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Vocapedia > Arts > Movies > Shooting


Director / filmmaker, Cinematographer,

Film / production designer, Costume designer,

Art directors, Sets, Studios





Godfrey Quigley as Dortmun approaches Daleks

in his wheelchair on another London street set

at Shepperton Studios,

where the production of Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D

 ran from January to March in 1966.


The Daleks invade 60s Surrey:

on the set of the classic Doctor Who films – in pictures

Dalekmania inspired Amicus films to buy up the cinema rights

to the Saturday tea-time television adventures of Dr Who,

leading to two films starring Peter Cushing


Fri 8 Jul 2022    10.31 BST





















Director Clint Eastwood 'J. Edgar' Interview



YouTube > Added by ClevverMovies    9 November 2011














director        UK














woman director        UK


















film-maker / filmmaker        UK










film-maker / filmmaker        USA












documentary filmmaker        USA










documentarian        USA














Oscar-winning film-maker        UK


























shot on film        USA


































art director        USA












movie set








on film sets        USA










on the set of N        UK












film set / set        USA


















dolly grip        USA


















Shepperton Studios        UK










UK > Gaumont's Shepherd's Bush studios








Pinewood Studios        UK












UK > Ealing Studios        UK / USA































location manager        USA


- May 6, 2009








be) shot on location in Manchester    UK







(be) shot on location

on a low-budget in 17 days








locations        UK










on location        UK


























prop        UK










prop-gun        USA












prop master        USA






















shooting sex scenes        USA











black and white photography










lens        UK








camera crew










camera operator





close-up        USA



















The cinematographer Michael Chapman

described the fight sequences as “arias”

– their operatic nature was achieved

only due to the painstaking work

put into them before the camera turned.


Scorsese asked that the boxing ring be extended,

cut into quarters and elongated by adding pieces to it.


Scorsese visited De Niro’s training sessions in New York,

which showcased LaMotta’s moves and techniques,

and broke down each bout they were to feature.


This allowed every fight to be choreographed

and storyboarded down to the finest detail.


Photograph: The Martin Scorsese Collection


The making of a heavyweight:

Scorsese and De Niro

behind the scenes of Raging Bull – in pictures

The award-winning biopic of Jake LaMotta

was released 40 years ago.

With these exclusive images, Jay Glennie,

who interviewed the cast and crew for a new book,

reveals secrets of the film’s shoot


Thu 11 Mar 2021    15.00 GMT

















USA > storyboard        UK


in-pictures - Guardian pictures gallery








USA > storyboard        UK






















Five Steadicam Milestones


A look at the camera operating system

that made “The Shining,” “Rocky”

and “Goodfellas” possible.




Dec. 16, 2016 | 3:05
















steadycam / Steadicam        USA












Cablecam        USA


a rope-mounted, remote-control camera system

that provides overhead and rapid-moving shots

for televised sporting events and films










pan        USA


anatomy-of-a-scene-the-revenant.html -  Jan. 13, 2016















film crew























director of photography / cinematographer        UK / USA




in-pictures - Guardian pictures gallery





















cinematography        UK







chiaroscuro photography
























diffused light









































In ‘Selma,’ Trench Coats Amid Protests

NYT    1 February 2015





In ‘Selma,’ Trench Coats Amid Protests

Video        The New York Times        1 February 2015


Ruth E. Carter, the costume designer for “Selma,”

explains how a heightened collar, colorful suits and coat pockets

help transport viewers back to the violent but hopeful days of 1965.


Produced by: Eugene Yi

Read the story here: http://nyti.ms/1v5tPSC

Watch more videos at: http://nytimes.com/video


















costume designer        UK










costume designer        USA






merge-african-history-with-afrofuturism.html -  Feb. 23, 2018 












USA > film designer / production designer        UK / USA
















designer > spacecraft        USA










Ronald Ray Cobb    Australia / USA    1937-2020


The storied career of the cartoonist

turned conceptual and production designer

took him to the stars and back,

working on films such as Star Wars,

Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien,

Total Recall and Back to the Future.


Cobb created elaborate aliens,

awe-inspiring spaceships

and unique landscapes,

and worked closely with James Cameron

and Steven Spielberg.










Ken Adam / Klaus Hugo Adam    Germany / USA    1921-2016


production designer

whose work on dozens of famous films

included the fantasy sets that established

the look of the James Bond series,

the car in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and,

for Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove,”

the sinister war room beneath the Pentagon










Theadora Van Runkle / Dorothy Schweppe    USA    1928-2011


self-taught costume designer

who earned an Oscar nomination

for her first picture, “Bonnie and Clyde,”

and whose signature outfit

for Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie Parker

— beret, calf-length skirt and sweater —

ignited a fashion trend

on the film’s release in 1967










costume designer > Gorgen Ray Aghayan    USA    1928-2011












Corpus of news articles


Arts > Film / Movies > Shooting


Director, Cinematographer,


Film / production designer,


Costume designer




Robert F. Boyle,

Film Designer for Hitchcock,

Dies at 100


August 3, 2010

The New York Times



Robert F. Boyle, the eminent Hollywood production designer who created some of the most memorable scenes and images in cinematic history — Cary Grant clinging to Mount Rushmore in “North by Northwest,” the bird’s-eye view of the seagull attack in “The Birds,” the colorfully ramshackle shtetl for “Fiddler on the Roof” — died on Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 100.

He died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and lived in Los Angeles, a son-in-law, John Biddle, said.

Mr. Boyle worked on more than 80 films as art director or production designer, synonyms for a job he once defined as “being responsible for the space in which a film takes place.”

As a young assistant fresh out of architecture school at the University of Southern California, he worked on the Cecil B. DeMille western “The Plainsman” (1936) and Fritz Lang’s “You and Me” (1938). Over the next six decades he worked with a long list of top directors, including Douglas Sirk, Richard Brooks and Norman Jewison.

At the 2008 Academy Awards, as his list of credits was read aloud, he stepped onto the stage to tumultuous applause to receive a special Oscar for his life’s work in art direction.

Mr. Boyle is best known for his work with Alfred Hitchcock, with whom he produced indelible scenes like the climactic struggle atop the Statue of Liberty in “Saboteur” and the crop-dusting sequence with Cary Grant in “North by Northwest,” not to mention the seagull attack in “The Birds.” He was also Hitchcock’s production designer for “Marnie.”

“It was a meeting of equals: the director who knew exactly what he wanted, and the art director who knew how to get it done,” Mr. Boyle told Film Comment in 1978.

His art direction earned him Academy Award nominations for “North by Northwest” and “Fiddler on the Roof” as well as for “Gaily, Gaily,” a period comedy set in early 20th-century Chicago, and “The Shootist,” John Wayne’s last film. He was also the subject of an Oscar-nominated 2000 documentary by Daniel Raim, “The Man on Lincoln’s Nose.”

“He was the last of the great art directors,” the director Norman Jewison said in an interview for this obituary. He worked with Mr. Boyle on “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Gaily, Gaily” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“His films have a look, an ambience, a setting that’s very real because of his scrupulous attention to detail,” Mr. Jewison added. “Every nuance he could bring to bear to make a film real, he’d do it. He was a real cinematic artist.”

Robert Francis Boyle was born on Oct. 10, 1909, in Los Angeles and grew up on a ranch in the San Joaquin Valley. His degree in architecture, which he received in 1933, was of little use during the Depression, so he began working as a bit player for RKO Pictures. Fascinated by set design, he introduced himself to the studio’s art director, who directed him to Paramount. There he was hired by the great art director Hans Dreier, and wound up doing a bit of everything.

“We were illustrators, draftsmen, we would supervise the construction on the sets,” he told an interviewer for the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1998. “We did almost anything that the art director thought we ought to do.”

After doing second-unit work on “The Plainsman,” with Gary Cooper, and “Union Pacific,” both directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and “Lives of a Bengal Lancer,” Mr. Boyle left Paramount to paint in Mexico but soon returned to the United States and began working for RKO and Universal. One of his first films for Universal was “The Wolf Man” (1941), with Lon Chaney Jr.

