"Hey you! Don't you dare watch "Images"! I destroyed that negative for a reason, jerky!"

Stiff-Legged Film Festival Series Presents:

The COMPLETE Films of Robert Altman

October 4-6, 11-13, 18-19, 2002

 

JUMP TO THE SCHEDULE!

Eight days of films by the great and highly consistent filmmaker Robert Altman. Whether it's a comedy, drama, period piece, or talk-heavy ensemble work, an Altman film is usually morbid (even the comedies!), solidly acted, realistic to a fault, and full of cinematic juiciness. Many of these films have never been released on home video, and even most of the ones that have been are really hard to find. This is going to be tons of fun! I hope you can join me for it.

If you're seeing this site, it's because I invited you here. Bring a friend or two, but please don't bring your entire bowling league. My apartment is comedically small, and seating is already going to be limited. Popcorn and (some) booze will be provided, but please also consider bringing something along to share with the class. The act of collecting the rarer films pretty much decimated my food budget. But most of all, bring your wonderful selves, and stay as long as you like! Lifers (i.e. people who stay for more than 80% of the films) will probably get a T-shirt out of the deal (eventually).

Keep an eye out for http://cmsienko.diaryland.com/, as there will soon be reviews and rememberances of this truly epic festival, including rememberances from a variety of guests and supporters! (UPDATE: sorry, never worked out. I have a new blog opening up soon for Herzogfest...perhaps soon you'll see rememberances of Altman- and Cassavetesfests there as well)

ALL START TIMES ARE RIGID!

Unless we're running late, the start time listed is the exact time we start. 10-15 minutes is given on average between films, meaning those who want to grab dinner had better be quick if they don't want to miss the next film. There's a McDonalds and Subway around the corner, not to mention a great mexican restaurant or three that do takeout. Delivery menus will also be on hand. Seating is limited, and the Host gets eternal dibs on the couch throughout the festival. Sorry, that's just the way it is. Limited sleeping space is also available for those that wanna turn this into a sleepover (some of the nights go really late!).

Special thanks to: Dark Star Video, Facets Multimedia, Nationwide Video, BP Video, Cheryl Murdock, Netflix, the vendors of Half.com and Amazon Marketplace, Video Search of Miami, and the slightly intimidating Movie Hunter for contributing movies.

Extra special thanks to Don Hicks of Subterranean Cinema. Don traded extensively (and generously!) with me to produce three totally ace rare films (and a documentary) that will make this festival a must-see. When I started searching for these rare films, I promised that the first four people to scratch one of them up would get dibs on a couch spot for the entire festival. Don, if you care to make the trek to Chicago, you'd have dibs on the entire couch for the festival! (Vist Don's Subterranean Cinema site, it's beyond jaw-dropping!)

The Schedule

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 4
EARLY YEARS: THE BIGGEST STRUGGLES PRODUCE THE BIGGEST SUCCESSES

Beginning, as usual, at the beginning, we'll look at Altman's earliest attempts to break into film, culminating at what is still his most well-known picture.

7:00 p.m.
Help! I'm being interviewed by assholes!
DIRECTORS: ROBERT ALTMAN

Cheesy AFI-produced documentary series give a nice overview of parts of the festival without giving much away. Lots of film clips, little substance (most of his most interesting films are merely shown as a still photo, with a sentence of announcement. "Then Robert did Images. Then he did California Split. But then, he did Nashville..."). The "Pre-Conference Guide" if you will.

 

8:10 p.m.
Mr. Dean, I'm a big fan of your sausages THE JAMES DEAN STORY

The title makes probably makes descriptions irrelevant. A documentary, not a biopic. Contains never-before-seen (at the time) footage from Jimmy Dean's sausages...er, movies.

 

9:40 p.m.
Stay in school! THE DELINQUENTS

Robert's big break into feature films. Written in four days with his sister. It's about the Space Needle. Just kidding, it's about delinquents.

 

11:05 p.m.
The Final Countdown!
COUNTDOWN

Bob's next "debut" feature film (after his first run directing television). The studio re-edit of this film led Altman to disavow this "Man is stranded on the moon" sci-fi flick, but Altman freaks will proably notice recognizable nuances.

