Brilliant innovator

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Filmmaker Robert Altman's Oscar Lifetime Achievement Award was fully deserved.

"To me, I've just made one long film," Altman said, accepting the Oscar Lifetime Achievement Award after acknowledging the standing ovation he got.A brilliant filmmaker with a worthy track record of 86 movies, out of which he wrote 37, Altman received many Oscar nominations but never won one until he became `an honorary bride' the other night.


Altman was the innovator who introduced `overlapping of dialogue' in movies with several characters talking at the same time as they do in real life. He did this without bothering about the niceties of drama and conventional cinema. The early days of Altman's filmmaking career was a struggle. His `How to Run a Filling Station,' spoke volumes of his economic condition during that period. He had to survive by making commercials, which took him to television. He worked on episodes of popular TV series of 1950s such as `Bonanza,' `Maverick,' and `Route 66.'Altman's moment came with the super hit `M.A.S.H' (1970), which placed him in the front rank of American moviemakers with box-office potential. Reflecting his anti-establishment attitude and convictions, this classic movie was all about a mobile hospital in Korea with surgeons who spent time kicking at army authority, totally unconcerned about the fearsome situation of war. This movie had Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould supported seductively by Sally Kellerman, and Robert Duvall at the helm of the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. The movie received five Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director but won only Best Screenplay (Ring Lardner Jr). Its theme song, `Suicide is Painless,' was written by his son Mike when he was only 14.Robert Altman was born on February 20, 1925, in Kansas City, Missouri, where his father was an insurance salesman. While at school, he was drawn to sound as a medium of artistic expression and began to work with tape-recorders. He joined the Air Force in 1945 and became a pilot. After his discharge, Altman went back to work on documentaries and ad films, honing his filmmaking skills. During 1960s, he relocated to Hollywood where he directed several episodes of the successful TV series `Alfred Hitchcock Presents.' His work attracted attention and he directed some forgettable movies till he was offered the script of `M.A.S.H.' His other movies of merit of include, `McCabe and Mrs. Miller' (1971) starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, and Shelley Duvall, (Beatty and Altman clashed often during the making of the movie, and at one stage Beatty remarked that if he were the producer he would have killed Altman first), `Long Goodbye' (1972) based on a novel by the crime fiction maestro Raymond Chandler, `Nashville' (1975), a multi-layered musical melodrama with Geraldine Chaplin, (it received five Oscar nominations including one for Altman and won the award for Best Song) and `The Players' (1992), a biting satire at the morals and mores of Hollywood.


Altman's recent hit movie, which received critical acclaim, is `Gosford Park' (2001) a murder mystery. His stories experiment with sound. Often, he shows actors through a window by which he keeps them at a distance from the moviegoer but even the tiniest whisper can be heard. He treats the screenplay as `blueprint' for the movie and allows his actors to improvise during the shoot. If an unexpected bit of silence creeps in, he lets it be. For Altman, silence is golden and sometimes more eloquent than the spoken word. Altman was voted as the 17th Greatest Director of all time by Entertainment Weekly.At 81, retirement is not on Altman's mind. Instead, he is working on his next project, which is likely to be released later in the year or in early 2007. To creative artistes like Altman, age is a mere number and nothing more...



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