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Overview for Robert Altman
Robert Altman

Robert Altman

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Also Known As: Robert Bernard Altman,Robert B. Altman Died: November 20, 2006
Born: February 20, 1925 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Kansas City, Missouri, USA Profession: Director ... director producer screenwriter pilot
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BIOGRAPHY

nce many thought was impossible. But as he usually did following success, Altman faltered with his next project. This time it was the lighter, but similarly panoramic "Ready to Wear (Pret-a-Porter)" (1994), in which another highly varied collection of stars and character players enact roles in a satirical look at the world of haute couture during Paris fashion shows. Unlike his two previous films, however, "Ready to Wear" failed to provide any insight into the subject matter and the characters portrayed on screen, leaving critics and audiences to reject the glitzy but shallow proceedings.

Having survived far worse career reversals, Altman continued to tackle new projects, beginning with "Kansas City" (1996), a period urban gangster film set in the era of his earlier rural "Thieves Like Us." Miranda Richardson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Harry Belafonte starred in this tale of a telegraph operator who kidnaps the wife of a leading politician to secure her husband's release from death row. Short on plot, but full of wonderful jazz performances, "Kansas City" failed to fully connect with audiences. Meanwhile, Altman made a short-lived return to the small screen as the creator, executive producer and occasional director of "Gun" (ABC, 1997), an anthology series that followed individuals who came into contact with a high-powered, pearl-handled, semiautomatic weapon. Some critics were impressed, but audiences stayed away and only six episodes were aired. The following year, the director tackled "The Gingerbread Man" (1998), a legal thriller that marked the first original screenplay by author John Grisham. Grisham, however, objected to the changes made by Altman and removed his name from the final screenplay, while the releasing studio was reportedly unhappy with the director's ending and failed to support the movie upon its release. Despite receiving respectful reviews, the film was a box-office failure. Altman's next two films, the Southern Gothic "Cookie's Fortune" (1999), starring Glenn Close and Patricia Neal, and the satirical "Dr. T and the Women" (2000), starring Richard Gere as a wealthy gynecologist, were mildly praised by critics, but failed to spark much of a response with the movie-going public.

Altman had virtually tackled and inverted the conventions of nearly every genre in his long and distinguished career, save for the British whodunit. Longtime friend Bob Balaban proposed an idea for a murder mystery along the lines of an Agatha Christie novel and together they hammered out a sketchy outline. Then they hired actor Julian Fellowes ¿ whose previous screenwriting credits had been for the small screen ¿ to flesh out their outline of a shooting party at an English country house in 1932. The result, "Gosford Park" (2001), was Altman's most accessible and successful picture in years. The standard touches were all employed: an all-star ensemble representing the cream of British talent, including Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren, as well as rising talents like Clive Owen and Kelly Macdonald; a terrifically designed production with sets by the director's son, Stephen Altman; costumes by Oscar-winner Jenny Beavan; sweeping camera movements captured by director of photography Andrew Dunn; and a literate screenplay that was more an upstairs-downstairs class drama with the murder of the estates patriarch (Gambon) an afterthought. With critics hailing his effort and his stars lavishing praise, Altman arguably heard the most reverent accolades of his career on the way to "Gosford Park" earning seven Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Director.

Altman's next film, "The Company" (2003), an ensemble drama focusing on a company of dancers at the Joffrey Ballet co-written by the film's lead, actress and former dancer Neve Campbell, was a vividly graceful and beautifully elegant film that unfortunately possessed a rather threadbare and uninspired story. After revisiting the story of the politician Jack Tanner for the sequel miniseries "Tanner on Tanner" (Sundance Channel, 2004), Altman was selected to receive an honorary Oscar at the 78th Academy Awards. In accepting his award, Altman gave a modest, almost humble speech, declaring several times how grateful he was to have the opportunities given him. He went on to quip about the heart transplant he received from a woman in her mid-30s, which by his estimation was destined to add another 40 years to his career. Not letting his advanced age slow him down, Altman released his next film, "A Prairie Home Companion" (2006), to good reviews. Starring an ensemble cast that included Lily Tomlin, Meryl Streep, John C. Reilly, Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson and Lindsay Lohan, "A Prairie Home Companion" was a fictional take on Garrison Keillor's popular Saturday evening radio program that showcased various musical acts and featured the host's 20-minute long musings on the made-up town of Lake Wobegon. But the 40 years predicted by Altman unfortunately failed to materialize. On Nov. 20, 2006, mere months after accepting his honorary Oscar, Altman died of complications from leukemia at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 81.which focused on a disgraced former President Richard Nixon (Philip Baker Hall) delivering an 90-minute, rage-filled rant about all that went wrong during his time in the White House. Both films were dramatic departures from the freewheeling, relatively improvisational canvas films of the preceding decade; rigorous experiments that explored character in miniature with surprising fidelity to their theatrical sources. Paradoxically, Altman returned to carving a niche on the small screen, having worked on several made-for-television productions including "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial" (CBS, 1988) and the Gary Trudeau-penned political comedy "Tanner '88" (HBO, 1988), for which he won an Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series.

Treading water as a film director for much of the 1980s, Altman helmed such little-seen misfires like "Beyond Therapy" (1987) and "O.C. and Stiggs" (1987) before regaining critical attention with his handsomely filmed, quietly intense "Vincent and Theo" (1990). The film focused on the obsessive and erratic Vincent van Gogh (Tim Roth), a loner who manages to alienate all around him save for his dedicated and practical minded brother, Theo (Paul Rhys). Altman followed with his most acclaimed film in years and one of his most commercially successful ever, "The Player" (1992), a scathing look at Hollywood opportunism which reunited Altman's restless camera stylistics with his ironic take on popular culture. The film starred Tim Robbins as high-level studio executive, Griffin Mill, who begins receiving death threats from a disgruntled writer (Vincent D¿Onofrio) while trying to fend off an up-and-coming executive (Peter Gallagher) looking to take his job. He soon finds himself embroiled in the accidental homicide of the frustrated writer, leading Mills to desperately search for his own happy ending. Featuring some 60-odd celebrity cameos, as well as a seven-minute opening tracking shot that referenced "Touch of Evil" (1958) and "Rope" (1948), "The Player" was a return to form for Altman, who received Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Director.

Undoubtedly reinvigorated by success, Altman followed up with "Short Cuts" (1993), a return to the collage of portraits from the "Nashville" era that marked one of his most critically hailed films since his 1975 masterpiece. Twenty-two actors ¿ including Matthew Modine, Julianne Moore, Fred Ward, Andie McDowell and Jack Lemmon ¿ in nine different stories enacted Altman's take on writer Raymond Carver's stories of families and marital problems in a darkly rendered vision of Southern California life. Both sprawling and intimate without ever being overcrowded, "Short Cuts" was the director¿s second consecutive film to earn critical kudos, marking a resurge

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