“Saturday Night Fever” (1977)

There are quite a few films on my to-watch list this summer, most of them being films from the 1970s in order to better situate myself in the period of Altman’s golden period of filmmaking. The goal in watching these films is to view and analyze women’s roles in the films and how they are portrayed. This, in effect, will either help support or disapprove my stance that Altman’s portrayal is much more pro-woman than any of the other films or filmmakers in the New Hollywood period. So keep that in mind as you read this write up and any of my write ups on films from the 1970s; these write ups are essentially references for me when I write my paper.

On the social realism aspect, Saturday Night Fever was fantastic. This film is anything but a simple and fun dance movie. You think there will be a typical, formulaic romance between Tony (John Travolta) and Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney)? Wrong. Stephanie sees herself as older and a bit better than Tony. Despite her warming up to Claire De Lune in the dance studio, Stephanie does not know a thing about high class culture. Instead she aspires to it and pretends to be it whenever she is with Tony. Obviously this is not Tony’s area at all, a 19 year-old Italian boy living in Brooklyn who goes to the disco every Saturday night.

It is clear to the viewer that Stephanie is not one of the Manhattan people. Her lower class dialect is just one of the giveaways that she is a wannabe. Later she admits to Tony that she was living with the guy she works with because he could help her “get somewhere” in the office. Before that she was alone and didn’t know what she was doing. This brief scene shows that this woman who says and pretends to act like she is older and more independent than Tony isn’t. She has to rely on a man to help her in the office, rather it is an exchange for sex. Essentially she is not a positive portrayal of women.

Even though Stephanie tells Tony that she does not want to date him, Tony still thinks that he will someday win her. The night they win the contest, Tony blames Stephanie for taunting him. He ultimately takes her into the car and tries to rape her. Fortunately Stephanie escapes and goes home. Early the next morning Tony goes to her place in Manhattan to apologize. She tells him that she doesn’t usually let her attempted rapists come in her home, but eventually lets him in to talk. The film ends on a note that could indicate romance or friendship, but I believe it communicates more of a friendship.

While Tony lusts after Stephanie, Connie lusts after Tony. She is the push aside girl who Tony is not nice to. Throughout the movie she wants to date Tony and ultimately sleep with him. The time she gets her chance, she doesn’t have any protection because it is her first time. This indicates that she is uneducated about sex and birth control. Tony stops everything and she loses her chance. Towards the end of the film, Connie is drunk and with Tony’s friends. She says that she wants to sleep with them; Tony tries to keep his friends from her but they tell him that he could care less about Connie. So Connie gets in with Tony and his friends and they drive to the bridge. In the backseat Connie and Tony’s one friend start to have sex; it is obvious Connie is only doing it to make Tony jealous. When she sees he doesn’t care, she yells that she doesn’t want to do it anymore. Yet Tony’s friend says that he’s going to do it and does. Connie continues to cry and yell that she doesn’t want to do it anymore; once the one friend is done, the other goes in the back to rape her. Once they’re done they go play around on the bridge. It is very obvious that Connie is disturbed and upset. All Tony does is turn and ask her if she’s proud of herself because now she’s a c-word.

That scene and the scene where Tony tries to rape Stephanie did it for me. In terms of women in the film, they are not humans but sex objects. When they don’t get permission, they keep going (or try to, at least). This film came out the same year as 3 Women, the main film of my paper, and in comparison to Saturday Night Fever, 3 Women is much more positive. In here women are very much stuck in patriarchy, in the city, whereas 3 Women the women break from the system and are located in the desert. Whenever I think of 3 Women, I can’t help but think of Varda’s comment about 3 Women being dangerous to women. Perhaps Altman is not exactly in sync with exact second-wave feminist criteria but in terms of what is being released in the same year (Saturday Night Fever, Looking for Mr. Goodbar), it is a huge step from the representations of women in those films.

Why I Love Robert Altman (and Why I Think You Should Too)

Think of the directors of the New Hollywood era and write down the first few names that come to mind. The names you most likely wrote down are Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, etc. AKA the big directors we still talk about and worship today. However, I’ll bet you that one name that you didn’t write down was Robert Altman. Why? Well, were you to ask me two years ago during what period Robert Altman directed, I probably would have asked if you meant Robert Aldrich, because who is Robert Altman? My poor eighteen years-old self.