Art directors enjoyed a varied diet in those days. “We might be doing the Bengal Lancers one day and Ma and Pa Kettle the next and something else the next,” he told the Merrick Library. “Saboteur” (1942) was his first collaboration with Hitchcock and the beginning of a series of unforgettably suspenseful cinematic sequences. For the climactic battle between Robert Cummings and Norman Lloyd, Mr. Boyle and his team constructed a studio model of the hand and the torch of the Statue of Liberty. To create the illusion that Mr. Lloyd, the villain, was falling in an uncontrolled spin from a great height, Mr. Boyle twirled him on a revolving chair as a crane mounted with a camera swooped upward at dizzying speed.

Mr. Boyle worked with Hitchcock on one more film, “Shadow of a Doubt,” before serving in the Army Signal Corps in France and Germany as a combat photographer during World War II. After the war, they resumed their collaboration and he married Bess Taffel, a contract writer at RKO who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. She died in 2000. He is survived by two daughters, Emily Boyle, of Los Angeles, and Susan Licon, of Toledo, Ore., and three grandchildren.

Mr. Boyle’s touch is evident in the cleverly orchestrated Mount Rushmore sequence in “North by Northwest,” in which large-format still photographs were rear-projected using stereopticon slides. He also used studio mock-ups of sections of the stone heads — “just enough to put the actors on so we could get down shots, up shots, side shots, whatever we needed,” Mr. Boyle said. For the famous scene in which a crop-duster strafes Cary Grant on a desolate road, Mr. Boyle combined location footage with a toy airplane and toy truck on a miniature field created in the studio.

Mr. Boyle said that the attack sequence in “The Birds” may have been his trickiest bit of work. To simulate the point of view of the swooping birds descending on Tippi Hedren in a phone booth, Mr. Boyle and his team climbed a cliff overlooking an island off Santa Barbara, Calif., and photographed seagulls as assistants threw fish into the water, encouraging the birds to dive. Only the telephone booth was real. The town of Bodega Bay, actually a composite of several towns, was reproduced on mattes.

For “Gaily, Gaily,” Mr. Boyle recreated turn-of-the-century Chicago on a backlot at Universal, right down to the elevated tracks in the Loop. Notoriously finicky about locations, he traveled the length and breadth of Eastern Europe for “Fiddler on the Roof” before settling on a location in what was then Yugoslavia.

For “In Cold Blood,” Mr. Boyle took the opposite tack, using as a set the actual Kansas farmhouse where the murders took place that provided the material for the Truman Capote book on which the film was based.

Trickery for its own sake did not interest him. “If it doesn’t have any meaningful application to the story, it’s never a great shot,” he said.

Mr. Boyle took on projects of every description. He worked on Ma and Pa Kettle comedies and “Abbott and Costello Go to Mars.” He was the art director for Sam Fuller on “The Crimson Kimono” and for J. Lee Thompson on “Cape Fear.” He was the production designer for “The Shootist,” “Private Benjamin” and “Troop Beverly Hills.”

A movie, he said, “starts with the locale, with the environment that people live in, how they move within that environment.” Sometimes that environment has to be built.

“I’m all for construction, because we’re dealing with the magic of movies,” he told Variety in 2008. “And I always feel that if you build it, you build it for the dream rather than the actuality. We make up our own truth.”

Robert F. Boyle, Film Designer for Hitchcock, Dies at 100,






Sydney Pollack,

Film Director,

Is Dead at 73


May 27, 2008
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES — Sydney Pollack, a Hollywood mainstay as director, producer and sometime actor whose star-laden movies like “The Way We Were,” “Tootsie” and “Out of Africa” were among the most successful of the 1970s and ’80s, died Monday at home here. He was 73.

The cause was cancer, said the publicist Leslee Dart, who spoke for his family.

Mr. Pollack’s career defined an era in which big stars (Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Warren Beatty) and the filmmakers who knew how to wrangle them (Barry Levinson, Mike Nichols) retooled the Hollywood system. Savvy operators, they played studio against studio, staking their fortunes on pictures that served commerce without wholly abandoning art.

Hollywood honored Mr. Pollack in return. His movies received multiple Academy Award nominations, and as a director he won an Oscar for his work on the 1985 film “Out of Africa” as well as nominations for directing “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” (1969) and “Tootsie” (1982).

“Michael Clayton,” of which Mr. Pollack was a producer and a member of the cast, was nominated for a best picture Oscar earlier this year. He delivered a trademark performance as an old-bull lawyer who demands dark deeds from a subordinate, played by George Clooney. (“This is news? This case has reeked from Day 1!” snaps Mr. Pollack’s Marty Bach.) Most recently, Mr. Pollack portrayed the father of Patrick Dempsey’s character in “Made of Honor.”

Mr. Pollack became a prolific producer of independent films in the latter part of his career. With a partner, the filmmaker Anthony Minghella, he ran Mirage Enterprises, a production company whose films included Mr. Minghella’s “Cold Mountain” and the documentary “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” released in 2006, the last film directed by Mr. Pollack.

Mr. Minghella died in March, at the age of 54, of complications from surgery for tonsil cancer.

Apart from the Gehry documentary, Mr. Pollack never directed a movie without stars. His first feature, “The Slender Thread,” released by Paramount Pictures in 1965, starred Sidney Poitier and Anne Bancroft. In his next 19 films — every one a romance or drama but for the single comedy, “Tootsie” — Mr. Pollack worked with Burt Lancaster, Natalie Wood, Jane Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Nicole Kidman, Ms. Streisand and others. A frequent collaborator was Robert Redford.

“Sydney’s and my relationship both professionally and personally covers 40 years,” Mr. Redford said in an e-mailed statement. “It’s too personal to express in a sound bite.”

Sydney Irwin Pollack was born on July 1, 1934, in Lafayette, Ind., and reared in South Bend. By Mr. Pollack’s own account, in the book “World Film Directors,” his father, David, a pharmacist, and his mother, the former Rebecca Miller, were first-generation Russian-Americans who had met at Purdue University.

Mr. Pollack developed a love of drama at South Bend Central High School and, instead of going to college, went to New York and enrolled at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater. He studied there for two years under Sanford Meisner, who was in charge of its acting department, and remained for five more as Mr. Meisner’s assistant, teaching acting but also appearing onstage and in television.

Curly-haired and almost 6 feet 2 inches tall, Mr. Pollack had a notable role in a 1959 “Playhouse 90” telecast of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” an adaptation of the Hemingway novel directed by John Frankenheimer. Earlier, Mr. Pollack had appeared on Broadway with Zero Mostel in “A Stone for Danny Fisher” and with Katharine Cornell in “The Dark Is Light Enough.” But he said later that he probably could not have built a career as a leading man.

Instead, Mr. Pollack took the advice of Burt Lancaster, whom he had met while working with Mr. Frankenheimer, and turned to directing. Mr. Lancaster steered him to the entertainment mogul Lew Wasserman, and through him Mr. Pollack landed a directing assignment on the television series “Shotgun Slade.”

After a faltering start, he hit his stride on episodes of “Ben Casey,” “Naked City,” “The Fugitive” and other shows. In 1966 he won an Emmy for directing an episode of “Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater.”

From the time he made his first full-length feature, “The Slender Thread,” about a social work student coaxing a woman out of suicide on a help line, Mr. Pollack had a hit-and-miss relationship with the critics. Writing in The New York Times, A. H. Weiler deplored that film’s “sudsy waves of bathos.” Mr. Pollack himself later pronounced it “dreadful.”

But from the beginning of his movie career, he was also perceived as belonging to a generation whose work broke with the immediate past. In 1965, Charles Champlin, writing in The Los Angeles Times, compared Mr. Pollack to the director Elliot Silverstein, whose western spoof, “Cat Ballou,” had been released earlier that year, and Stuart Rosenberg, soon to be famous for “Cool Hand Luke” (1967). Mr. Champlin cited all three as artists who had used television rather than B movies to learn their craft.

