Robert Altman: The Oral Biography (英語) ペーパーバック – 2010/12/7
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Robert Altman—visionary director, hard-partying hedonist, eccentric family man, Hollywood legend—comes roaring to life in this rollicking oral biography. After an all-American boyhood in Kansas City, a stint flying bombers in World War II, and jobs ranging from dog tattoo entrepreneur to television director, Robert Altman burst onto the scene in 1970 with M*A*S*H. He reinvented American filmmaking, and went on to produce such masterpieces as McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nashville, The Player, Short Cuts, and Gosford Park. In Robert Altman, Mitchell Zuckoff has woven together Altman’s final interviews; an incredible cast of voices including Meryl Streep, Warren Beatty, Paul Newman, among scores of others; and contemporary reviews and news accounts into a riveting tale of an extraordinary life.
“Scrupulously intelligent and entertaining. . . . Noisy, funny, slightly ill considered, a bit chaotic, and wholly believeable. In short, Altmanesque.” —The New York Times Book Review
“[Zuckoff] uses a light editorial hand, allowing a wide range of contributors to have their say. . . . A comprehensive, 360-degree look at a complicated subject.” —Wall Street Journal
“[There are] many surprising and revealing comments that Zuckoff has assembled in his fittingly rambling book. . . . Life is complicated, often messy—as Altman showed us—and his life, as seen in Zuckoff’s book, was no exception.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“A brilliantly researched, near-cinematic evocation. . . . Altman never gave up creating his cinematic portraits of people on the margins—con artists, prostitutes, gamblers, theives, clowns, movie executives—if only to shed light on the falsity behind his country’s seemingly indefatigable, desperate pursuit of success.” —The New Yorker
“[Zuckoff] doesn’t try to resolve the many contradictions surrounding Altman’s life and work, but lets them stand awkwardly beside one another for the reader to sort out. . . . As a form, the oral biography is well suited to a director who loved the sound of noisy conversation.” —The New York Review of Books
“Splendidly well-assembled. . . . Altman made amazing films, which Zuckoff’s far-reaching interviews illuminate, and by all the included accounts, he led an amazing life.” —The Morning News
“Like Altman’s signature soundtracks, this babel of transcripts offers a panoramic portrait.” —Chicago Sun-Times
“[A] marvelous, epic, tapestry-like life-scape of Robert Altman. . . . Witness by witness, Zuckoff constructs an exemplary and cautionary American life, and with the funny, tragic, and compelling tales they tell, he has made something like a print version of the Last Great Robert Altman movie.” —Directors Guild Quarterly
“A positively ‘Altmanesque’ treatment. . . . [Altman] made a great Western, a great anti-war movie, a great period piece, a great detective picture, a great ballet movie and the how-Hollywood-works movie. And Zuckoff . . . is an apt choice to corner an old fast-talker like Altman. Put this oral biography on your book list.” —Orlando Sentinel
“A fun read, more like a cocktail-party remembrance than a scholarly study. . . . Recollections of movies that strike a chord are so entertaining you’ll think about adding them to your Netflix queue to see them again.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Zuckoff’s biography is like his subject’s movies, filled with a multiplicity of voices and averse to defining ‘meaning.’ Yet in the end, readers understand Altman’s stubborn vision, his refusal to compromise with commerce, and his hard-earned, eccentric genius.” —The Boston Globe
“I just now put [Robert Altman] down feeling heartbroken but happily and deeply inspired. . . . Wonderful.” —Wes Anderson
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One striking thing is how many of the actors and (especially) actresses say essentially the same thing: the reason they are so grateful to him is he trusted them and let them spread their wings. He said let it go, trust yourself, and I won't let you be embarrassed. He didn't, and they delivered many of the shining moments in his movies. There is one great scene where a young Matthew Modine keeps wanting to go over his big scene with Altman, talk it through, and Altman kept putting him off. Then before Modine knew it the scene had been shot. Afterward Altman put a hand on his shoulder and said look, kid, you're the actor; if it was my interpretation of your character I wanted I would have cast myself. After a while word got around and a who's who of star actors were in Altman movies, sometimes at scale rates. In a sense it is a book about the movies and in another sense it isn't really about movies at all. He was a fascinating person. As one of the witnesses says (ex brother in law?), Bob was a flame who attracted many moths.
It helps that those speaking are an articulate, amusing bunch unafraid to tell embarrassing stories in which they feature or to call Kevin Spacey the "Norman Bates of Show Business", for instance. No amount of wit would make the first half dozen chapters fly by, however. It's admirable that Zuckoff wants to document the whole of Altman's life but I would have been satisfied with fewer stories of Bob's adventures at summer camp. Once Altman starts making movies Zuckoff's pacing spot on, mixing details about the financing of MASH with choice gossip like Altman's affair with Faye Dunaway. I'm still in awe of that revelation - wouldn't have pegged those two in a million years.
The picture that emerges is of a well-loved if not entirely likable man. Zuckoff shows why so many actors were devoted to Altman but he also shows that Altman was just another nasty, loud-mouthed drunk on occasion. One minute you find yourself fascinated by the loyalty Altman engendered, the next you're appalled at the loyalty he insisted upon. Like so many artists Altman put his work above any human relationship and that can be hard to take in large doses.
This isn't a critical assessment of Altman's work or an interpretation of his films. It's Altman's life story and critical to that is the story of his work so there are plenty of details about how nearly all of his films were made. Whether you're a fan or not (I'm merely a sometime fan of his work), this is a very enjoyable book, not unlike spending a three-day long bender with the man himself, but without the hangover.
Recommended for film and biography fans. Note that this is a true oral biography with very little connective narrative.