Robert Altman's 70s

Winter Repertory Series
Friday, January 26 - Thursday, February 1, 2007

In tribute to the great Robert Altman, who died at the age of 81 at the end of 2006, the Brattle offers this brief survey of some of his best known (and a few of his underrated) gems from the 1970s. Beginning with his breakout hit, war satire M*A*S*H*, and continuing through some of the most amusing, insightful, and thrilling filmmaking of that oh-so-fruitful period in American cinema, this series offers only a brief glimpse at the brilliance of this American treasure. We include a double-feature of his films with Elliott Gould (the superb neo-noir THE LONG GOODBYE and the gambling/buddy hijinks of CALIFORNIA SPLIT); his gritty neo-Western MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER; and the panorama of Country music offered in NASHVILLE, along with three rarely-screened gems: BREWSTER MCCLOUD, the mesmerizing 3 WOMEN, and the dreamlike IMAGES. Do not miss the chance to celebrate the inventive and influential direction of Robert Altman.

See below for full line-up, schedule and descriptions for this series.

» Read Brattle Film Notes for this series
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Film Descriptions

Fri 1/26 at (4:30), 7:00

(1970) dir Robert Altman w/Elliott Gould, Donald Sutherland, Sally Kellerman, Robert Duvall [116 min]

This anti-war classic single-handedly catapulted Altman from directing episodes of "Bonanza" and "Route 66" to being an Oscar-nominated Hollywood power. The overlapping dialogue, multilayered storylines and disdain for the establishment are already fully developed in Altman's first major film. Ostensibly about the Korean War, Altman doesn't even try to conceal that the hypocrisy of the Vietnam War and authoritarianism of the Army is the real target of his satire. In some ways, M*A*S*H* set the tone for the edgy films of the Seventies, making it okay for a studio to release an anti-establishment film and establishing Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland as two of the biggest stars of the decade.

Sat 1/27 at 2:00, 4:30, 7:00

(1971) dir Altman w/Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Rene Auberjonois, Shelley Duvall [120 min]

30 years before Deadwood, HBO's acclaimed, down-and-dirty Western series, Altman created his own realistic Western. With his usual grasp of character alchemy, Altman throws a charmingly scruffy Warren Beatty against an equally charming but entirely more put-together Julie Christie. Beatty plays a would-be ‘entertainment mogul' in a burgeoning mining town in the Pacific Northwest who teams up with professional madam Christie. The pair finds mutual success and, eventually, respect but when corporate interests threaten their endeavors, loyalties are sorely tested. Set in the winter wilderness of a young America, MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER is an absolutely stunning piece of work.

Read Brattle Film Notes for this film»

Sun 1/28 at 2:30, 7:30

Double Feature w/THE LONG GOODBYE
(1974) dir Robert Altman w/George Segal, Elliott Gould [108 min]

Manic Elliott Gould - who seems to be living with two part-time hookers - and gloomy George Segal - a magazine writer separated from his wife - breakfast on Fruit Loops and beer and team up for action, from the poker table to the track to the fights to to bets on the Seven Dwarfs, and, ultimately, to Vegas for craps, roulette and blackjack in obsessive search of that one big score. But what happens if they actually hit it? Altman described it, perhaps ironically, as a "celebration of gambling" and it skyrockets from the heady highs and rocket-paced blood flow of winning streaks to the dead, wrung-out feel of the flat busted, all orchestrated through Altman's first use of multi-track stereo to create a pointed and directed mosaic of his signature overlapping dialogue - or rather metalogue - of lines from stars to the most insignificant of bit players. - Notes adapted from Film Forum, NYC

Sun 1/28 at 5:00

(1973) dir Robert Altman w/Elliott Gould, Nina Van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Henry Gibson, Mark Rydell [112 min]

Altman's THE LONG GOODBYE is a masterpiece of genre revisionism, simultaneously deconstructing Hollywood conventions and remaining true to Raymond Chandler's vision, with help from writer Leigh Brackett (Hawks' The Big Sleep). A far cry from Bogart's cool, dominating Phillip Marlowe, Altman's hardboiled detective is comically adrift in 1970s LA, and Gould transforms Chandler's knight errant into an inept smart-aleck, floating through a baffling labyrinth of deceptions and double-crosses. A wonderful supporting cast populates this sinisterly sun-drenched world: an alcoholic writer (Hayden in a tour de force portrayal apparently channeling Hemingway), a quietly menacing psychiatrist (Gibson) and a sociopath gangster (Rydell). Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond's ‘flashing' technique gives the film its distinctive look, and the ingenious score by John Williams is comprised entirely of variations on a single song, here as supermarket muzak, there as a party sing-along, elsewhere as a late night radio tune. Altman at his most iconoclastic and engaging!

