It seems to me that one of life’s great ironies is that so called “avant-garde” art (for instance, things that tend to overturn or demolish the linear narrative) is often a lot more like real life than the mainstream art that is so often hailed for its realism. For the first time in many years, I watched “Nashville,” “Three Women” and “Short Cuts” last week. They were each, in their own way, tender cinematic poems to the wounded and sad.
My entire “Art God” collection isn’t extensive. In truth, it barely fits on a couple shelves in a bookcase. That being said, Robert Altman has a penthouse suite in there. The tender, fumbling beauty of his filmic chaos has always spoken to me on the deepest of levels. But, back to the avant-garde/reality paradox.. It always seemed ironic to me that a performance piece about a woman shaving her legs or a man writing in a notebook always seems “odd” to the average person, and yet millions of people seem to love movies about men in capes, with supernatural powers, saving burning cities, or gritty detective movies about finding a serial killer who is dismembering his victims in alphabetical order. Maybe, it comes down to the fact that we Humans cannot bear too much reality. When it feels like our own lives are being mirrored back to us, it becomes too painful or too realistic in some way. We seem to need a fantasy filter. We almost require something, that requires of us, willful suspension of disbelief. I suppose, one of the many things that makes me weirder than your average cat, is that I actively avoid such filters. I’ll take Godard over J.J. Abrams any day of the week. I love truth in film. I seek cinematic reality. And surely, no one has made films with more reality than Robert Altman.
If you like the subtle, messy, glorious complexities of being human, please give some of his films a chance. There is great pleasure in finding the rhythmic poetry of his curious camera, always looking; searching for things instead of showing them. I was lucky enough to be a witness to them, following right along. Re-watching some of his masterworks again last week, they hit me square in the heart, making me ache, making me move, making me thankful to be one of those messy, tragic, beautiful things we call Human.