Altman On Altman, interviews by David Thomson — introduction by Paul Thomas Anderson

26 Mar


Really, you can’t do better than this to inform yourself about the Altman films you’ve seen, and introduce yourself to those you have not seen — for instance, for me, Secret Honor, Philip Baker Hall’s brilliant performance of Richard Nixon in extremis.

This book, as with all David Thomson’s books, is a necessary text, for which I am grateful to Altman and Thomson both.

The book covers as much as David Thomson’s knowledge extends, which is pretty far. So you get insights into some of the technical challenges and tricks Altman used, you get a good sense of Altman’s business deals, his sense of actors, and how things got to the screen and how things did not get to the screen. You also find yourself in the presence of Altman’s unusually permissive personality and his equally rigorous standards for adventuring forth on projects new and unexpected, by this the most forgivable of workaholics.

Altman is quite open, and does not make a case for himself at all. Neither are we at the mercy of being told how wonderful everyone else was. Warren Beatty certain was not wonderful.

Thomson tells Altman’s story from the start, so it serves as a satisfactory biography. The book has good illustrations, a thorough bibliography, an index, and a full personnel list of Altman’s film and stage work, including his non-credited work and TV work. Wow!

Most directors do not get to continue working to the age he worked. And yet, he became well known only with M.A.S.H., when he was well into his 40s, and was still at the end of his life making good movies, such as Gosford Park and A Prairie Home Companion.

I can’t recommend the book more highly than to say I can’t.

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