm, color, 112 min

Though Neve Campbell’s character Ry is the central protagonist, she frequently dissolves into the undulating masses of the Joffrey Ballet dance company as one of many dancers, whose lives each revolve around an implicitly deep dedication to their art. Altman downplays all of the characters’ dramas to the point that the story’s rises and falls appear to cycle through and whirl around like the meticulously choreographed bodies on stage. Apparently imitating the actual longtime director of the Joffrey, Malcolm McDowell’s Mr. A also echoes Altman, as he derives inspiration from each performer, makes things up as he goes along, and gives open-ended and contradictory direction in order to wrest something interesting out of his dancers. Emphasizing the greater work of art over the individual lives—sometimes to a shockingly cool extent—both the film and the Joffrey save the expression of passion and pain for that fleeting, spotlit moment before an audience.

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Thursday August 20 at 7pm


Directed by Robert Altman. With Matthew Modine, Michael Wright, Mitchell Lichtenstein
US 1983, 35mm, color, 118 min. English with French subtitles

Another cinematic rendering of a stage play, Streamers in some respects resembles a masculine version of Jimmy Dean. Both feature a young gay man as the polarizing catalyst who triggers a chain of complex outbursts and agonizing self-reflection. Here, that character is joined by an angry black man comfortable with his sexuality, but not much else, and other anxious soldiers awaiting their deployment to Vietnam. An army barracks, the film’s single set, contains an excitable melting pot filled with men thrown together to prepare for a war they already question. Compared to the many representations of enlisted life on film, David Rabe’s 1975 play seems much more literary and loquacious, and its approach to both racism and homophobia feels almost quaint. Nevertheless, the claustrophobic focus on the soldiers’ individual demons dramatizes both the absurd brutality of war and the enormity of the burdens troops were carrying with them to a bloody battleground. Print courtesy of Cinémathèque Française

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Sunday August 23 at 5pm

The Delinquents

Directed by Robert Altman. With Tom Laughlin, Peter Miller, Richard Bakalyan
US 1957, DCP, b/w, 72 min

Shot on the cheap in his hometown of Kansas City, Altman’s feature debut—on which he served as writer, director and producer—has all the surface components of a go-for-broke American independent film. The end product, however, suggests less the reckless primal scream of a young visionary than an uncommonly proficient industry calling card. Notwithstanding a bookending Public Service Announcement tacked on to placate censors, The Delinquents offers a narratively graceful and emotionally rich take on the mostly disreputable Eisenhower-era subgenre of the teenage exploitation film. In an exciting promise of things to come, Altman corrals a spirited cast of amateurs for a snapshot of the fractious cross-sections of suburban Middle America: the pampered pretty boys, the bad seeds from across the tracks, and the adults who are all-too-oblivious to their children’s changing social habits. Though more a forecast of Altman’s formidable gifts as a storyteller than his relatively avant-garde stylistic sensibilities, the film nonetheless features striking bird’s-eye-view camerawork that encourages one to see provincial conflict as the product of an interconnected community rather than mere individuals. DCP presentation courtesy of the Robert Altman Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Preceded by

The Perfect Crime

Directed by Robert Altman. With Leonard Belove, Owen Bush, Art Ellison
US 1955, digital video, b/w, 20 min

Made by the Calvin Company in Kansas City for the National Safety Council, The Perfect Crime is a grim (but not gory) lecture on safe driving. Print courtesy of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research

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Monday August 24 at 7pm

The Gingerbread Man

Directed by Robert Altman. With Kenneth Branagh, Embeth Davidtz, Robert Downey, Jr.
US 1998, 35mm, color, 115 min

Discreetly upending yet another familiar genre, Altman tests the waters of the Nineties wave of twisting dramas featuring lawyers and their clients behaving badly—many penned, as this one was, by John Grisham. With Hurricane Geraldo drenching the film in an unnerving, obfuscating downpour, Kenneth Branagh realistically fills the role of an Atlanta attorney whose intimate involvement with a mysterious, unhinged woman leads to a slowly building game of deception, murder and continually turning tables. Apparently, Altman rewrote much of Grisham’s original script, taking the drama out of the courtroom and redirecting the thriller toward a nerve-racking suspense that naturally erupts from the dangerous workarounds carried out by arrogant, hypocritical, or simply inept custodians of the law. 35mm print courtesy of the Robert Altman Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive

