The Museum of Modern Art presents a career retrospective of the maverick film and television director Robert Altman (American, 1925–2006)—comprising 50 programs, including theatrical features, television films, cable series, and rarely seen music videos, industrial shorts, and documentary pieces—from December 3, 2014, to January 17, 2015. Altman’s work over four decades, beginning in the 1970s, came to define the spirit of American independent film. His essential films include the groundbreaking anti-war satire MASH (1970); the unorthodox Western McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971); the disaffected portrait of Bicentennial America Nashville (1975); the film noir update The Long Goodbye (1973); the avant-garde picture 3 Women (1977); the waggish Hollywood exposé The Player (1992); the adaptation of stories by Raymond Carver Short Cuts (1993); and his final work, A Prairie Home Companion (2006), a collaboration with radio personality Garrison Keillor. Distancing himself from mainstream Hollywood formulas, Altman produced films in what has been described as “anti-genres,” including revisionist takes on romantic comedy (A Perfect Couple, 1979), teen films (O.C. & Stiggs, 1987), psychological thrillers (Images, 1972), and historical dramas (Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson, 1976). His penchant for improvisation and innovative use of natural, overlapping dialogue became directorial signatures, most elegantly realized in his later film Gosford Park (2001), which served as a model for writer Julian Fellowes’s successful ITV/PBS series Downton Abbey (2010–). Robert Altman is organized by Ron Magliozzi, Associate Curator, with Sophie Cavoulacos, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Film.
Altman’s passion for theater and the craft of acting is evident in the ensemble performance style that characterizes work like A Wedding (1978), the rarely screened HealtH (1980), and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982), which he originated on stage. Other notable Altman films were adapted from such stage plays as David Rabe’s Streamers (1983), Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love (1985), Marsha Norman’s The Laundromat (1985), Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy (1987), and Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter (1987). His films provided career highlights for performers such as Cher, Robin Williams, Paul Newman, Carol Burnett, Tim Robbins, Shelley Duvall, Elliott Gould, Sally Kellerman, Keith Carradine, Lindsay Lohan, Lily Tomlin, Michael Murphy, Geraldine Chaplin, Sissy Spacek, James Caan, Susannah York, Karen Black, Robert Duvall, Glenda Jackson, René Auberjonois, Helen Mirren, and Cynthia Nixon.
Popular music, in particular jazz, folk, and country, also figure prominently in the director’s work. Among the musicians with whom he worked are Leonard Cohen, John Williams, Stomu Yamashta, Harry Nilsson and Van Dyke Parks, Joshua Redman, Johnny Mandel, Patrick Doyle, and Mark Isham. The director’s major works for television, the pioneering cable mockumentary series Tanner ’88 (1988), created by Garry Trudeau for HBO, and its sequel Tanner on Tanner (2004), are genre-bending twists on cinéma vérité. Including cameo appearances by real-life politicians and media figures such as Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Michael Dukakis, Tom Brokaw, Linda Ellerbee, Martin Scorsese, and Charlie Rose, they set new standards for broadcast humor with their riffs on U.S. presidential elections and the tropes of reality TV.
In addition to Altman’s theatrical and television films, the retrospective is distinguished by the addition of little-known early works to a number of the feature screenings. These include industrial films he made in Kansas City in the 1950s, and musical shorts produced for the pioneering film jukebox system ColorSonic in 1966. The series concludes with a screening of the authorized feature-length EPIX documentary on Altman by director Ron Mann and Sphinx Productions.
Full List of Films featured in Robert Altman
Altman (2014), Aria (1987), Beyond Therapy (1987), Bodyguard (1948), Brewster McCloud (1970) with Behind the Scenes of Brewster McCloud excerpt (1970), Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976), California Split (1974), Christmas Eve (1947), Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982) with Pot au Feu (1965), The Company (2003), Cookie’s Fortune (1999), Corn's-A-Poppin' (1956), Countdown (1968) with The Sound of Bells (1952), The Delinquents (1957) with The Perfect Crime (1955), Dr T & the Women (2000), Fool for Love (1985), The Gingerbread Man (1998), Gosford Park (2001), HealtH (1980) with Go to Health (1980), Images (1972) with Damages (2001), The James Dean Story (1957) with Modern Football (1951), Kansas City (1996), The Long Goodbye (1973) with The Party (1966), MASH (1970) with Ebb Tide (1966), McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) with Zinc Ointment (1971), Nashville (1975), O.C. & Stiggs (1987), A Perfect Couple (1979) with The Kathryn Reed Story (1965)The Player (1992), Popeye (1980), A Prairie Home Companion (2006) with A Honeymoon for Harriet (1950), Pret a Porter (1994) with Model’s Handbook (1956), Quintet (1979), Secret Honor (1984) with The Magic Bond (1955), Short Cuts (1993), Streamers (1983), Tanner ‘88 (1988), Tanner on Tanner (2004), That Cold Day in the Park (1969) with Speak Low (1966), 3 Women (1977) with Girl Talk (1966), Thieves Like Us (1974), Vincent and Theo (1990), A Wedding (1978) with Dinah!: Dinah Goes to A Wedding excerpt (1978)
Full List of Television Programs featured in Robert Altman Retrospective
Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "The Young One" (1957), Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "Together" (1958), Bonanza: "Silent Thunder" (1960), Bus Stop: "A Lion Walks among Us" (1961), The Caine Mutiny Court Martial (1988), Combat!: "Survival" (1963), The Dumbwaiter (1987), Gun: All the President's Women (1997), Nightmare in Chicago (1964), The Laundromat (1985), Precious Blood (1982), Robert Atlman’s Jazz 34 (1996), The Room (1987), Route 66: "Some of the People, Some of the Time" (1961)