Mon 1/29 at 5:00, 7:30

(1977) dir Robert Altman w/Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek [123 min]

Twenty years before David Lynch started splintering personalities and swapping identities, Altman adapted his own dream (and a bit of Ingmar Bergman) to create this startlingly enigmatic psychodrama. "Thoroughly Modern" Millie (Duvall), a hapless would-be sophisticate, takes impressionable Southern waif Pinky (Spacek) in as her roommate at the Purple Sage singles complex, but Pinky's hero-worship soon grows darker and more sinister - and the film careens from a humorous send-up of life in an under-populated desert resort town to the chilling to the surreal. The anti-narrative often forgoes literal causality for ambiguous allusions and resonances, but it's all is held together by brilliant performances from Duvall and Spacek (for which they received awards from Cannes and the New York Critics Circle, respectively). An unexpected gem from the maestro of epic tapestries of Americana, 3 WOMEN is one of the most unusual and compelling films in Altman's oeuvre.

"Essential viewing for moviegoers adventurous enough to follow Altman's audacious quest for a new kind of moviemaking." - David Sterritt

Read Brattle Film Notes for this film»

Tue 1/30 at 8:00

(1970) dir Robert Altman w/Bud Court, Sally Kellerman, Michael Murphy, Shelley Duvall, Rene Auberjonois, Stacy Keach [106 min]

"One of the things about M*A*S*H was that people wanted to see it a second time. That's typical of the recent Robert Altman style; BREWSTER MCCLOUD is just as densely packed with words and action, and you keep thinking you're missing things. You probably are. It's that quality that's so attractive about these two Altman films. We get the sense of a live intelligence, rushing things ahead on the screen, not worrying whether we'll understand.

[BREWSTER MCCLOUD] concerns a young man who wants to build wings and fly (Cort), a steely-eyed detective (Murphy) and a tall blond who may or may not be the mysterious strangulation killer (Kellerman). There's also a Texas billionaire, a kooky bird lecturer, and more raven guano than you can shake a stick at. If you don't know what guano is, don't worry; the movie makes it abundantly clear, in word and in deed. There's even an expert scatologist to explain.

Anyway, the young man hides in the Houston Astrodome and works on his wings. The detective investigates the murders. The girl appears mysteriously whenever she's needed to help the young man. And beyond that, there's nothing I can tell you about the plot that would be of the slightest help. Altman's style is centrifugal, whirling off political allusions, jokes, double takes and anything else that flies loose from the narrative center." - Roger Ebert

Wed 1/31 at 8:00

(1972) dir Robert Altman w/Susannah York, Rene Auberjonois, Mugh Millais, Marcel Boffuzi [101 min]

For those who associate Altman with epic ensemble pieces like NASHVILLE and Short Cuts, this harrowing, expressionistic chamber piece will come as a surprise. Susannah York gives an amazing performance (justly awarded at Cannes) as a children's book writer who journeys with her husband (Auberjonois) to the country for a brief vacation, only to find former and potential lovers (both living and dead) wandering the cavernous, isolated cottage. Altman gradually creates an air of impending doom, immersing us in York's hallucinatory world, until we are as disoriented as her, and, in the end, just as devastated. Here, he treads the same ground as Polanski's Repulsion, but Altman's film is lush, drug-like, and sensuously baroque, benefiting from dreamy and hypnotic camerawork from Vilmos Zsigmond and an atmospheric avant-garde score from John Williams. Long believed to have been destroyed by Columbia, IMAGES is a rarely screened masterpiece.

"It sounds confusing, and by design, it often is, but Altman's skilled direction gives Images its own dreamlike internal logic." - Keith Phipps,

Thu 2/1 at (4:00), 7:00

(1975) dir Robert Altman w/Karen Black, Ronee Blakely, Ned Beatty, Keith Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Shelley Duvall, Henry Gibson, Scott Glenn, Jeff Goldblum, Lily Tomlin [159 min]

Oscar-nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actresses - twice (for both Tomlin and Blakely), NASHVILLE is one of Altman's greatest achievements: a sprawling, nearly-out-of-control epic portrait of America in its 200th year, a loosely-linked series of stories following numerous colorful characters in Music City for a political convention and music festival. Somehow, Altman pulls all the seemingly disparate threads together, making everything cohere in a funny, sad, poignant and exhilarating totality. Commenting on American political gullability, popular culture, stardom, the South, racism, American violence, the fall-out of the 1960s, and so much more, NASHVILLE is Altman's inexhaustible masterpiece. - Notes adapted from the American Cinematheque, LA

"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." - Molly Haskell

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