A Going Home Companion

Robert Altman, R.I.P.

Haskell: I think that the power and the theme of the film lie in the fact that while some characters are more "major" than others, they are all subordinated to the music itself. It's like a river, running through the film, running through their life. They contribute to it, are united for a time, lose out, die out, but the music, as the last scene suggests, continues. It diminishes them, as death itself diminishes us, and ennobles them. And it's the people who live and breathe country music who are finally less ridiculous, less hollow, than the "sophisticates" who condescend to them: Michael Murphy's advance man and Geraldine Chaplin as the bleeding heart BBC reporter.

But what about Altman the man? In "The Artful Codger," Kristine McKenna's 2001 Q&A with Altman that appeared inLA Weekly, he conceded his feelings about America had changed.

"I was in England last year when the presidential election was taking place, and I said to my mates, 'This will be okay because it's going to the Supreme Court.' It did go to the Supreme Court, and we know what happened there. I felt like such a fool. I'm 76 years old, and I still believed in America up to that minute, and at my age I should've known better. Now I don't feel any emotional patriotic ties to this country at all."

The craftsman
The craftsman

LA Weekly film editor Scott Foundas also interviewed Altman "The Craftsman" this past June, to accompany their coverage ofA Prairie Home Companion, which Foundas called "another grand, messy, multi-character canvas in which actors invent and embellish freely, and the scenes seem to be unfolding organically, in the moment." He asked Altman about his famously collaborative and improvisational filmmaking style.

"I make them do the work they say they became actors to do in the first place. They say, 'I want to contribute. I want to do this and that.' Good. I won't have it any other way. Those people who want it all laid out on a storyboard for them and then they just come in and do the words—I can't deal with those people very well, because I don't get much out of working that way."

But, asked Foundas, isn't that a process fraught with danger?

"It's fraught with danger, but I don't know what it is that I'm after in the first place. I'm working from the seat of my pants. I'm the one who's doing the improvisation, not the actors."

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