Altman, film review: Documentary celebrates director's defiant and playful spirit

(15) Ron Mann, 95 mins
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The Independent Culture

This isn't an exhaustive or especially insightful documentary about Robert Altman (who died in 2006) but it successfully reminds us of what made him such a special director.

Altman approached film-making in the same freewheeling, improvisatory way as the jazz musicians he so admired from his Kansas childhood tackled their craft. His work was impossible to classify – one reason why the interviewees here come up with so many different definitions of the adjective "Altmanesque". Subversive, funny and generous, he was always revered by his repertory of actors – and sometimes by audiences and critics too.

As the doc makes clear, alongside his early triumphs he had plenty of failure. He quickly fell from grace with his Hollywood bosses but his approach never changed and he didn't complain. Not even ill health – in particular the heart transplant he kept secret for many years – seemed to faze him too much. It is the defiant and playful spirit in which the work was made as much as the work itself which this documentary celebrates.

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