If you haven't seen it before, you should take this opportunity to do so. As he did with many genres in the 1970s, Altman undermines the conventions of the film noir detective film while fine-tuning his staging and shooting style that would reach its peak with Nashville a few years later. Elliot Gould could not be more different than Humphrey Bogart as Phillip Marlowe, nor could the sun-splashed pastel Los Angeles be more different than the dark streets we most often associate with Raymond Chandler. Altman also mixes a wide range of tones in the film, so some viewers might not be sure exactly what they're watching (the studios weren't exactly sure what to do with the film, which led to a range of publicity campaign strategies). The mix of tones is readily apparent in the opening sequence, with the jokey use of multiple versions of "The Long Goodbye" theme song (a self-aware comic motif that continues through the film). But it would be misleading to call this a comedy or a spoof, particularly with scenes involving Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell) and his young mistress. The film takes elements of the genre seriously enough to explore the disconnect between the values of the film noir hero and 1970s America.
There are several other Altman films currently streaming, including O.C. and Stiggs, which I have mentioned before. For now, below I will just include another film from one of his most productive periods, Thieves Like Us, and a film from his so-called comeback in the 1990s (although he would have denied ever being away in the 1980s), Vincent and Theo.
The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, USA, 1973, 112 minutes)
Netflix: Robert Altman cleverly updates the exploits of classic 1940s hard-boiled gumshoe Phillip Marlowe (Elliott Gould, in an unforgettable performance), who ferrets out a killer in the City of Angels circa 1974. Now, Marlowe is a wisecracking cynic who deals with coke-addled, sun-worshipping suspects and nudist neighbors. Funny, suspenseful and engaging, the film features an early, unbilled appearance by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Netflix link.
Note: Expiring 11/1/11
Thieves Like Us (Robert Altman, USA, 1974, 122 minutes)
Netflix: A trio of criminals (Keith Carradine, Bert Remsen and John Schuck) go on a bank-robbing spree through the Depression-era Deep South, terrorizing the population and managing to stay just one step ahead of the law. Along the way, each robber also finds love in director Robert Altman's period crime drama. This remarkable and understated 1970s film also stars Shelley Duvall, Tom Skerritt and Louise Fletcher. Netflix link.
Vincent & Theo (Robert Altman, USA, 1990, 140 minutes)
Netflix: Robert Altman's biopic delves into the lives of painter Vincent van Gogh (Tim Roth) and his dedicated brother, Theo (Paul Rhys). The story centers on the pair's relationship as gallery owner Theo struggles to promote the works of his brother, who remained a relative unknown until after his death. As Theo fails in his efforts and his financial problems mount, Vincent's disturbed mental state worsens, and both brothers sink into despair. Netflix link.
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