Why is it that one of America’s greatest directors is forgotten and hardly discussed in that crucial turning point in film? Is it because of his being labeled as a misogynist (which I do not agree with and believe is an overused and misused label), or because he didn’t have a consistent string of popular, money making films like so many of the other New Hollywood directors? It really boils down to a one word question: why?

I can’t answer that question, and I don’t think I ever will be able to answer it for it’s beyond me. All I can do is enlighten others to the unique world that is solely Robert Altman’s in hope that some day he will be given the recognition he deserves. With that, I wanted to tell you why I love Robert Altman and, thus, why I think you should love him (or at least give him a chance) too.

Perhaps it is best to start with, quite simply, the Altman style: long takes, long lens with zooms, overlapping dialogue, in essence, everything I’d aspired to do if I wanted to be a director. There is nothing in the Altman style that suggests mindless movie-watching. In fact, if you’re not active enough, you may find yourself becoming “bored” with what is on the screen. Instead, Altman respects the audience’s intelligence and patience. Why “cut, cut, cut” when you can shoot with long takes and let things play out as they do in real life? In a world today where everything is about immediate gratification and getting to the point, Altman is a relief for this poor, stressed college girl. Why? Because Altman trusts me with his films.

For most of this post I will be focusing on Nashville, as it is the Altman film I have seen the most. I have yet to watch Nashville (a movie I have seen at least 20 times, I kid you not) and not have seen or heard something new. Every single time I sit down and watch it, I discover some new layer to the plot or another dimension to one of the characters. Every rewatch has been worth it and not a waste of time. Perhaps that is what drew me back the second time; I had only grasped the surface of the film, maybe because I was tired or I didn’t realize just how much Altman needed from me, and I knew I needed to go back for more for a clearer understanding. Yet here I am, a good 20 rewatches later, and I feel there is so much more to be discovered.

As if his directing wasn’t enough, Altman’s personality and attitude is everything that I aspire to be. I had never heard of someone say one bad thing about John Ford (whom I am not a fan of) but right there in an interview, Altman said he never liked any of Ford’s films. In that same interview, Altman dismisses the notion of being an auteur for, truly, he is not. While he is the director and one of the editors, he encourages everyone on the crew to contribute, most notably for the actors and actresses to improvise. The contribution of everyone is essentially the number one no-no of the auteur theory; while it is the Altman style, this does not mean he is the sole creator because he did not tell his actors and actresses what to do. As you may guess, the auteur theory isn’t exactly my favorite theory nor do I believe it should be the ultimate mode of production. What I admire about Altman is his ability to reign in all of what everyone has contributed into one complex and rich theme. Now how impressive is that?

When you watch an Altman film, there is always much more than just the surface. It is impossible, especially in his large ensemble casts, to just have a surface level. Overlapping dialogue and long shots tracing over multiple actions on the screen beg you to look deeper and make connections. To me, Altman is pure cinema as he can only exist as cinema. As screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury says, Nashville “literally moves through time and space,” and that’s it. You cannot write a book or paint a painting of the plot of Nashville; it’s impossible.

There are so many other films of Altman’s that I’ve yet to see. Like any director, not all of them are fantastic or a masterpiece, but they are still important to watch. I’m going to take my time with Altman because there is so much to learn from him. Altman is my favorite director and I refuse to let the ride end too soon.

So I leave you with this post and encourage you to seek out some Altman films. You will not be disappointed, I promise. While I have not seen all of Altman’s films, these are some that I have seen and highly recommend: Nashville, The Player, The Long Goodbye, and 3 Women. {Other films (I have not seen) include: McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Godsford Park}

(If you loved this post on Robert Altman, stay tuned for this spring I will be beginning my undergraduate thesis on women in Robert Altman’s films!)

Nashville (1975)

Initially posted on my school’s film club movie review site, I wrote this review about Nashville. I thought it’d be nice to post it on here since over a year ago I wrote about the upcoming release of the Criterion DVD of Nashville.

Were there to be a number one rule about Robert Altman, it would most likely be something along the lines of: one should not watch one of his films only once. Someone like Altman mandates multiple viewings. For some people, that’s too much commitment for there are other movies we must give our attention to. Yet here I am, multiple viewings later, writing this review for Nashville.