 

1:00 a.m.
Doh doh di doh doh doh doh doh!
THAT COLD DAY IN THE PARK

The debut proper, Altman's first film to be done just entirely as he wanted it (it didn't fare any better in the box office than the others). A young woman rescues a young man in the park outside her house, shivering and alone in the rain. The young man thinks this is his lucky day, but no. Nobody has "lucky days" in Altman's films. Just lucky starts to days (it gets worse).

 

3:00 a.m. (yes, really)
How ya want your steak cooked?M*A*S*H

I don't need to tell you about this one, because you've already seen it. Starts hella-late because:

  1. You've already seen it
  2. If you're that big of a film freak, you've stayed up this late watching movies before
  3. Martinis for anyone that stays!

(Strong coffee will be provided through the festival as well, particularly on these epic evenings)

 

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 5
POST-M*A*S*H THROUGH FIRST FIRING

Neatly covering the remainder of the early years, we hit what most people consider Altman's high period...lots of recognizable names, and maybe your favorite Altman film, resides here.

 

10:00 a.m.
Tanner for President...because you could do worse.TANNER: A POLITICAL FABLE Pt. 1

A six-part mini-series made for HBO in 1988 (before everybody had HBO). A riveting mockumentary about presidential hopeful Jack Tanner of East Lansing, MI, running against other hopefuls in the Democratic primaries. Watch jack interact on the fly with Pat Robertson, Gary Hart and others! Co-written with Gary Trudeau ("Doonsbury"). Serialized for your protection.

 

11:05 a.m.
I believe I can flyBREWSTER MCCLOUD

Off-the-wall (and very nearly off the hook!) comedy which was NOT what the studios wanted after M*A*S*H. Features many M*A*S*H alums, including bit player Bud Cort (Harold from Harold & Maude) in the lead. Also marks the acting debut of the famously homely Shelly Duval. Stacey Keach plays a mean old bastard...again. But a REALLY old one this time.

You got the cutest little baabee faaaace...

 

1:00 p.m.
Featuring songs by Leonard CohenMCCABE & MRS. MILLER

The "Anti-Western," this film turned out to be a war of perfectionists -- Altman vs. lead actor Warren Beatty. Too bad no perfectionists were responsible for final sound mix or print...it's been said that the muddy picture and sound did almost as much to sink this pic into obscurity as the off-kilter plot. Upgraded to "masterpiece" status a few years later (and proud inductee into the "High Knee 100").

"Frankly, Scarlett, my problem is that I just care TOO MUCH..."

 

3:15 p.m.
Wicked poster!IMAGES

IF YOU'RE COMING FOR RARITIES, DON'T MISS THIS! (hereafter abbreviated as "IYCFR,DMT!") Altman's attempt at a suspense/horror film is heavy on surrealism and ambiguity, but skimpy on factual representation of the mental trauma it is presenting. Perhaps that's why Altman has burned the negative of this film! Perhaps that's why this has never been released on video! Altman's answer to Repulsion and Last Days At Marianbad is going to be a must-see, I bet.

"I'm just gonna sit down...here...on this moss..."

 

5:10 p.m.
It gets longer every day...
THE LONG GOODBYE

For all the purists that Altman has alienated with his "retellings," he hit the Raymond Chandler fans the hardest with his swingin' '70s update of Philip Marlowe (played by Altman lifer Elliot Gould). The camera NEVER stands still in this weirdly cool anti-noir.

"Elliot! Snap out of it! You're zoning again. Here, have some coffee."

 

 

7:15 p.m.
I wish movie posters were still this cool
CALIFORNIA SPLIT

IYCFTR, DMT! Recently shown at the Music Box and unavailable on video, this proto-Dogme 95 film (all "costumes" are individual performers' clothes, music is provided by what's on the radio, natural light is used, etc.) is high on improv, low on budget, and considered by many to be Altman's one true masterpiece (yes, even more so than "Nashville"!). Some place or other also called this "as good or better than Godard's prime New Wave films." High praise, indeed! Some people are coming to the festival JUST to see this! (but hopefully they'll stay for "O.C. & Stiggs.")

A might needy, are we?

