Tuesday, November 21, 2006

GOODBYE, MR. ALTMAN 1925-2006


Robert Altman taught me how to see movies, and I went into his classroom kicking and screaming. As a young kid keeping up with film culture largely from the sidelines, I became obsessed, at an age far too young to actually see the movie, with Altman’s 1970 hit M*A*S*H. I read as much as I could about it— one or two reviews and the occasional newspaper article were about all I could get my hands on, but I did smuggle Richard Hooker’s novel, on which the movie was based, into my junior high locker and read it surreptitiously, voraciously. I wouldn’t see M*A*S*H in its theatrical release—I was even denied access to the slightly recut PG-rated version that bowed a few years later in re-release. The first time I actually saw M*A*S*H was when it aired on the CBS Friday Night Movie, back in the days when bowdlerized version of theatrical hits premiering on TV were mini-events of their own. It was panned-and-scanned (again, back in the days when regular citizens really had no idea what cropping movies for TV was), broken up into bits to accommodate commercials, its profanity and nudity and blood sanitized for my protection. And yet I still laughed my ass off, because I was finally getting to see some version of the film.

Even as I became more and more film aware in my high school days, vacuuming up every movie I could get in front of my eyes in my isolated Southern Oregon hometown, and familiarizing myself with directors and films that I knew had little or no chance of ever being shown on TV or in the local movie theater, I watched from afar as Altman unleashed Brewster McCloud, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Images, The Long Goodbye, California Split and Thieves Like Us, helping to shape and populate what many would come to consider one of the golden ages of American cinema. I knew of the movies from the usual sources, and I had ran across a couple of Pauline Kael’s reviews thumbing through The New Yorker in the county library, but not a single one of Altman’s early ‘70s pictures after M*A*S*H played in my hometown.Then came the summer of 1975. Kael’s famous (in some circles, infamous) rave for Nashville paved the way for its studio, Paramount, to expect a big hit. And although the movie was a high-profile release that garnered similarly moonstruck reviews from almost every critic, in box-office terms the movie did not, as Kael put it, zoom off into the stratosphere. Another picture, released a week later, did instead—it was called Jaws. I was 15 years old, and that was the movie I wanted to see. Nashville, a movie about which I barely had an understanding, in terms of “plot” or anything else that might conceivably hook me into it, could wait.

And wait it did. Later, during the winter of that year, Nashville came to town and so my buddies and I decided to go see what all the pomp and circumstance was all about. We were all flummoxed by the movie’s loose-limbed approach to narrative—who can keep up with all these people and their comings and goings? I thought it looked lousy (and really, for a great movie, I still think its cinematography is rarely more than pedestrian) and it had this vague air of self-satisfaction about it that kept me at arm’s length and really turned me off. And we all made the assumption that making a movie about life, and seeing a movie about life, was the same thing as experiencing life—so why pay $5 to go see some country singer clip her toenails and then get shot, or watch a bunch of redneck show business types run around, bumping into each other for nearly three hours, when you could walk outside the theater and see it for free? (In answer to a question recently posed by Matt Zoller Seitz, it had obviously not occurred to me that Nashville was, in any way, choreographed or directed.) Clearly, at age 15, I had not seen enough of this real life I was on my soapbox about to understand what was going on in Nashville. In fact, I hated the movie.

At age 17 I was off to college as a declared film studies major, and suddenly I found myself surrounded by people who loved to say words like “Altmanesque” and who seemed to think that Altman was the greatest American film director. How could the guy who made Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson, a more boring, pretentious piece of crap than even Nashville, be America’s greatest director? I would see Nashville again on ABC-TV the following year, but where the iconoclasm and spirit of M*A*S*H managed to shine through network TV’s attempts to snip it away, Nashville seemed cramped and uncomfortable and even more incomprehensible on the Sunday Night Movie.Two more years would pass, years during which I began to stretch a little bit of the hometown cocoon out of my hair and off my back and learn a little bit about life’s demands and disappointments (all in the context of the relatively protected university setting, of course). I had finally seen a few things and been through a few things and learned about a lot of things that were uncomfortable, disturbing, challenging to my smug assurance that I knew so very much about films and music and the way people interacted with each other, the way the world turned. Then one night my best friend announced that he had been reading about Nashville and wanted to see it again, this time on the big screen. (His first encounter had been that muddied-up ABC version.) So off to the cinema we went.