Altman’s style requires concentration, thought, and keen observation. For some viewers, he’s tedious and not worth the time because “there isn’t anything going on in the film.” However for others, like myself, Altman is a sigh of relief. With his long lens shots and overlapping dialogue, Altman trusts the viewer to use his or her senses to interpret what is happening and what it means. With that being said, it is nearly impossible not to see or hear something you didn’t notice in the previous viewing. It is with every rewatch I am more blown away by Altman’s technique of directing. I honestly have no idea how a director can put that much in one movie in a short frame of time that I notice a new line or prop piece that adds to the film’s various layers, especially considering Altman’s technique of using the script as a blueprint and allowing his actors and actresses to improvise. I am forever in awe.

But enough with the fangirling and on to the movie. As the trailer says, Nashville follows the lives of 24 characters. “That’s a lot of characters so listen closely.” Not only listen but also watch very closely as well. Each of these 24 characters is unique and holds some sort of personality was rife in the 70’s, ranging from Jeff Goldblum’s Easy Rider-esque unnamed “psycho freak” to Ronee Blakley’s “adored” country singer Barbara Jean. There is such a wide range of characters that it is impossible not to find one person you consider funny or interesting. There are many aspects of Nashville that one can focus on because of its structure. It does not always follow the same person through every event that happens to them. Instead the viewer is expected to fill in bits and pieces about what happened to the character, and that is what Altman expects and needs from the viewer. Nashville is wonderful in that, as writer Joan Tewkesbury says, it can only exist as a film because it literally moves through time and space; climaxes and plot points common in other films that could be written and described are absent from this film.

So what do I have to say about Nashville? I have so many things, let’s be honest, but I will keep it fairly brief. First off, it is funny. Oh my god is it funny. You have so many people from different backgrounds that that in it is amusing to watch. Underneath that, Nashville is layered and complex. There are certain aspects of the film that I’m drawn towards, such as the treatment and actions of the women in the film or the behaviors of the patriarchal country singer Haven Hamilton. But above all what interests me the most is the core basis that connects every single person in this film, and that is politics. American politics is exemplified by the Hal Phillip Walker campaign. Nashville was made in 1975, just before the Watergate scandal leaked but in the midst of growing disgust for American politics. However, the campaign car reminds the viewer, and the city of Nashville, that we are all involved in politics. This is essentially the basis: everyone in this film is involved with the Hal Phillip Walker campaign in some way that it affects their everyday lives.

Nashville, the capital of country music, equates to any small town in America. The people of Nashville are the people of 1970’s America. For viewers today, it is a glimpse of what the world was like in 1975. Altman himself said that he directed what he saw happening in the world, not as he viewed it. So it may not be surprising to learn that I recommend this film for any person, especially those who are serious about film. It is a film that, for me, is hard to give a good, run down review for so much of it is dependent on how much and what you observe. You may grow to love or hate Altman, but either way you will see a different approach of what film can be.

Film Review: “Short Cuts” (1993)

I’ve been debating whether I should write a review on this movie, but, in the end, I decided it would probably be for the best. I purchased Short Cuts a few months ago when I was buying all the Robert Altman movies I could find. My good friend said she really liked it so I figured that I would probably enjoy it as well. And I guess I sort of did? Not really? I’m not sure? Which is the reason why I’m writing this post I guess.

Some people equate this movie to Nashville or say at least it’s similar to Nashville; I do beg to differ, and not just because there is no singing in Short Cuts. Perhaps my first and foremost reason is the treatment of women in the film; certainly Robert Altman is making a comment on women in society in Nashville, but in Short Cuts it almost disturbed me. Perhaps the fact that Short Cuts was made in the 1990’s and much closer to today (though, if you look at it, it’s a 21 year difference. I mean these people didn’t have cell phones).

From the brief number of reviews I’ve read on Short Cuts, I’ll admit I was surprised no one mentioned the treatment of women in the film. Rather, they summed everything up as the disconnectedness between the characters in the film. I pondered that and, while that was certainly true, it was much stronger in the relationship between males and females. Honestly, every single man in Short Cuts infuriated me. Tim Robbins, who literally throws his loyalty to his wife on the street (symbolized through the barking dog) to sleep with other women, Peter Gallagher, who destroys his ex-wife’s home when she goes out on a weekend vacation with her lover, Tom Waits, who drinks and drinks and is implied that he abused Lily Tomlin’s daughter when she was younger, and lastly, the three men that go fishing. Had it not been for them, I think I would have been able to tolerate it better. Let me give you a run down of these three lovely gentlemen: they first begin by asking Lily Tomlin if “they can have butter” just so they can see her rear end when she bends down. Then they go fishing and, what do you know, they find the body of a twenty-something year old girl who obviously had been raped and murdered. And what do they do? Well, they have no idea what the hell to do but decide that, since she’s dead already, there is nothing they can do, so: why not enjoy their fishing trip and tell the police after the trip?? Yeah, great idea. And it’s not like Altman is okay with this; he leaves the camera lingering on the floating body for a good 5 or 6 seconds with the overlapping dialogue of the men laughing about some nonsense.