Self-critical and never quite at ease with Hollywood, Mr. Pollack voiced a constant yearning for creative prerogatives more common on the stage. Yet he dived into the fray. In 1970, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,” his bleak fable of love and death among marathon dancers in the Great Depression, based on a Horace McCoy novel, received nine Oscar nominations, including the one for directing. (Gig Young won the best supporting actor award for his performance.)

Two years later, Mr. Pollack made the mountain-man saga “Jeremiah Johnson,” one of three closely spaced pictures in which he directed Mr. Redford.

The second of those, “The Way We Were,” about ill-fated lovers who meet up later in life, also starred Ms. Streisand and was a huge hit despite critical hostility.

The next, “Three Days of the Condor,” another hit, about a bookish C.I.A. worker thrust into a mystery, did somewhat better with the critics. “Tense and involving,” said Roger Ebert in The Chicago Sun-Times.

With “Absence of Malice” in 1981, Mr. Pollack entered the realm of public debate. The film’s story of a newspaper reporter (Sally Field) who is fed a false story by federal officials trying to squeeze information from a businessman (Paul Newman) was widely viewed as a corrective to the adulation of investigative reporters that followed Alan J. Pakula’s hit movie “All the President’s Men,” with its portrayal of the Watergate scandal.

But only with “Tootsie,” in 1982, did Mr. Pollack become a fully realized Hollywood player. By then he was represented by Michael S. Ovitz and the rapidly expanding Creative Artists Agency. So was his leading man, Dustin Hoffman.

As the film — a comedy about a struggling actor who disguises himself as a woman to get a coveted television part — was being shot for Columbia Pictures, Mr. Pollack and Mr. Hoffman became embroiled in a semi-public feud, with Mr. Ovitz running shuttle diplomacy between them.

Mr. Hoffman, who had initiated the project, argued for a more broadly comic approach. But Mr. Pollack — who played Mr. Hoffman’s agent in the film — was drawn to the seemingly doomed romance between the cross-dressing Hoffman character and the actress played by Jessica Lange.

If Mr. Pollack did not prevail on all points, he tipped the film in his own direction. Meanwhile, the movie came in behind schedule, over budget and surrounded by bad buzz.

Yet “Tootsie” was also a winner. It took in more than $177 million domestically and received 10 Oscar nominations, including for best picture. (Ms. Lange took home the film’s only Oscar, for best supporting actress.)

Backed by Mr. Ovitz, Mr. Pollack expanded his reach in the wake of success. Over the next several years, he worked closely with both TriStar Pictures, where he was creative consultant, and Universal, where Mirage, his production company, set up shop in 1986.

Mr. Pollack reached perhaps his pinnacle with “Out of Africa.” The film, based on the memoirs of Isak Dinesen, paired Ms. Streep and Mr. Redford in a drama that reworked one of the director’s favorite themes, that of star-crossed lovers. It captured Oscars for best picture and best director.

Still, Mr. Pollack remained uneasy about his cinematic skills. “I was never what I would call a great shooter or visual stylist,” he told an interviewer for American Cinematographer last year. And he developed a reputation for caution when it came to directing assignments. Time after time, he expressed interest in directing projects, only to back away. At one point he was to make “Rain Man,” a Dustin Hoffman picture ultimately directed by Mr. Levinson; at another, an adaptation of “The Night Manager” by John le Carré.

That wariness was undoubtedly fed by his experience with “Havana,” a 1990 film that was to be his last with Mr. Redford. It seemed to please no one, though Mr. Pollack defended it. “To tell you the truth, if I knew what was wrong, I’d have fixed it,” Mr. Pollack told The Los Angeles Times in 1993.

“The Firm,” with Tom Cruise, was a hit that year. But “Sabrina” (1995) and “Random Hearts” (1999), both with Harrison Ford, and “The Interpreter” (2005), with Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, fell short, as Hollywood and its primary audience increasingly eschewed stars for fantasy and special effects.

Mr. Pollack never stopped acting; in a recent episode of “Entourage,” the HBO series about Hollywood, he played himself.

Among Mr. Pollack’s survivors are two daughters, Rebecca Pollack and Rachel Pollack, and his wife, Claire Griswold. The couple married in 1958, while Mr. Pollack was serving a two-year hitch in the Army. Their only son, Steven, died at age 34 in a 1993 plane crash in Santa Monica, Calif.

In his later years, Mr. Pollack appeared to relish his role as elder statesman. At various times he was executive director of the Actors Studio West, chairman of American Cinematheque and an advocate for artists’ rights.

He increasingly sounded wistful notes about the disappearance of the Hollywood he knew in his prime. “The middle ground is now gone,” Mr. Pollack said in the fall 1998 issue of New Perspectives Quarterly. He added, with a nod to a fellow filmmaker: “It is not impossible to make mainstream films which are really good. Costa-Gavras once said that accidents can happen.”




By Sydney Pollack

A selected filmography: “The Slender Thread” (1965)
“This Property Is Condemned” (1966)
“The Scalphunters” (1968)
“The Swimmer” (1968) (uncredited)
“Castle Keep” (1969)
“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” (1969)
“Jeremiah Johnson” (1972)
“The Way We Were” (1973)
“The Yakuza” (1974)
“Three Days of the Condor” (1975)
“Bobby Deerfield” (1977)
“The Electric Horseman” (1979)
“Absence of Malice” (1981)
“Tootsie” (1982)
“Out of Africa” (1985)
“Havana” (1990)
“The Firm” (1993)
“Sabrina” (1995)
“Random Hearts” (1999)
“The Interpreter” (2005)
“Sketches of Frank Gehry” (2005)

Sydney Pollack, Film Director, Is Dead at 73,
27 May 2008,






Michelangelo Antonioni, 94,

Italian Director,



July 31, 2007
The New York Times


Michelangelo Antonioni, the Italian director whose chilly canticles of alienation were cornerstones of international filmmaking in the 1960s, inspiring intense measures of admiration, denunciation and confusion, died on Monday at his home in Rome, Italian news media reported today. He was 94. He died on the same day as Ingmar Bergman, the Swedish filmmaker who died at his home in Sweden earlier Monday.

“With Antonioni, not only has one of the greatest living directors been lost, but also a master of the modern screen,” said the mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni. His office said it was making plans for Mr. Antonioni’s body to lie in state on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

Tall, cerebral and resolutely serious, Mr. Antonioni harkens back to a time in the middle of the last century when cinema-going was an intellectual pursuit, when purposely opaque passages in famously difficult films spurred long nights of smoky argument at sidewalk cafes, and when fashionable directors like Mr. Antonioni, Alain Resnais and Jean-Luc Godard were chased down the Cannes waterfront by camera-wielding cineastes demanding to know what on earth they meant by their latest outrage.

Mr. Antonioni is probably best known for “Blow-Up,” a 1966 drama set in Swinging London about a fashion photographer who comes to believe that a photograph he took of two lovers in a public park also shows, hidden in the background, evidence of a murder. But his true, lasting contribution to cinema resides in an earlier trilogy — “L’Avventura” in 1959, “La Notte” in 1960 and “L’Eclisse” in 1962 — which explores the filmmaker’s tormented central vision that people had become emotionally unglued from one another.

This vision of the apartness of people was expressed near the end of “La Notte,” when his star Monica Vitti observes, “Each time I have tried to communicate with someone, love has disappeared.”

In a generation of rule-breakers, Mr. Antonioni was one of the most subversive and venerated. He challenged moviegoers with an intense focus on intentionally vague characters and a disdain for such mainstream conventions as plot, pacing and clarity. He would raise questions and never answer them, have his characters act in self-destructive ways and fail to explain why, and hold his shots so long that the actors sometimes slipped out of character.

It was all part of the director’s design. As Mr. Antonioni explained, “The after-effects of an emotion scene, it had occurred to me, might have meaning, too, both on the actor and on the psychological advancement of the character.”

