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The Auteurs Daily: Robert Altman: The Oral Biography

The Auteurs Daily

McCabe & Mrs Miller

Reading Robert Altman: The Oral Biography, David Thomson, writing in the New Republic, can see that Mitchell Zuckoff "grasps the way in which Altman was always inclined to make a battleground of his own projects - the earnest but passionate misunderstandings between Altman and Warren Beatty on McCabe & Mrs Miller are so beautifully rendered that we begin to see how the actor's notion of John McCabe and the director's had to be at odds for that film to be so funny and so poignant. This is a smart, amusing, lively book, full of anecdotes and a generous step toward perceiving the glorious and perverse ways of Altman himself."

Zuckoff "wound up interviewing 200 Altman collaborators, as well as exhuming the voices of journalistic critics and camp followers," notes Janet Maslin in the New York Times. "He has spun all this material into a big, comprehensive, flesh-and-blood account of Altman's persona and exploits, though not a serious look at his body of work."

The San Francisco Chronicle's running a few tasty excerpts; Amazon's page for the book features a plug from Wes Anderson and a brief interview with Zuckoff; and PopMatters is running Robert W Butler's widely syndicated review.

Online listening tip. Zuckoff will be a guest on Movie Geeks United! tomorrow.

Updates, 10/19: "Depending on who's testifying, Altman comes off as expansive and moody, generous and chiseling, an exacting artist, a freewheeling stoner, a skirt-chasing husband, and a painfully indifferent father," blogs Dana Stevens at Slate. This "brick of a book could use some editorial pruning, but it does serve as an adequate clearinghouse for all of your Altman-anecdote needs."

The book "is like one of Altman's better films, providing a comprehensive, 360-degree look at a complicated subject while abstaining from passing judgment," writes Toby Young in the Wall Street Journal.

Updates, 10/23: "For a few years, Altman was indulged by many critics and some studios and, admittedly, there are artful passages in McCabe & Mrs Miller (a critique of nascent capitalism that is probably his best work), Nashville, California Split and... very little else." Richard Schickel in the Los Angeles Times: "This book provides massive evidence that people had lots of fun making them, but none whatsoever that they will survive as anything more than historical curiosities."

In the Guardian, Mike Kaplan, a producer who co-directed the 1993 documentary Luck, Trust & Ketchup: Robert Altman in Carver Country, looks back again in the experience of working with Altman on Short Cuts.

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Richard Schickel is just fooling himself.

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