 

 

9:15 p.m.
Good pic, or what?
THIEVES LIKE US

Depression era story of farmboys lured into a life of crime as bank robbers. I know very little about this one.

 

11:30 p.m.
DO NOT MISS!
NASHVILLE

Pre-festival, this is currently my favorite Altman film. We'll see how that changes in a few weeks! A sprawling set of character studies and interconnecting vignettes, showing the country music capital in preparation for the Bicentennial. Contains heart-stopping performances by (among others) Lily Tomlin, Henry Gibson, Ronee Blakely, Karen Black, Keith Carradine, and Keenan Wynn (Col. Batguano from Dr. Strangelove!), plus a cryptic non-speaking role by Jeff Goldblum as an Easy Rider-style psych cyclist. Another must-see. Grab some more coffee if you need to. Short Cuts fans CAN'T miss this!

 

2:20 a.m.
Gram Parsons called. He wants his Nudie Suit back.
BUFFALO BILL & THE INDIANS, OR: SITTING BULL'S HISTORY LESSON

After a series of commercial flops (Nashville didn't receive its propers until much later), this is the last film Bob made for MGM before they shitcanned him. Skewering one too many American idols, the public didn't come out to see Paul Newman portray Buffalo Bill as a press-hungry opportunist. We Americans take our cowboy myths seriously!

 

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 6
3 ART MOVIES, FURTHER INTO OBSCURITY

Because of of the scheduling of the Uno-A-Go-Go "Noise Brunch" at the Empty Bottle (sponsored by the best magazine ever, Roctober!), Sunday's festival will not start until 5 p.m. You can use this day to sleep in after your previous long-nighters, or come with me to Noise Brunch! I might even buy you a mimosa if you ask me nicely!

After the pink slipping in the wake of Buffalo Bill thudding crash at the box office, Altman went on to do a bunch of very small-budgeted films of limited appeal. Perhaps hoping to get all his ideas filmed before anybody could complain about their lack of commercial potential, he racked out five feature films in just under three years (hardly anything to give Roger Corman night sweats, but for "ahht film" directors, that's insane!)! Tonight, we'll look at the first three.

 

5:00 p.m.
Oh sure...THROW YOUR VOTE AWAY!
TANNER: A POLITICAL FABLE pt. 2

More from the irrascible Jack Tanner. He just wants to bring the truth back to politics. But the truth about WHAT?

 

6:05 p.m.
I wish movie posters were still this cool, too!
3 WOMEN

IYCFTR, DMT!!! Robert had a dream. He wrote it down and then filmed it. Watch as he decimates just about all of David Lynch's filmography, years before "Eraserhead"! Shelly Duval and Sissy Spacek trade personalities. Slowly. This is gonna be the bomb, I can't wait.

If this image doesn't make you wanna rush to see this, I don't know...

 

8:20 p.m.
Hear no wedding vows, see no wedding ceremony, speak no wedding vows?
A WEDDING

Another ensemble dramedy that takes place at a...yep, you guessed it. Stars Desi Arnaz, Jr., among many other Altman regulars (plus some Altman newcomers, like Carol Burnett and Mia Farrow). Noteworthy in that it's a large-ensemble, multi-story film that's only (only?!?!?) two hours long. Filmed after Altman made a sarcastic quip to an interviewer, saying that after 3 Women, he was going off to work as a wedding photographer for a while ("After this? I'm going to shoot a wedding.").

 

10:35 p.m.
Hey Paul, hey Paul, hey Paul, let's have a ball...while we play human backgammon!
QUINTET

"Bizarre & pretentious, with lots of religious symbolism" says Moviehound. Perfect! Paul Newman stars in Altman's attempt at a "sci-fi" flick. It's not about aliens, it's about human backgammon (how seventies!), I think.

 

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 11
MORE SMALL FILMS, ONE LAST STUDIO FILM, AND DEEP INTO OBSCURITY

Tonight, we'll look at the last two of Altman's late '70s "Small films," his next moment in the shade, and the film that marked what looked like a long hibernation through the '80s. He was actually busy, just not very prominent.