Mr. Antonioni broke other conventions, too. Many of his editing cuts, angles and camera movements were intentionally odd, and he frequently posed his characters in a highly formalized way. He employed point-of-view shots only rarely, a practice that helped erect an emotional shield between the audience and his puzzling characters.

“What is impressive about Antonioni’s films is not that they are good,” the film scholar Seymour Chatman wrote. “But that they have been made at all.”

Perhaps the defining moment in Mr. Antonioni’s career came on the night “LAvventura” was screened at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival. Many in the audience walked out and there were numerous boos, catcalls and whistles. The director and Monica Vitti thought their careers were over.

But later that night, Roberto Rossellini and a group of other influential filmmakers and critics drafted a statement which they released the following morning. “Aware of the exceptional importance of Michelangelo Antonioni’s film, ‘L’Avventura,’ and appalled by the displays of hostility it has aroused, the undersigned critics and members of the profession are anxious to express their admiration for the maker of this film,” they wrote.

One of the great legends of iconoclastic filmmaking — how being booed at Cannes could become a badge of honor — was born.

“L’Avventura” went on to win the festival’s Special Jury Prize and become an international box-office hit, spurring furious debate. Some found the film pointless; others read reams of meaning into its languid predicaments. Mr. Antonioni’s international reputation was made.

The next year, Sight and Sound, the influential British film magazine, polled 70 leading critics from around the world and they not only endorsed “L’Avventura,” but they also chose it as the second-greatest film ever made, just behind “Citizen Kane.’

After burnishing his reputation in the early 1960s, Mr. Antonioni surprised many by trying to make movies with Hollywood’s backing. He fumbled, saw his audience and his celebrity dissipate, and came to make fewer and fewer films.

“My subjects are, in a very general sense, autobiographical,” he once wrote. “The story is first built through discussions with a collaborator. In the case of “L’Eclisse,” the discussions went on for four months. The writing was then done, by myself, taking perhaps fifteen days. My scripts are not formal screenplays, but rather dialogue for the actors and a series of notes to the director. When shooting begins, there is invariably a great amount of changing. When I go on the set of a scene, I insist on remaining alone for at least twenty minutes. I have no preconceived ideas of how the scene should be done, but wait instead for the ideas to come that will tell me how to begin.”

The world of an Antonioni film “is a world of people alienated from one another,” wrote Andrew Turner in his book “World Film Directors” (1968). “Their actions have no meaning or coherence, and even the most fundamental of emotions, love, seems unsustainable.’

Interviewers also found Mr. Antonioni to be a cool, combative subject. “Even when he is telling stories about himself, Antonioni’s face remains set in its habitually serious expression,” Melton S. Davis wrote in a 1964 profile for The New York Times Magazine. “Precise in manner, conservative in dress and quiet in speech, he could be taken for a banker or art dealer recounting an unfortunate business deal.”

But Mr. Antonioni could also be graciously charming. Sometimes, interviewers said, the director’s shrewd green eyes would soften and his lips would curl into a smile that some described as ironic, others as chilly.

Michaelangelo Antonioni was born on September 29,1912 into a well-to-do family of landowners in Ferrara, in northern Italy, a town that he described as a “marvelous little city on the Paduan plain, antique and silent.” Around the age of ten, his family remembered, Michelangelo began to design puppets and to build model sets for them. Later, as a teenager, he became interested in oil painting, favoring portraits to landscapes.

He attended the University of Bologna and earned a degree in economics and commerce in 1935. But it was at the university that he also began to write stories and plays and to direct some of them. He was a founder of the university’s theatrical troupe and one of the its leading tennis champions. He also wrote scathing reviews of both American and Italian genre films for the local paper, and decided to try his own hand at filmmaking.

Mr. Antonioni wanted to make a realistic documentary about the local insane asylum. The patients helped him set up the equipment. Then, he turned on the bright floodlights.

The patients went berserk, he later wrote, “and their faces — which before had been calm — became convulsed and devastated. And then it was our turn to be petrified. The cameraman did not even have the strength to stop his machine, nor was I capable of giving any orders whatever. It was the director of the asylum who finally cried, “Stop! Lights out!” And in the half-darkened room we could see a swarm of bodies twisting as if in the last throes of a death agony.”

Mr. Antonioni decided to give up filmmaking.

In 1940, at the age of 27, he moved to Rome to work as a secretary to Count Vittori Cini. The job didn’t last long. He worked as a bank teller and joined the staff of Cinema magazine, edited by Benito Mussolini’s son, Vittorio. During this period, Mr. Antonioni dropped his aversion to filmmaking and took classes at the Institute of Experimental Filmmaking. His wrote some screenplays, including “Un Pilota Ritorna” (The Return of the Pilot) in 1942 in collaboration with another budding director, Roberto Rossellini.

In 1943, Mr. Antonioni returned to Ferrara and found a local merchant willing to bankroll his first film, a documentary called “Gente del Po” (People of the Po Valley), about the wretched lives of local fishermen. The German occupying forces destroyed much of the footage, though a few scraps survived and became a nine-minute curtain-raiser at the 1947 Venice Film Festival for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound.”

After the war, Mr. Antonioni wrote more film criticism and continued making short documentaries. All the while he became increasingly skeptical about the neo-realist movement, which dominated Italian filmmaking, and its relentless focus on substandard social conditions. He yearned to look beyond such things and into the hearts of individuals. “His films were about street sweepers, not street sweeping,” is the way the film critic Robert Haller put it. But no one would let him make the kind of films he wanted to make.

“For ten years, the movies forced me not to use ideas but empty words, cleverness, business sense, patience, stratagems,” Mr. Antonioni wrote in an introduction to a 1963 collection of his screenplays. “I am so scantily blessed with such gifts that I recall that period as being the most painful one in my life.’

At age 38, Mr. Antonioni found backing for his most ambitious, non-documentary project, “Cronaca di un Amore” (Story of a Love). Ostensibly about a man and woman plotting to kill her husband, it turned out to be the earliest example of Mr. Antonioni’s approach. In the film, the husband dies, but it is unclear whether he was murdered, committed suicide or died by accident. This whole plot line vanishes and the film, instead, focuses on the lover’s emotions.

As with later Antonioni films, the settings were stark, the scenes fussily composed, the shots held a few beats longer than necessary. The film won the Grand Prix International at the Festival of Punta del Este in 1951.

In 1954, his 12-year marriage to the former Letizia Balboni fell apart. She later told interviewers that the director had become increasingly remote. “We lived in silence,” she said. “We reached the point where we communicated with each other only through the characters he created and about whom he wanted my advice. He has only one way of expressing himself: His work. What he does is have his actors live out emotional crises in his films, by proxy living out the crises in his own life.’

Mr. Antonioni sank into a deep depression. His insomnia worsened. Often he spent the early morning hours writing screenplays.

In 1955, at the height of this crisis, Mr. Antonioni had his first important artistic triumph. “Le Amiche” (The Girlfriends)” was about the mundane, loveless lives of a group of middle-class women in Turin. It won a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

Mr. Antonioni began experimenting more with improvisation on the set. “It’s only when I press my eye against the camera and begin to move the actors that I get an exact idea of the scene,” he wrote. He used this technique extensively in “Il Grido (The Outcry)” in 1957, probably the grimmest of his films.

It was while shooting “Il Grido” that Mr. Antonioni met a young stage actress named Monica Vitti, who would become his greatest and most enduring star, and his almost constant companion during much of the “60s.

For two years, Mr. Antonioni could not find a producer to back him. Finally, in 1959, he found someone and finished a screenplay that had been burning in the back of his mind for a long time. But “L’Avventura” almost died before it was born. Chronically short of money, his producer eventually pulled out of the project just as Mr. Antonioni and the actors were working on a craggy island near Sicily.

“It had gotten to the point where there was no food,” Mr. Antonioni remembered. “One crew deserted us. We got hold of another crew and they, too, left. I had 20,000 meters of film and the actors stayed, so I carried the camera on my back and continued shooting.” Eventually, a new producer appeared.