Then, after the trip, one of the men goes home to his wife and makes love to her. Okay. Great. But then, when they’re finished (and after she has told him that she loves him), he tells her about the body they found. I’m not sure I can even do that scene* justice by trying to describe it for the women who plays his wife was phenomenal in my opinion. It is honestly shocking he can say all that he does to his wife right after making love to her. Her face says it all; she is in a state of shock and all she can say is, “and when did you find her?” He really does not get why she is so upset, and that’s what frightens me. It’s that whole general attitude among the men in the film where women don’t seem to be people who deserve any respect; they’re just, objects, things. Normally, I would just write it off and say it’s the movies but there are people out there like that and, yeah, that’s scary. {I’m not even going to begin with the final scene of the film; I think I’ve made my case on that bit clear.}

But do let me say this; the women in the film aren’t completely passive either. Look at the beautiful Madeline Stowe’s character: she knows Robbins is cheating on her and she finds it hysterical when he lies about “going out on the job.” But still, evaluating all the women, they realize how the men are treating them yet deal with it and stay with them.

Now, yes I agree that the whole sense is disconnectedness and it’s not just between males and females. Look at the relationship between the mother jazz singer and her daughter the cellist; that messed me up to be honest. Lily Tomlin and the little boy when he’s hit; we know Lily wanted to help him but he wouldn’t go because he’s not supposed to talk to strangers.

When I finished this film, I reminded myself that it was made in the 1990’s, a decade I really do hate and that I’m glad it’s over. But then I said, “It’s over!!! Life is different now!!” Or at least I hope? I mean, life is not as dreary and negative as it was in the 1990’s but still. It made me worried. And Robert Altman is a realist, and while I love Bob, I’m more of an escapist movie lover. But most of the Robert Altman films I love (3 Women, Nashville, The Long Goodbye) are his older movies so, to me, they are an escape. If that makes sense?

So, overall, I think it is safe to say that this was not my cup of tea, or rather a too strong cup of tea. Perhaps the best thing to say is that I don’t think I’ll be watching it again for quite awhile.

*I found a clip of that scene on YouTube if you want to watch it.

Upcoming Releases

I decided that since I want to use this blog more frequently, I’ll have to change things up like add “installments” or whatever so I decided to try this! As of now I’m going to call it “Upcoming Releases” until I have a better title for it but basically this series is going to be about upcoming DVD releases that I’m pretty excited for!

For the first installment I chose Altman’s Nashville. I’m not sure how dubbing a director as (one of) your favorite director works, if it means that you have to watch their entire filmography or just one or two films or what, but I’ve decided one or two films because all I can remember after watching The Player was a ton of fangirling and praising to the gods of movie directors for allowing Robert Altman to enter my life. Okay I’m exaggerating a bit but honestly- I LOVED The Player, content and form wise, but especially form. My first Altman film was 3 Women which I did love as well but it didn’t hit me as much as The Player. So after I watched The Player I added MASH, Nashville, The Player, 3 Women, and all the other Robert Altman films I could find to my Christmas list.

But Nashville! Boy, what perfect timing! Just when it’s getting the Criterion Treatment and everything! I know the basic premise of it and it’s climax (I guess that’s what you would say) from an audio CD set I checked out of the library but nevertheless that’s not the point for Altman’s films, at least from what I have gathered. I’ve watched the trailer at least three times and it never fails to excite me (I’m looking especially forward to Jeff Goldblum!).

The DVD is set to release on December 3rd, so if you are an Altman fan be sure to go to Barnes and Noble! I’m not sure if they are still having their 50% sale (and it’s 60% if you’re a member there!) but it is definitely worth the price of $39.95 as it comes with both Blu-ray and DVD.

Below is the trailer for Nashville.