 

7:00 p.m.
Putting the morbid back into the breezy romantic comedy...where it belongs!
A PERFECT COUPLE

IYCFTR, DMT! Like many people renting films for Friday night, we'll start off with a "romantic comedy." Yep, Altman did do one, and it was never released on video! Paul Dooley (the guy in Waiting For Guffman who was probed by aliens, and sporadically has no feelings in his buttocks) goes computer dating and gets matched with a Joan Jett type. (I'm guessing the computer that does the matching has big reels of tape running back and forth, like in Westworld or The Andromeda Strain) She's in a band called something like Keep The Youth Off the Streets (WHY hasn't anybody taken that band name yet?) The hardest film to find by far (I hope it arrives on time)! Please come see this one...the more people attend, the less bad I'll feel about how much I had to pay to get it!

 

9:00 p.m.
Do you remember this guy? I swear I remember somebody on kids TV wearing a body suit with the vital organs on it! Who is that guy? Email me at cmsienko@yahoo.com and let me know!
H.E.A.L.T.H.

IYCFTR, DMT! A large ensemble piece, featuring more of Altman newcomer Carol Burnett! A satire on the country's newfound obsession with ultra-health. Looking at Altman and his considerable girth, I suspect he was not satirizing something near and dear to his heart! Maybe that's why this one has sunk without a trace for years.

 

11:00 p.m.
I yam what I yam, but I yam not what people were expecting.
POPEYE

Big profile and big budget, littler return on investment than anticipated, hated by moviegoers who only knew Popeye from the cartoons (not the comic strips); a musical whose songs were hated by Andrew Lloyd Webber morons. I promise you'll love the songs! Just try to get "He's Large" out of your head after you've heard it! The thuggish simplicity of the songs almost makes them feel (to me) like the Fugs of high-budget musicals! This movie is a lot different than you remember it being as a kid, i.e. really good.

 

1:15 a.m.
Come back! You forgot your sausages (okay, okay, I'll stop with the sausage jokes)
COME BACK TO THE FIVE & DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN

One of Altman's most critically beloved films of this era - this begins a long period of commercial obscurity, where Bob went sideways into theatre and TV (until the start of the '90s). A bit rare, featuring a great performance by Cher, apparently! The three founders of a local James Dean fan club get together 25 years later to tell each other how their lives have gone. Silly rabbit, of course it's depressing.

 

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12
THEATRE, TV, AND THE OCCASIONAL FORAY INTO "TEEN ROMP"

Just because you didn't see any Robert Altman films in the '80s doesn't mean he didn't make any! Lots of these are actually filmed versions of plays, which doesn't mean filming the stage of a broadway play, nor does it mean giving the play a full movie-ization, with everybody going to Tangiers and running around the globe scouting for locations. Most of 'em have an approach more like And Now For Something Completely Different, utilizing full non-TV sets, but still generally taking place in one or two rooms. And less projective acting style (not playing to the back row). Lots of odd choices for film projects here, from teen romps to Pinter plays.

 

10:00 a.m.
My background is clean as a whistle...cuz I'm so damn BORING!
TANNER: A POLITICAL FABLE pt. 3

Jack may not win the nomination, but he's going to leave some wild skidmarks on the campaign trail.

 

11:05 a.m.
Saving on sets, yet again
STREAMERS

Another antiwar film, this one taking place entirely in a barracks. Like an extended remix of the middle part of story two of Full Metal Jacket, maybe ("Well, Pilgrim, a day without blood is like a day without sunshine."). With Matthew Modine and David Allen-Grier.

Just wait 'til I get my big break on "In Living Color," THEN I'll show them...I'll show them all!!!!

 

1:15 p.m.
God damned hippies...
SECRET HONOR

Oh yea! A one-man show/film. Phillip Baker Hall plays Richard Nixon, stalking around the Oval Office, contemplating his undoing. One actor, 1 hour and 25. Be there!

 

2:50 p.m.
'ey! She say nice pants.
O.C. & STIGGS

I'm laughing more at the idea of an Altman-directed, National Lampoon-based "Zany Teen Romp" than we probably will during the film (though I've heard some good things about it, so maybe it'll be the sleeper hit of the festival?). "Adventures In Upper Middle-Class Suburbia" is the tagline, a slogan that most '80s ZTRs could have appropriated, had they any courage (Bueller? Bueller?). Features Dennis Hopper kind of reprising his role in Apocalypse Now.