“L’Avventura” proved to be the turning point in his career and is widely regarded as Mr. Antonioni’s masterpiece.

As with most of Mr. Antonioni’s films, it focuses on the comfortable, ennervated lives of well-to-do Italians, in this case a group of friends on a yachting trip. Without warning, during a visit to a wave-thrashed atoll, one of them, an emotionally distraught woman named Anna, simply vanishes. Had she drowned herself because her lover, Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), seemed in no hurry to marry her? Had she hurled herself off a cliff in a fit of ennui? Had she been swallowed by the shark she claimed to have seen? Or had she fled on another boat?

The small island is searched. It rains. Police arrive. Then, gradually, Sandro develops an attraction to Anna’s best friend, Claudia (Ms. Vitti). She resists, then warms to him. Eventually, they stop mentioning Anna at all. The search is forgotten. Sandro betrays Claudia, for no apparent reason. We never discover what happened to Anna.

In “L’Avventura,” Mr. Antonioni’s singular technique can be seen in full flower. “The overwhelming sense of estrangement conveyed by “L’Avventura” is as much a product of the style of the movie as of its events or dialogue,” Mr. Turner wrote.

The director rapidly found backing for his next two films, which further explored the themes of alienation he introduced in “L’Avventura” and which he later said were meant to be seen as a trilogy.

In “La Notte” (The Night),” Marcello Mastroianni plays an author with writer’s block suffering through his loveless marriage to Jeanne Moreau . He meets a young woman at a party, played by Ms. Vitti, who he believes personifies the creativity that has abandoned him. The film won the Golden Bear at the 1961 Berlin Film Festival.

“L’Eclisse” (The Eclipse)” most directly addressed the alienating effects of material wealth, following the love affair of a young woman of simple tastes, Ms. Vitti again, and a money-hungry stockbroker (Alain Delon).

The film’s ending is much discussed. Abandoning the principal characters, the film closes with a montage several minutes long composed of 58 shots, most of them on or near a street corner where the lovers used to meet. Water seeps from a barrel. The brakes on a bus screech. A fountain is turned off. An airplane zooms overhead. Finally, with the street corner dark and empty, the camera zooms in on the white, annihilating glare of a streetlight. The end.

Mr. Antonioni said he intended the ending to show “the eclipse of all feelings,” and saw it as a coda both to the film and to the entire trilogy. But he also wanted different people to read different meanings into his work. “There may be meanings, but they are different for all of us,” he told an interviewer.

In 1964, Mr. Antonioni made his first color film, “Il Deserto Rosso (Red Desert)” with Richard Harris. It, too, starred Ms. Vitti, as a woman coming gradually unhinged. To mirror her mental state, the director used color in very unusual ways, having houses and even trees painted bright colors and then changing those colors from scene to scene.

By the mid-’60s, Mr. Antonioni was one of the most famous and controversial film directors in the world; his movies were screened regularly on the global festival circuit and the auteur was the subject of countless essays and magazine articles. Inevitably, a Hollywood studio, in this case MGM, came calling. Not so inevitably, Mr. Antonioni welcomed them, signing a three-picture deal.

“Blow-Up” was his first effort for the studio. Filmed in English, with the British stars David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave in the hip milieu of the swinging London fashion scene, “Blow-Up” became the director’s biggest hit. It was also, stylistically, different from his previous films, more conventionally plotted and faster-paced, though still fundamentally ambiguous.

Following its commercial and critical success, Mr. Antonioni came to America to make his first big-budget film, and chose the student protest movement as his subject. “Zabriskie Point” (1970) was the result and it was a disaster.

Though some foreign critics praised the film, it was almost universally panned in the United States. “To many critics, it seemed as if the director, who had begun the decade in absolute control of his medium, was ending it in something approaching total confusion,” Mr. Turner wrote.

“Zabriskie Point” was a box-office flop for MGM, one of the biggest financial failures of its day. Mr. Antonioni was devastated and, in many ways, his career never recovered. Certainly, his most fertile creative period was over. He had made six films in the 1960s, many of them regarded as masterpieces, but would make only three more films in the ensuing quarter-century.

But Mr. Antonioni recaptured some of his previous critical respect with 1975’s “The Passenger,” starring Jack Nicholson as a reporter in North Africa who assumes the identity of a gun-runner. The film closes with a famous, 10-minute continuous tracking shot in which Mr. Nicholson is seen in his hotel room, waiting to be killed. The camera pulls out of the room and meanders through the courtyard. People and objects move in and out of the seamless shot before the camera comes full circle and re-enters the hotel room to find Mr. Nicholson dead. “ ‘The Passenger’ leaves no doubt about Antonioni’s mastery,” wrote the film critic David Thomson, who called it “one of the great films of the ’70s.”

Following “The Passenger,” Mr. Antonioni announced he wanted to take some time to study new technologies and spent five years doing so, before Ms. Vitti asked him to return to directing with a 1980 Italian television film called “Il Mistery di Oberwald” (The Mystery of Oberwald).” Shot on videotape and transferred to film, it was substantially lighter than his previous works. This, he said, allowed him to “escape from the difficulty of moral and esthetic commitment, from the obsessive desire to express oneself.” It was awarded a silver ribbon for visual effects at the 1980 Venice Film Festival, but made little international impact.

Mr. Antonioni made his final commercial film, “Identificazione di una donna” (Identification of a Woman) in 1982, about a man who has affairs with two women following the death of his wife. It won a Grand Prix at the Cannes festival that year.

In 1985, while working on a film adaptation of a short story he had written in 1976, Mr. Antonioni suffered a stroke and the project was put aside. He married the next year for the second time, to the former Enrica Fico, and they lived quietly in an apartment in Rome. She was at his side when he died, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. He had no children, The Associated Press reported.

Mr. Antonioni worked on an Italian television documentary built around the 1990 World Cup soccer championship, but did not direct again until 1995 when Italian producers lured him out of retirement to make a film, “Beyond the Clouds,” based on a book of stories Mr. Antonioni had written. Since his stroke, Mr. Antonioni had difficulty speaking more than a few words at a time, so much of the work was done by his wife, Enrica, who energetically interpreted the director’s demands. The film starred Jeanne Moreau and Jeremy Irons. The reemergence of Mr. Antonioni spurred the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to present him with a Lifetime Achievment Award in 1995.

Mr. Antonioni began directing again in his 90s. He collaborated with Steven Soderbergh and Wong Kar-wai, the Hong Kong director, on a trilogy about love and sexuality called Eros, which was released in 2004. He also made a short film called Lo Sguardo di Michelangelo.To his champions, like David Thomson, “the predicament of the world’s greatest living filmmaker unable to work is a fit subject for one of his mediations.”

For Mr. Thomson, “The enigmas in Antonioni’s work are as subject to time as monuments are to erosion, and the achievements of some films can offset or explain the apparent,or early, limits of others. For example, ‘The Passenger’ helped us to see the longing for escape and space in ‘L’Avventura’ and illuminated the persistence of life at the end of ‘L’EcLisse.I suspect that Antonioni’s best films will continue to grow and shift, like dunes in the centuries of desert. In that process, if there are eyes left to look, he will become a standard for beauty.”

But for others Mr. Antonioni remained not only enigmatic, but also unreachable to the end.

One interviewer asked him to look back over his life. “In a world without film, what would you have made?” he was asked.

Mr. Antonioni replied: “Film.”


Christine Hauser and Graham Bowley

contributed reporting for this article.

Michelangelo Antonioni, 94, Italian Director, Dies,
31 July 2007,






The master:

Ingmar Bergman

1918 - 2007


Published: 31 July 2007
The Independent
By Paul Schrader,
film director and screenwriter
of 'Taxi Driver'


I would not have made any of my films or written scripts such as Taxi Driver had it not been for Ingmar Bergman.

