Robert Altman is one of the most inventive, unpredictable, and hotly debated American filmmakers of the past thirty years. His movies include popular hits (M.A.S.H., Nashville), critical successes (Thieves Like Us, The Long Goodbye, Short Cuts), and outright disasters (Beyond Therapy). Through triumph and tribulation alike, Altman has never lost the experimental spirit that brought him into feature filmmaking after twenty years of refining his talent on industrial movies and TV episodes. He also has maintained a gregarious, often garrulous nature, rarely missing an opportunity to discuss his work, life, and ambitions with the many critics and scholars who have plied him with questions throughout his career.
The lively interviews in this book, drawn from a wide variety of sources, range from a colorful talk with Altman as he prepared an early foray into the western genre (McCabe and Mrs. Miller) to a mid-1990s conversation about the challenges of blending jazz and cinema in Kansas City.
The interviews probe the many corners of Altman's work, including his epic battles with Hollywood studios and producers, his deep commitment to independent production, his creative views on video and stage-to-screen adaptation (a major facet of his career), and his insistence that he is more an audiovisual artist than a storytelling entertainer. Altman's conversations cast light on his idiosyncratic personality, revealing his taste for intoxicating experiences both on and off the screen and suggesting links between his risk-taking behaviors at the gambling table and the motion-picture set. This collection of interviews is a first-person portrait of a true American maverick whose freewheeling career has waged a decades-long campaign against Hollywood complacency and served as inspiration for new generations of independent screen artists.
David Sterritt has been film critic for The Christian Science Monitor since 1968. He is an associate professor of film at Long Island University and the editor of Jean-Luc Godard: Interviews (University Press of Mississippi).