This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.


Robert Altman, 1925-2006

Posted by on

By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: Altman on the set of “A Prairie Home Companion,” Picturehouse]

The great gray recalcitrant lion king of the American New Wave has finally shuffled off the mortal coil — years after many of us were surprised to realize he’d hung in there this long. The Academy may have waited too long to pelt him with an Oscar, but at least they did it, genuflected at his massive body of work less than a year before he died (rather than, say, yet again piss away a Lifetime Achievement slot on the likes of Michael Kidd or Blake Edwards). For the postwar generations, only Stanley Kubrick maintained as lofty a station in the public forebrain for as long as Robert Altman. It’s been a uniquely scattershot career, as rife with textural innovations and astonishing rigor as it was with pariah loathing and crash-landings — 2001’s “Gosford Park” was merely his sixth or seventh comeback in almost 50 years of professional movie-making. Who knew, ever, if an Altman film would turn out rippling with silk-smooth sublimity or howling miscarriage? His lapses in judgment seem to flow from the same source as his wisdom. Compare the surgeon’s grace inherent in “Gosford Park” to the soused baboonery of “Prêt-à-Porter” (1994), and you glimpse a restless and conflicted intelligence plunging into the combat of cultural intercourse without the benefit of superego.

He began in the 50s, making promotional and educational shorts for a small Kansas City outfit, before branching out in 1957 into indie teen exploitation (“The Delinquents”) and feature docs (“The James Dean Story”), the two of which steered him toward steady network-TV paychecks doing grunt work for two dozen series, including “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Peter Gun,” “Sugarfoot” and “Combat.” He reentered the feature world in the late 60s, coming quickly upon the assignment that continues to be his branding product: “M*A*S*H” (1970).

The 70s turned out to be also Altman’s one summer of semi-consistency, a time when Hollywood’s new-wavey thaw on formula, cliché and pap was precisely what the maturing journeyman had been waiting for (at 45 when “M*A*S*H” was released, he was a full generation older than contemporaries Scorsese, Lucas, Coppola, Bogdanovich, Rafelson, Hellman, et al.). Altman’s halcyon decade has had plenty of laurels laid upon it, but today some of them wilt badly — “M*A*S*H” is an unfocused anti-war farce better remembered than freshly seen, and “Nashville” (1975), a fabulously detailed dose of Americana-mania, is at closer look constructed from simplistic vignettes. The famous Altmanic textures — spontaneous narrative collage, Babel-like aural chaos, superbly evoked off-screen space, focus-challenged compositions, foreground foofaraw — are indelible, but the jokes and caricatures can be shockingly cheap.

Good thing the masterpieces yowl louder than ever. The ’70s were a wise era kind to satire, and Altman’s best films are Lasik cuts into American mythology, starting with “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” (1971), a seminal, foggy frontier odyssey that looks like it was shot in a muddy 1830 mining town and that has come to occupy its own exclusive sub-genre: the neo-realist anti-northwestern. One of cinema’s wittiest and savviest deconstructions, “The Long Goodbye” (1973) transposes Chandler to the ‘Nam era and ends up an anti-noir anthem, with Elliott Gould as a beleaguered, slovenly Marlowe slumming around glitzy 70s L.A. like an old dog who’s lost his sense of smell. “Thieves Like Us” (1974) is a still-underrated, wide-eyed adaptation of Edward Anderson’s slackjawed-outlaw-lovers novel, capturing the Depression-era landscape with dusty fidelity and remaining an underseen American New Wave incarnation of nostalgia reflux. “California Split” (1974) is even more bitter, tracking a contemporary Gould and George Segal into a maelstrom of obsessive gambling. In many ways, “Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson” (1976) caps off Altman’s 70s project, cynically boiling down his accomplished naturalism into a death march of commodified suffering. This grim parade of mutated history — which focuses almost entirely on the eponymous Wild West show and its heroic depiction of Native American subjugation — barely acknowledges the requirements of dramatic narrative in its disgusted litany of showbiz prevarications.

His subsequent disasters were truly disastrous — few filmmakers could emerge from the landfill of “H.E.A.L.T.H.” (1979), “Quintet” (1979), “Popeye” (1980), “O.C. and Stiggs” (1987), “Prêt-à-Porter,” “Dr. T and the Women” (2000), and “The Company” (2003) with their honor intact. He spent the best part of the 80s making lean theatrical filmizations which were only and exactly as interesting as the play they adapted, which were in any case always lackluster. His last few decades were a coin toss — no director has veered so alarmingly from cretinism (that includes, for me, the smirky-comic rape of Raymond Carver in 1993’s “Short Cuts”) to bedazzlement (including 1992’s “The Player,” of course, and “Gosford Park”) in such short spans. “A Prairie Home Companion” (2006) is no kind of career testament, but by this time we’d learned that the ever-tetchy Altman would always follow his own temperamental star.

Watch More

Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

Watch More

A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

Watch More

WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

Posted by on

Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

Watch More