 

4:50 p.m.
Aren't we all?FOOL FOR LOVE

A film of the Shepard play. What's the deal with this quarreling couple? Are they lovers? Divorced? No, it's much worse than that.

 

6:50 p.m.
Does this look like a Pinter play to YOU????THE DUMB WAITER

First of two Altmanizations of Harold Pinter plays. With John Travolta (guess Quentin wasn't the first person to try to revive the Scientologist lap dog's stillborn career) and Tom Conti. Two thugs wait endlessly for a new assignment that probably doesn't ever happen.

 

8:00 p.m.
The box makes this look like something you'd see on Cinemax After Dark
THE ROOM

More Pinter, aka "Basements."

 

9:00 p.m.
BOOB TIME!
LES BOREADES

Altman's short for the softcore boob-fest Aria. Hey, I meant it when I said "complete!"

 

9:20 p.m.
Beyond...humor?
BEYOND THERAPY

The film version of a play by Christopher Durang. Fans of the playwrite hate this, since his style is quick and zany, while Altman tends to meander through everything. With Jeff Goldblum, the delightful Julie Haggerty, and a small part from Christopher Guest.

 

11:20 p.m.
Abel decided to stay on board...
THE CAINE MUTINY COURT MARTIAL

A made-for-TV movie (based on a Herman Woulk book) that was apparently good enough to justify a video release. We'll see. With Jeff Daniels and Eric Bogosian.

 

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 13
RETURN TO THE TOP

For some reason, with the turn into the touchier and feelier 1990s, Altman suddenly was on top of the world again, with some of his biggest commercial successes since M*A*S*H. With the age of the blockbuster starting to wane (a bit, anyway) and the early itchings of smaller, talky films (I refuse to say "indie film movement") being popular again, it was time to get off the TV and back into the theatres.

 

12:00 p.m.
Give me a baby to shake and a hand to kiss!
TANNER: A POLITICAL FABLE pt. 4

Tanner's got a message for you. Will you accept the charges?

 

1:05 p.m.
Van Gogggggghhhhh...ptoo!
VINCENT & THEO

Beloved in France, despite absence of...no, I'm sorry, I can't do another Jerry Lewis/Frogs joke. Look at the script to The Day The Clown Cried instead. The long version (though not as long as the original version of this, a four hour TV program shown in France) of the Van Gogh story, starring Tim Roth in the lead role. My dad, a Van Gogh nut, has tried, unsuccessfully, twice, to sit through this film. Do YOU have what it takes? Well do you??

 

3:45 p.m.
Don't be a Player-hater!
THE PLAYER

Robert's return to public favor. A razor-sharp and McDonalds Coffee-scalding satire on the Hollywood moviemaking machine. Contains gratuitous (and well-done!) scenes of sex and violence, and not one, but TWO, pat Hollywood happy endings. Oh yeah, and like 65 celebrity cameos, playing themselves, sometimes quite amusingly (dig Burt Reynolds' one-word scene-stealer. Pot calling the kettle, Burt?). For all our friends in Rhode Island, this film is "Wicked smot."

 

6:00 p.m.
Dead Chick In The River (not the Sun City Girls song)
SHORT CUTS

The next large-ensemble, multi-story flick (see also Nashville and A Wedding), based on the short stories of Raymond Carver. Great performances by Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits, Jack Lemmon, Tim Robbins, Matthew Modine, Madeline Stowe, Chris Penn and Lyle Lovett. Also contains Julianne Moore's shining moment in cinema (you'll know it when you see it).

 

9:30 p.m.
The emperor has no...!
READY TO WEAR (PRET A PORTER)

A full-scale parody of the fashion industry, this one didn't fly so well, maybe because it sucked, maybe because few filmgoers know the fashion industry well enough to know what's being satirized. With Kim Basinger, Julia Roberts, Richard E. Grant, and many anorexic models, most of which get completely...nah, can't ruin the surprise ending. Like Gosford Park, a murder takes place, but it's not really the point of the plot.

