The Art of Screenwriting. Based on nine interlocking stories by Raymond Carver, this screenplay weaves dramatic themes together without affecting the integrity of the stories. Color portraits of the 22 main characters, including Tim Robbins, Lily Tomlin, and Jack Lemmon.
Luck, Trust & Ketchup: Robert Altman in Carver Country (1993) is a documentary about one of the finest films of the 1990s, Robert Altman's Short Cuts. It consists mostly of critical analyses of the film, interlaced with clips from the set, which shed light on Altman’s laid-back directorial style.
You’ve had films set in larger cities like Los Angeles, but even then it’s treated almost like an alien environment.
RA: I’ve lived in New York for about 30 years, and I still meet people today who say, “Oh, you’re a Hollywood director.” That’s strange, because I’ve hardly ever made a film in that mold. I’ve never really been a New York director, either. That kind of mafia that runs New York, I never wanted to participate in that. As for Los Angeles, The Long Goodbye and California Split used that arena. Short Cuts was strictly L.A. I usually find that I don’t do road pictures; I need to have a cultural and geographical perimeter. Maybe that’s just the way I organize my thoughts, I need to contain them and contain my environment. Most of the time, it’s whatever interests me, whatever gets my attention at the time. It always ends up as the result of finding the right arena to do the film I’ve got in mind to do. The arena becomes a big part of it, because it fills the big part of it. I’ve done a lot pictures in small towns in the South. When you go to a unique area, I can do more with the stuff they have there. We try to use their culture, their colors, their music, their pride and prejudices.
When you were younger and watching films, did you keep track of directors and follow their releases?
RA: People have asked me throughout the years which directors have influenced me. I don’t know their names, because I was mostly influenced when I’d see a film and think, “Man, I want to be sure to never do anything like that.” So I never learned their names. It wasn’t a matter of copying or emulating somebody I admired. It was getting rid of a lot of stuff. I was impressed and affected by Bergman and Fellini and Kurosawa. My film Images was a big nod to Bergman, to Persona particularly. My whole sense of Kurosawa was light coming through trees, like in Rashomon. That film in particular was a favorite of mine. I liked a lot of the Italian films, some of the French. It went in circles—the British films were terrific for a while. There doesn’t seem to be room for everybody. Somebody comes in and occupies the art market, as I suppose it would be called, and then another group takes over. —It’s Okay With Me: Robert Altman (Complete Interview)
Recommended reading, viewing and listening: BBC Omnibus, Robert Altman in England (2002) features considerable footage of Altman doing that thing he was always so careful to insist he never did: directing.
Michael Tolkin’s screenplay for The Player, based on his excellent novel of the same name. I also recommend you to listen out of print LaserDisc director-crew commentary with director Robert Altman, screenwriter Michael Tolkin and director of photography Jean Lepine. (NOTE: For educational purposes only). Listen to the audio Interview with Robert Altman originally published on August 9, 2009 on tonymacklin.net.
- Short Cuts (1993) — The Criterion Collection
- Robert Altman: Interviews (Conversations With Filmmakers)
- Robert Altman: The Oral Biography
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