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Thursday August 27 at 7pm


Directed by Robert Altman. With John Travolta, Tom Conti, Linda Hunt
Canada 1987, digital video, color, 108 min

Altman and Harold Pinter became acquaintances after Pinter expressed his admiration for Secret Honor. In choosing to direct two early Pinter one-acts, The Dumb Waiter and The Room, the filmmaker was no doubt influenced by the playwright’s collaborations with Joseph Losey, who was an avowed influence on Altman. (Certainly both favored baroque eccentricity set in enclosed places, with Altman woolly where Losey was icy.) By the 1980s, with Altman himself working in Europe in a kind of economic exile, he would have had reason to identify with Losey’s exodus to England thirty years earlier. Basements is the title for the omnibus film that brings together the two sixty-minute films, each, once again, set in a single location. Digibeta presentation courtesy of the Robert Altman Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive

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Friday August 28 at 9:15pm

Dr. T and the Women

Directed by Robert Altman. With Richard Gere, Helen Hunt, Farrah Fawcett
US 2000, 35mm, color, 122 min

Altman’s first film of the 21st century is a bustling but mid-tempo screwball comedy that takes its seemingly willfully dubious central conceit—Richard Gere’s mild-mannered gynecologist navigating a sea of high-strung blonde women against the colorful backdrop of upper-class Dallas—to a logical extreme, taunting its protagonist’s self-professed cosmic balance with a series of increasingly surreal twists and turns. Altman was never one to shy away from playing with fire, and the borderline unkind characterizations of many of the females here offers distinct proof of that taste for provocation, but Dr. T and the Women is nonetheless motored by the animated performances of actresses like Shelley Long, Laura Dern, Kate Hudson, Tara Reid and Helen Hunt, while the men, Gere included, mostly dissolve into the background as ineffectual witnesses to the constant multidirectional movement of the women around them. Dallas is presented as a place of glossy surfaces (malls, golf clubs, offices, museums and parkways all shine with the same pastel spotlessness) and even glossier personalities—an ideal setting for this affectionate burlesque of moneyed privilege, myopia and hypocrisy.

Preceded by

Girl Talk

Directed by Robert Altman. With Bobby Troup
US 1966, digital video, color, 3 min

Altman brought singer Bobby Troup and a group of models to the hip Beverly Hills boutique Paraphernalia for this Color Sonic short set to Troup’s hit single. Digibeta presentation courtesy of the Robert Altman Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

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Sunday August 30 at 5pm

Nightmare in Chicago

Directed by Robert Altman. With Andrew Duggan, Charles McGraw, Michael Murphy
US 1964, 16mm, color, 81 min

By the early 1960s, Altman had been in Los Angeles for almost a decade, working successfully in television, although he had made two feature films in the 1950s and wanted to return to moviemaking. His career as a TV director culminated with two episodes of Kraft Suspense Theatre. The second of these, “Once Upon a Savage Night,” was considered successful enough that Universal asked Altman to expand it to feature length so that they could release it as a B-movie in the Midwest and Canada. The longer version, now called Nightmare in Chicago, became Altman’s third feature film, although it is rarely seen today and sometimes omitted from Altman’s filmography. The film is a tense potboiler about a serial killer who preys on women with blonde hair.

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Monday August 31 at 7pm

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

Directed by Robert Altman. With Sandy Dennis, Cher, Karen Black
US 1982, 35mm, color, 109 min

After disappointing and disappearing studio relationships following the troubled HealtH and flopped Popeye, Altman left Hollywood for Broadway. His production of Ed Graczyk’s play led to a cable movie offer, which Altman eventually wrangled into limited theatrical release and, consequently, a more concise, poetic vision. Rather than the separate sets of the stage version, two identical Woolworth shops were constructed in front of one another, separated by a two-way mirror. Thus, the reuniting Disciples of James Dean seamlessly drift back-and-forth from the Fifties to the Seventies; yet for these lost dreamers stuck in a remote Texan town, the changes between eras are often imperceptible. An extra on Giant, Mona achieves minor celebrity as the supposed mother of James Dean’s son, and her static fantasy has for years been reluctantly maintained by a small group of friends who each have their own delusions to dissolve. The increasingly complex reflections bouncing between the spectrum of girlish personas exposes the restricting feminine—and masculine—ideals both maintained by and displaced onto the silver screen, an escapism Altman’s viewers are tenderly denied. 35mm restored print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive; restoration funded by The Film Foundation and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

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