 

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 18
JAZZ N' LEFTOVERS

A slow night this time. A few documentaries, one of Altman's most reviled films, and a fictionalized jam session. Probably not the most crucial night to be here, if you have to miss one to tend to social obligations (and that's all I'm allowing...you better be here for the other seven nights!).

 

7:00 p.m.
Measure twice, short cut once
LUCK, TRUST & KETCHUP: MAKING SHORT CUTS

A long and involved movie deserves a long and involved documentary. I would have liked to see more about the short stories this was based on, but there is a lot of talk with Ray Carver's widow that provides at least some context.

 

8:45 p.m.
Fine, don't vote for me, see if I care!
TANNER: A POLITICAL FABLE pts. 5 & 6

Join us for the last two installments of the Tanner saga, as the ever-affable Jack Tanner makes one final grab for the nomination.

 

11:00 p.m.
Ain't a pity!
KANSAS CITY

Oft-panned film is Altman's ode to the Kansas City of his youth (where he was raised). Lots of jazz, lots of violence, slow pace, some have cried racism, but knowing Altman, he's probably just trying to show "how bad it really is out there." Nope, haven't seen it.

 

1:15 a.m.
What's the word? Thunderbird!
ROBERT ALTMAN'S JAZZ '34

An epilogue to Kansas City, Robert decided to use the already-built sets and already-hired musicians to recreate a 1934 jazz session, with musicians playing the characters of Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, etc., but also playing the music (including a saxophone battle!).

 

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 19
PRESENT-DAY UPS & DOWNS

Today is the final day of the festival, and we get the mishmash that is the present day. From legal dramas to murder mysteries, we've got a variety of styles here (Altman really does appear to be trying to do one film in every conceivable genre, doesn't he?), some great, some not so. Closing up is a second documentary, cuz why not?

 

12:00 p.m.
I've got a clan of gingerbread men, here a man, there a man, lots of gingerbread men...take a couple if you wish, they're on the dish!
THE GINGERBREAD MAN

Like Stephen King, John Grisham has had a lot of his books made into paint-by-number movies. Like Stanley Kubrick with The Shining, Altman decided to paint on a big-people canvas. Think the blockbuster audiences flocked out to see this one? Did you see it? Hell, I never even heard of it until I started gathering stuff for this festival (the opening night's documentary gives some background on the whole debacle)! Hear Kenneth Branagh speak with a southern drawl!

 

2:10 p.m.
Fortune cookies don't lie! They're so sweet!
COOKIE'S FORTUNE

Not content to film at least one movie in every possible film genre, Altman is now creating new ones along the way. This is his "Thornton Wilder Parody." Thornton Wilder parody?!? I guess like Midnight In the Garden of Good & Evil, but not foul. With Glen Close and Liv Tyler.

 

4:20 p.m.
"Isn't that the head?" "Yeah." "Well, GO GET IT!"
DR. T & THE WOMEN

Ricahrd Gere plays a gynecologist controlled by the women in his life, some of them played by Farah Fawcett, Shelly Long, Helen Hunt and Liv Tyler (again). W.W.T.D.L.D.? (What Would The Dalai Lama Do?)

 

6:30 p.m.
Balaban '88!
GOSFORD PARK

Oops! Didn't get to filming ALL the movie archetypes yet. Forgot the Agatha Christie murder mystery (what about Victorian Costume Drama? Or does "Les Boreades" count?). Another big winner for Altman's Hollywood clout (and bankbook). You may have seen this film losing to inferior films at this year's Oscars.

 

9:15 p.m.
ROBERT ALTMAN ON HIS OWN TERMS (DOCUMENTARY)

A slightly more comprehensive documentary (from a pay-tv show), it has less film clips and more actual facts and history and stuff. It provided many of the anecdotes for the thumbnail reviews posted here (since I've seen less than 10% of these films). Narrated by Jeff Goldblum (yes, it is that annoying to listen to). Your souvenir festival program for the ride home. Thanks for coming! Now...

 

GO HOME! REST UP! THE "HALLOWEEN" FESTIVAL STARTS TOMORROW (THE 20th) AT 10:00 a.m.!!!