His death, at the age of 89, may not have been a surprise. He was an old man. But what he has left is a legacy greater than any other director. He made film-making a serious and introspective enterprise. No one had been able to pull that off until he showed up. I really wasn't that interested in being a film-maker, except in the way that Bergman redefined what you could be as a film-maker.

I think the extraordinary thing that Bergman will be remembered for, other than his body of work, was that

he probably did more than anyone to make cinema a medium of personal and introspective value. Movies by nature are, of course, very commercially driven and very accessible. No one really used cinema as private personal expression in that way. Bergman showed that you could actually do movies that were personal introspections and have them seen by general audiences.

For an entire generation, starting in the 1960s, it was a whole new way to see the very nature of cinema. It is impossible for anyone of my generation not to have been influenced by Bergman. That is just a matter of fact. He cut too wide a path down the history of cinema not to influence everybody. I can remember vividly my first taste of a Bergman film. Through a Glass Darkly, the first of Bergman's trilogy of films with Winter Light and The Silence, when I was about 17, at our local little cinema in Grand Rapids, Michigan, while I was at college. It was probably the fourth or fifth serious film I had ever seen and it just took me unawares. I had no idea that movies could be a serious enterprise.

He has a handful of masterpieces, but the film that stands above all the others is Persona. He has done a lot of visceral, painful work - even his last film, Saraband, is extraordinary - but Persona really brings together all his personal demons, as well as his relationships with women.

It's not like we have lost an ongoing voice. His body of work was completed. So we are losing one of the saints in the pantheon, which is sad to note, but it is actually an occasion to appreciate what has been left behind.

Not all his films were great. I'm not a big fan of the family reminiscence stuff which is Fanny and Alexander. I wasn't knocked out by the early domestic comedies such as Smiles of a Summer Night. After The Virgin Spring in 1959 and Through a Glass Darkly in 1961, then it really starts getting interesting. Persona was the pinnacle of that. Coming as it did in 1966, it was the great seminal film during the great seminal years of the acme of cinema. Once you got into that trilogy of Persona, The Hour of the Wolf and The Shame, it's just incredible. He reinvented himself in 1973 with Scenes from a Marriage, then he went back to the theme for Saraband, another major piece of work, in 2003.

Time magazine had a wonderful opening line in its review of Saraband. "He's old. He's old fashioned. He's out of date. How dare Ingmar Bergman make a great movie."

There are a lot of directors who are poets behind a camera. Bergman is more of the metaphysician behind the camera. Persona was his boldest film - and the Swedish cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who was shooting the films, did a lot of very interesting work in that film such as over exposures, letting stuff burn out, the way that light and dark contrasted in ways that were previously considered unacceptable and breaking some of those rules.

I was a big Bergman fan so I would tend to see each of his films the first day they were released if I was in a city where they were being shown. I do remember the anticipation of going to that first show the first day. He obviously played a role in my choice to be a critic and then to be a film-maker, and in my decision to take film seriously.




Last of the greats

* Woody Allen: "He was a friend and certainly the finest film director of my lifetime."

* Richard Attenborough: "The world has lost one of its very greatest film-makers. He taught us all so much throughout his life."

* Lars von Trier" "I am proud to say he treated me exactly like his other children - with no interest whatsoever."

* Bille August, Danish director: "He was the last big director left. The three big ones for me were Kurosawa, Fellini and Bergman. The two others had already passed and now Ingmar has also left us. He leaves a big vacuum behind. He was such an incredible, unusually bright person."

The master: Ingmar Bergman 1918 - 2007, I, 31.7.2007,
article2819580.ece - broken link






Robert Altman,

Director With Daring,

Dies at 81


November 22, 2006

The New York Times



Robert Altman, one of the most adventurous and influential American directors of the late 20th century, a filmmaker whose iconoclastic career spanned more than five decades but whose stamp was felt most forcefully in one, the 1970s, died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 81.

His death, at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, was caused by complications of cancer, his company in New York, Sandcastle 5 Productions, announced. A spokesman said Mr. Altman had learned that he had cancer 18 months ago but continued to work, shooting his final film, “A Prairie Home Companion,” which was released in June, and most recently completing pre-production on a new film that he intended to begin shooting in February.

Mr. Altman had a heart transplant in the mid-1990s, a fact he publicly revealed for the first time last March while accepting an honorary Oscar at the Academy Awards ceremony.

A risk taker with a tendency toward mischief, Mr. Altman put together something of a late-career comeback capped in 2001 by “Gosford Park,” a multiple Oscar nominee. But he may be best remembered for a run of masterly films — six in five years — that propelled him to the forefront of American directors and culminated in 1975 with what many regard as his greatest film, “Nashville,” a complex, character-filled drama told against the backdrop of a presidential primary.

They were free-wheeling, genre-bending films that captured the jaded disillusionment of the ’70s. The best known was “MASH,” the 1970 comedy that was set in a field hospital during the Korean war but that was clearly aimed at antiwar sentiments engendered by Vietnam. Its success, both critically and at the box office, opened the way for Mr. Altman to pursue his ambitions.

In 1971 he took on the western, making “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” with Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. In 1972, he dramatized a woman’s psychological disintegration in “Images,” starring Susannah York. In 1973, he tackled the private-eye genre with a somewhat loopy adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s “The Long Goodbye,” with the laid-back Elliott Gould playing Philip Marlowe as a ’70s retro-hipster. And in 1974 he released two films, exploring gambling addiction in “California Split” and riffing on the Dust Bowl gangster saga with “Thieves Like Us.”

Unlike most directors whose flames burned brightest in the early 1970s — and frequently flickered out — Mr. Altman did not come to Hollywood from critical journals and newfangled film schools. He had had a long career in industrial films and television. In an era that celebrated fresh voices steeped in film history — young directors like Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich and Martin Scorsese — Mr. Altman was like their bohemian uncle, matching the young rebels in their skeptical disdain for the staid conventions of mainstream filmmaking and the establishment that supported it.

Most of his actors adored him and praised his improvisational style. In his prime, he was celebrated for his ground-breaking use of multilayer soundtracks. An Altman film might offer a babble of voices competing for attention in crowded, smoky scenes. It was a kind of improvisation that offered a fresh verisimilitude to tired, stagey Hollywood genres.

But Mr. Altman was also famous in Hollywood for his battles with everyone from studio executives to his collaborators, leaving more burned bridges than the Luftwaffe. He also suffered through periods of bad reviews and empty seats but always seemed to regain his stride, as he did in the early ’90s, when he made “The Player” and “Short Cuts.” Even when he fell out of popular favor, however, many younger filmmakers continued to admire him as an uncompromising artist who held to his vision in the face of business pressures and who was unjustly overlooked by a film establishment grown fat on special effects and feel-good movies.

He was often referred to as a cult director, and it rankled him. “What is a cult?” Mr. Altman said. “It just means not enough people to make a minority.”


The Breakthrough

The storyline had to do with a group of boozy, oversexed Army doctors in a front-line hospital, specifically a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. Fifteen directors had already turned the job down. But at 45, Mr. Altman signed on, and the movie, “MASH,” became his breakthrough.

Audiences particularly connected with the authority-bashing attitude of the film’s irreverent doctors, Hawkeye (Donald Sutherland) and Trapper John (Mr. Gould).

“The heroes are always on the side of decency and sanity; that’s why they’re contemptuous of the bureaucracy,” the critic Pauline Kael wrote in The New Yorker. “They are heroes because they are competent and sane and gallant, and in this insane situation their gallantry takes the form of scabrous comedy.”

The villains are not the Communist enemy but marble-hearted military bureaucrats personified by the pious Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) and the hypocritical Hot Lips Houlihan (Sally Kellerman).

The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including one for best picture and one for Mr. Altman’s direction. It also won the Golden Palm, the top award at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival, and the best picture of the year award of the National Society of Film Critics.

But “MASH” was denied the best-picture Oscar; that award went to “Patton.” In later years Mr. Altman received four more Academy Award nominations for best director and two for producing best-picture nominees, “Nashville” and “Gosford Park.” The only Oscar he received, however, was the honorary one in March.

