A commentary track and the featurettes help illuminate this master filmmaker.
This is a collection of Altman's films?
I hate to say it but I really found the Robert Altman Collection to be a letdown. In a set that includes his seminal, anti-war themed M.A.S.H., I found the rest of the films Quintet, A Wedding and A Perfect Couple, to not really belong in this collection. Now, had they included Nashville, Short Cuts and The Player, that would have been a collection. Chances are, these films were all that Fox could put in this set because that was all they had the rights to.
Robert Altman is a very hit or miss director. He seems to just gather actors together based on some ideas in a script and then, after improvising off camera, the actors then try the scenes a bunch of different ways as they are recorded on camera. As a result, sometimes Altman's process works and other times it doesn't. When it does you get movies like M.A.S.H. and
Nashville. When it doesn't you get Kansas City.
However, what I do like about this collection is that it celebrates the style and the director that is Robert Altman.
Getting to hear Robert Altman describe how he put this movie together is really entertaining, especially if you are interested in learning how movies get made. He discusses things like wanting to make this film an ensemble (he went out of his way not to have a main star), how utilization of speakers and voice overs came to him in editing, for how he would tie to the movie together, and also how he didn't want the film to look too clean. Great stuff from one of our best directors!
AMC Backstory: M.A.S.H.
In this well put together, scholarly-type film, I found out things I never knew. First of all, we get to see a lot of the actor's screen tests which is always fun because that's really where the character originates, I think. Also, I had no idea that Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould tried to have Altman fired off the film, because they were so confused by what he was doing. Filled with insightful critics comments this film gives us a lot of perspective (both past and present) on how society needed a film like M.A.S.H..
Developing the World of Quintet
This film looks very primitive by the standards of modern storytelling but at the time I am willing to bet that the look of this film was quite jarring. Also, the fact that this movie is based on a board game, I think Altman is very accurate when he says that if this movie had been made a few years later they would have created a video game out of it.
A Wedding Altman Style
Another featurette that looks at the making of an Altman film. This is actually my favorite part of this collection. I just think it's so interesting in this day and age of bottom line filmmaking that someone like Robert Altman can still get movies made. I love that he often starts off with a sense of what he wants to do and then loosely crafts a screenplay around that. This movie, while probably not one that will be highly celebrated, should be mandatory viewing for couples thinking about committing marriage.
A Perfect Couple
Perspective on Altman's Perfect Couple
The final featurette looks at what I think is considered one of the more mainstream Altman films. This tale of two mismatched lovers is interesting if not a little on the mundane side. However, Altman shows that he isn't just one kind of filmmaker and maybe him making this "sweet departure" actually shows just how subversive he can be?
M.A.S.H. and A Wedding are both in the Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, while A Perfect Couple and Quintet are both in the 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen Aspect Ratio. While I think these films look okay, I didn't notice anything about their picture quality that really grabbed me. That said, Altman does go out of his way to remove the slickness from the movies he makes, so it makes sense that after awhile these older films look a bit more worn than some.
All of the movies in this box set are in Dolby Digital. They are also subtitled in English and Spanish. The English channel of audio is in some form of stereo for all these titles, while the Spanish and French tracks on the discs are all in mono. Sound in this collection is something I went out of my way to pay attention to, because Altman's film use sound like no other movies. Sound design for these films isn't made to get every word across. In fact, it seems like everyone is micced in his films and then he just assembles the audio to suit his needs in the editing room.
A shot of Altman looking like a director takes up this front cover. Donning a white fedora and an open, button shirt, he very much looks like a man who was born to do this kind of work. The back features a brief description of the director and the accompanying movies. Each disc has it's own amaray case with what seems like older cover artwork for each film. On the back are descriptions of those movies, "Special Features" listings and technical specs. I guess I feel that there is something really missing from this collection. I mean, with only four films to it's credit it doesn't seem like it really does the director justice.
I have always liked that Robert Altman isn't afraid to experiment. If he was, there would be no way that he could make a film like Quintet, which deals with a game of life or death between survivors of an ice age, or A Perfect Couple, which looks at a relationship between an older man and a younger woman, and lastly, A Wedding, which, knowing Altman did it, means that the wedding is going to be anything but typical.
I am not a diehard Robert Altman fan. I have seen a lot of his films but not all of them. Sometimes it seems like even knows that he only accomplished 50% of what he intended to accomplish, however, 50% from Altman is like 300% from most directors working today. His ability to not only push the medium and the subject matter is unparalleled even in this much later stage of his career.
MASH was released February 18, 1970.