Mr. Altman was angry that the lone Oscar given to “MASH” went to Ring Lardner Jr., who got sole screen credit for the script. Mr. Altman openly disparaged Mr. Lardner’s work, touching off one of his many feuds. Later, when Mr. Altman seemed unable to duplicate the mix of critical and box-office success that “MASH” had achieved, he grew almost disdainful of the film.

“ ‘MASH’ was a pretty good movie,” Mr. Altman said in an interview. “It wasn’t what 20th Century- Fox thought it was going to be. They almost, when they saw it, cut all the blood out. I fought with my life for that. The picture speaks for itself. It became popular because of the timing. Consequently, it’s considered important, but it’s no better or more important than any of the other films I’ve made.”

Mr. Altman’s interest in film genres was candidly subversive. He wanted to explode them to expose what he saw as their phoniness. He decided to make “McCabe & Mr. Miller” for just that reason. “I got interested in the project because I don’t like westerns,” Mr. Altman said. “So I pictured a story with every western cliché in it.”

His intention, he said, was to drain the glamour from the West and show it as it really was — filthy, vermin-infested, whisky-soaked and ruled by thugs with guns. His hero, McCabe (Mr. Beatty), was a dimwitted dreamer who let his cockiness and his love for a drug-addicted prostitute (Ms. Christie) undo him.

“These events took place,” Mr. Altman said, of westerns in general, “but not in the way you’ve been told. I wanted to look at it through a different window, you might say, but I still wanted to keep the poetry in the ballad.” “Nashville” interweaved the stories of 24 characters — country-western stars, housewives, boozers, political operators, oddball drifters — who move in and out of one another’s lives in the closing days of a fictional presidential primary. Mr. Altman returned to this multi-character approach several times (in “A Wedding,” “Health,” “Short Cuts,” “Prêt-à-Porter” and “Kansas City”), but never again to such devastating effect.

“Nashville is a radical, evolutionary leap,” Ms. Kael wrote in The New Yorker. “Altman has already accustomed us to actors who don’t look as if they’re acting; he’s attuned us to the comic subtleties of a multiple-track sound system that makes the sound more live than it ever was before; and he’s evolved an organic style of moviemaking that tells a story without the clanking of plot. Now he dissolves the frame, so that we feel the continuity between what’s on the screen and life off-camera.”

Mr. Altman’s career stalled after “Nashville,” although he continued to attract top actors. Paul Newman starred in “Buffalo Bill and the Indians” in 1976, Sissy Spacek in “3 Women” in 1977 and Mr. Newman again in “Quintet” in 1979. But critical opinion turned against Mr. Altman in the late ’70s, and his films fared worse and worse at the box office.

The crushing blow came in 1980, when Mr. Altman directed Robin Williams in a lavish musical based on the “Popeye” cartoon. Though it eventually achieved modest commercial success, the movie was considered a dud because it made less money than had been expected and drew almost universal scorn from the critics. Mr. Altman retained his critical champions, including Ms. Kael and Vincent Canby of The New York Times, who in 1982 called Mr. Altman one of “our greatest living directors.” But the tide had turned against him.

In “Fore My Eyes,” a 1980 collection of film essays, Stanley Kauffmann spoke for other critics when he derided what he saw as the director’s middle-brow pretensions. “He’s the film equivalent of the advertising-agency art director who haunts the galleries to keep his eye fresh,” he wrote.

If Mr. Altman never fully regained his critical pre-eminence, he came close, recapturing much of his luster in the final years of his life. And he always kept in the game.

He remade his career in the early ’80s with a string of films based on stage dramas: Ed Graczyk’s “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” in 1982, David Rabe’s “Streamers” in 1983 and Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love” in 1985. He also did some fresh work for television, a medium he had reviled when he left it two decades earlier.

In 1988, he directed a strong television adaptation of “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,” a stage play by Herman Wouk based on his novel “The Caine Mutiny.” The Altman version restored the class conflict and anti-Semitism that had been excised from the 1954 Hollywood treatment starring Humphrey Bogart.

The ’90s brought an even more satisfying resurgence for Mr. Altman. It began with a pair of critical film successes: “The Player,” an acerbic satire based on the Michael Tolkin novel about a ruthless Hollywood executive, and “Short Cuts,” an episodic, character-filled drama based on the short stories of Raymond Carver. The films earned him his third and fourth Oscar nominations for best director.

Then, in 2001, came “Gosford Park,” an elaborate murder mystery with an ensemble cast that capped his comeback.

Mr. Altman’s last film, “A Prairie Home Companion,” based on Garrison Keillor’s long-running radio show, was released in June and starred Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline in another ensemble cast. Writing in The Times, A.O. Scott called the film a minor Altman work “but a treasure all the same.” “I seem to have become like one of those old standards, in musical terms,” Mr. Altman said in a 1993 interview. “Always around. Lauren Bacall said to me, ‘You just don’t quit, do you?’ Guess not.”


Son of a Salesman

Robert Bernard Altman was born on Feb. 20, 1925, in Kansas City, Mo., to Helen and B.C. Altman, a prosperous insurance salesman for the Kansas City Life Insurance Company. Mr. Altman’s grandfather, the developer Frank G. Altman, had built the Altman Building, a five-story retail mecca in downtown Kansas City. (It was razed in 1974.)

Young Robert attended Catholic schools and the Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Mo., before enlisting in the Air Force in 1945. He eventually became a co-pilot on a B-24. It was during this period that he invented what he called “Identi-code,” a method for tattooing numbers on household pets to help identify them if they were lost or stolen; he even talked President Harry S. Truman into having one of his dogs tattooed.

After the Air Force, Mr. Altman went to work with the Calvin Company, a film company in Kansas City, making training films, advertisements and documentaries for industrial clients. In 1947 he married LaVonne Elmer, but they divorced two years later after they had a daughter, Christine. He married Lotus Corelli in 1950, and they divorced in 1955; they had two sons, Michael (who wrote lyrics to “Suicide Is Painless,” the “MASH” theme song, when he was just 14) and Stephen, a film production designer who frequently worked with his father.

Mr. Altman began to set his sights on Hollywood while still working in Kansas City. His first screen credit came for helping write “Bodyguard,” (1948) a B movie about a hard-boiled detective.

It was not until 1955 that he actually headed for Hollywood; he had gotten a call offering him a job directing an episode of the television series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

Over the next decade, he directed dozens of episodes of “Maverick,” “Lawman,” “Peter Gunn,” “Bonanza,” “Hawaiian Eye,” “Route 66,” “Combat!” and “Kraft Suspense Theater.”

It was while on the set of the TV series “Whirlybirds” that Mr. Altman met his third wife, Kathryn Reed. They married in 1957 and had two sons, Robert and Matthew. Mr. Altman’s wife and children survive him, as does a stepdaughter, Connie Corriere, 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Although Mr. Altman interrupted his early Kansas City work to crank out a teen exploitation movie called “The Delinquents” (1957), it was not until 1968 that he moved up to directing major actors in a Hollywood feature. The film, “Countdown,” starring James Caan and Robert Duvall, was a critically praised drama about the first flight to the moon. He followed that up in 1969 with “That Cold Day in the Park,” a psychological thriller starring Sandy Dennis as a woman driven mad by her sex urges.

In 1970, he made what is perhaps his strangest film, “Brewster McCloud,” about a nerdish youth who wanted to build his own flying machine and whiz around the Houston Astrodome.

Then came “MASH.”

In later years he gathered around him a company of favored performers, among them Mr. Gould, Lily Tomlin, Shelley Duvall, Bert Remsen and Keith Carradine. Many of his sets were celebrated for their party atmosphere, which often came through on the screen. He thought that creating a casual mood helped him expand the boundaries of filmmaking.

To achieve his vision, Mr. Altman was willing to battle studio executives over the financing of his films and ultimate creative control.

“Robert Altman is an artist and a gambler,” his longtime assistant director, Alan Rudolph, wrote in a 1994 tribute in Film Comment. “Pursuing artistic vision on film in America can sometimes put everything you own at risk.”

When a studio refused to distribute Mr. Rudolph’s first film, “Welcome to L.A.,” Mr. Altman responded by forming his own independent distribution company, Lion’s Gate, for the sole purpose of releasing the film. It was a harbinger of the independent film companies of the ’80s and ’90s.

“There’s a big resistance to me,” Mr. Altman told The Washington Post in 1990. “They say, ‘Oh, he’s going to double-cross us somewhere.’ When I explain what I want to do, they can’t see it, because I’m trying to deliver something that they haven’t seen before. And they don’t realize that that’s the very reason they should buy it.”

Mr. Altman acknowledged that his career had suffered as a consequence of his own behavior — his hard drinking, procrastination and irascibility, his problem with authority. He also had a long history of bitter relations with screenwriters. Many complained that he injected himself into the rewriting process and took credit for work he did not do.

But many actors said they loved working with Mr. Altman because of the leeway he gave them in interpreting the script and in improvising in their scenes. “For somebody like me who likes to hang out with my pals and goof off and take the path of least resistance,” Sally Kellerman said, “he’s wonderful that way.”

Mr. Altman said giving actors freedom could draw things out of them that they did not know were there. “I look for actors where there’s something going on there, behind that mask,” Mr. Altman said. “Tim Robbins fascinated me. This John Cusack guy: I always see something going on in there and I don’t know what it is.”

He never mellowed in his view of the movie business.

“The people who get into this business are fast-buck operators, carnival people, always have been,” Mr. Altman said in a 1993 interview. “They don’t try to make good movies now; they’re trying to make successful movies. The marketing people run it now. You don’t really see too many smart people running the studios, running the video companies. They’re all making big money, but they’re not looking for, they don’t have a vested interest in, the shelf life of a movie. There’s no overview. No one says, ‘Forty years from now, who’s going to want to see this.’ No visionaries.”

Robert Altman, Director With Daring, Dies at 81,
NYT, 22.11.2006,






An Appraisal

A Rogue Cinematic Player

Steeped in the Art of Ambiguity


November 22, 2006

The New York Times



A few weeks ago, emerging from a weekday afternoon showing of Robert Altman’s “California Split,” a fellow moviegoer and I — complete strangers momentarily colliding, like something out of an Altman movie — stopped in the lobby to puzzle over the film’s ending. In this 1974 picture, George Segal, playing a magazine writer whose obsessive gambling has nearly wrecked his life, has just completed an epic, bank-breaking lucky streak at the poker and craps tables of a Nevada casino. His happier, usually luckier partner, played by Elliott Gould, figures that this is the start of something big. But as the morning light seeps in through the windows of an empty bar away from the betting floor, it’s clear that for the other man, the ride is over. In the wake of a great, improbable, mind-blowing triumph, his response is to shrug and walk away.

Why does he do it? Is this really the conclusion toward which everything else — the scheming and conniving, the boozing and excuse-making — was leading? Has the character, at some point in the frenzy of his streak, undergone a psychological change? We’ve been rooting for him, against the odds, to pull off something like this, but has he, all the while, been rooting against himself? Or was he addicted to losing, a malady that winning has miraculously cured? These hypotheses all make sense, but they also bring you up short. The movie ends not with a sigh of satisfaction, but with a gasp. What just happened?

The films of Mr. Altman, who died Monday at 81, often end on a similar note, or rather on a dissonant, troubling chord, with a moment that is at once grand and deflating. His crowded, complicated climaxes tend to gather up loose ends and then fling them in the air. You get the big, rousing spectacle: the naked supermodels on parade in “Ready to Wear”; the concert and the gunfire in “Nashville.”

But you also get doubt, equivocation, a sly, principled refusal of the neat and tidy rituals of closure. At the end of “The Player,” we are glad to see the hero drive off into the California sunshine, even as we know that he has gotten away with murder. When murder or other mysteries are at issue — as in “Gosford Park” or “The Long Goodbye” — the solution to the crime is pretty much beside the point.

In narrative art, nothing is more artificial than an ending — life, after all, does go on — and Mr. Altman’s endings often serve two purposes. They bring the artifice to a dazzling pitch of virtuosity while exposing it as a glorious sham. They revel in plenitude, in throngs and spectacles, but there is a throb of emptiness, of incompletion, in the midst of the frenzy.

Mr. Altman thrived on the shapelessness and confusion of experience, and he came closer than any other American filmmaker to replicating it without allowing his films to succumb to chaos. His movies buzz with the dangerous thrill of collaboration — the circling cameras, the improvising actors, the jumping, swirling sound design — even as they seem to arise from a great loneliness, a natural state that reasserts itself once the picture is over. A makeshift tribe gathers to produce a film, or to watch one, and then disperses when the shared experience has run its course. Everyone is gone, and the only antidote to this letdown is another film.

And Mr. Altman made a lot of them, and now there won’t be any more. Life goes on, but every life must end. Robert Altman’s exit, while hardly unexpected — he had undergone a heart transplant sometime in the 1990s — is nonetheless jolting to his admirers. We had grown accustomed to his stamina and his refusal to fade away even when the whims of the film industry seemed to turn against him.

Fans of a certain age will remember the succession of films from the 1970s — from “M*A*S*H” to “A Wedding,” passing through “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” “Nashville,” and “3 Women” — that seemed at once to come out of nowhere and to reveal the central truths of their place and time. Those of us who came a bit later will recall encountering those movies on scratchy prints in revival houses or college cafeterias, and marveling at their energy and strangeness.

It was especially sweet, in the early 1990s, to witness Mr. Altman’s return from the wilderness — not that he had ever stopped making movies. But he seemed, for much of the ’80s, to be living in a kind of internal exile, filming brilliant adaptations of plays like “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,” “Streamers” and “Secret Honor” and almost surreptitiously turning out a masterpiece, “Tanner ’88,” for HBO. (The prescience of that series, written by Garry Trudeau, is astonishing: it seems to foretell both the rise of Bill Clinton and the current vogue for infusing fiction with documentary techniques.) But Mr. Altman’s luck turned, and he made at least three more movies — “The Player,” “Short Cuts” and “Gosford Park” — that rank alongside, or perhaps surpass, the milestones of the ’70s.

I’m not inclined, at the moment, to single out monuments. The pleasures of minor Altman — the sweet, shaggy-dog lyricism of “A Prairie Home Companion,” the generous, curious spirit of “The Company,” the gallantry of “Dr. T and the Women” — are not to be underestimated, and to fix a canon would be to miss some of the playful, seat-of-the-pants spirit of the films themselves. I cannot imagine growing tired of Mr. Altman, or failing to be surprised by his movies.

At the moment, signs of his influence are everywhere: in the overlapping dialogue and interlocking scenes of a television show like “The Wire,” for example, or in the multiple narratives drawn together around a theme or a location, in films like “Babel,” “Bobby,” “Crash” and “Fast Food Nation.” And in the last year of his life, the Hollywood establishment, which had often treated Mr. Altman like a crazy old uncle, hailed him as a patriarch, presenting an honorary Academy Award as compensation for the half-dozen he should already have had. He accepted it with his usual wry, brusque grace, after allowing himself to be upstaged by Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep, whose tribute — one talking over the other, no sentences finished or thoughts completed, all of it perfectly timed — was funnier and more moving than any Oscar moment had any right to be.

And then, a few months later, he released “A Prairie Home Companion,” a contemplation of last things that would be his last movie. It is tempting to declare it Mr. Altman’s valediction — especially now that his production company, Sandcastle 5 Productions, has said that he was suffering from cancer for the past 18 months. But if this movie was a last gathering of the troupe, after which the lights dim forever, and the audience disperses, it was also just another movie in a career like no other, and when it was over — in the ending I like to imagine — American cinema’s greatest gambler shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

A Rogue Cinematic Player Steeped in the Art of Ambiguity,










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