I remember coming out of the revival house where we’d just seen the movie feeling like I was walking on air. This movie, which had so confused and infuriated and repelled me over the last four years, suddenly seemed different—wise, rich, complex, rewarding, perplexing, but in a way which seemed to invite me to swim in the vastness of its canvas, a canvas that seemed to encompass everything that I found equally fascinating and daunting and miraculous and horrifying about the country in which I lived. I was enthralled by Nashville, from the spinning record album and hollow huckster tone of the mock- KTel ad campaign that made up its opening title sequence, all the way through the climactic and devastating assassination, and one desperate soul who seizes her chance and rallies the stunned crowd, mass witness to murder, with a song of either haunting apathy or blind optimism (depending on how you look at it), all before the camera pans up from the stage, which is draped with a giant American flag, to the sky, the song still ringing out long after the image has disappeared. Seeing Nashville with open eyes for the first time was equivalent to having the world opened up to me for the first time. It was like suddenly being able to see the concurrent patterns and streams of thought and impulse and irrational behavior and calculated behavior and emotion and desire and political machinations and corrosion and self-destruction and bliss of everyday experience all at once, and to be able to begin to understand the meaning that part of it, or all of it, could have in any given moment. If one movie could grant me this kind of clarity of vision, or at least the license to pursue the investigation of a vision and understand how deeply that vision could permeate a soul, whether the viewer’s or the director’s, then I knew I absolutely must begin to get familiar with Robert Altman’s work as a whole. I’d seen Three Women and A Wedding and Quintet in theatrical release, and in the fall of 1980, my senior year at the University of Oregon, as if by providence, my film professor ran an entire term of Altman films, starting with M*A*S*H and going all the way up through Three Women, to be capped by that year’s Christmas release of Popeye. It was, needless to say, a revelatory experience, and I’ve seen most of those films three, four, five, ten times again since then. And the day that the professor screened Nashville, I was there for the 7:00 a.m. preview screening and the midday preview screening, both held for students who could not make the regularly scheduled 7:00 p.m. evening screening. And I was there at 7:00 p.m. too. No movie I’d already seen ever looked the same to me again after seeing Nashville, and every movie I saw after these screenings, and I mean every movie, I would see through the prism of Altman’s great, pulsating, vibrating, living and breathing vision of this country.

I was lucky enough to speak to Robert Altman once, at a screening of The Long Goodbye on the UCLA campus in 1992, just a couple of months before The Player was released and sent him along on yet another career revival. I went with a friend who had given me a copy of the old magazine Films In Review which had a picture of Altman on its cover, taken on the set of McCabe and Mrs. Miller. After the film was finished, critic Michael Wilmington hosted a Q-and-A that lasted about a half hour, during which he raised the ire of the crowd more than once by being a bit too loquacious at the expense of the director, who sat in silence while Wilmington opined. After the Q-and-A, Altman stayed down front and received several visitors, many of whom had scripts in their hands, with good humor and patience. My friend poked me in the ribs and encouraged me to head down the stairs, and after a few moments I finally did, magazine in hand. When I finally got to the floor I waited behind several others in front of me, trying to compose what I was going to say in my head while simultaneously trying to eavesdrop on the conversations he was having with the others in line. Finally it was my turn. Those piercing blue eyes looked up at me as I offered the magazine to him. “Could you sign this, please?” I asked, and he rather pleasantly replied, “Sure!” And then, after all my spontaneous rehearsals, all the brilliant things I was sure I was going to say flew straight out the top of my head and all I managed to get out was: “I just wanted you to know how much Nashville moved me as a young filmgoer. It really changed the way I saw movies.” Robert Altman extended my pen and my magazine back to me and said, simply, “You know, that means a lot to me. Thank you.” I shook his hand and headed back up the stairs toward where my friend was sitting. And I’m pretty sure that, just like when I came out of that screening of Nashville in 1979, I never touched a step on my way back up to my seat.

I can’t even get a meaningful grip on the emotions that are churning in me this morning as I try to grasp the fact that Robert Altman is gone. He lived an amazing life, and he had a career that might be a model for any director, were it not for the fact that the very iconoclasm and individualism that informed it, his irreverence for the bean counters and the powers that be, coupled with the artistic highs and lows that marked his brilliant journey, his particular stretch on the timeline of film history, couldn’t possibly be repeated. And I can’t imagine a better swansong for Altman than A Prairie Home Companion, a lilting movie of overwhelming sweetness and sadness, a microcosm version of Nashville with the shadow of death woven into the very tapestry of comedy and song and fear for the future on which the movie thrives. Altman was, by most accounts, a joy to work with, and those who would say that would probably also say that he could be a difficult bastard at times too. And he famously stood up for the least of his films too, in the face of critical assault and audience indifference. Edward Copeland recounts a moment during an interview during the promotion of Pret-a-Porter (Ready to Wear)-- a film I like a whole lot more than just about anybody I know—when Altman spoke of the critical drubbing his movie was in the process of receiving, putting it in the context of other such “failures” as Brewster McCloud or Three Women:

"’I think it's a lot better film than anyone will discover until about a month after it's opened and played,’ Altman said at the time. ‘I find that all of these films are like your children and you tend to love your least successful children the most, but they're finished and the cord's cut and it's out there and it ... doesn't belong to me anymore.’"

As Edward has observed, Altman himself now belongs to the ages, and he has left a body of work that will, I think, go unmatched in terms of its breadth, its valleys and its peaks, its persistence of vision, its mixture, as seen in the quote above, of sentiment tinged with bitter realism, its recognition of life as an untamable force which occasionally might be viewed with any semblance of unifying, edifying perspective, in two-hour bursts of brilliant color, sound, scope and thought. It’s good to know that his work will live on, and in the age of DVD it will live on supplemented by his words and observations and memories, as Altman was one of the most prolific of directors in supplying commentary tracks for his films—the DVD editions of M*A*S*H, Nashville, Three Women, California Split, The Player, Short Cuts, Tanner ’88, The Company and A Prairie Home Companion all have them.

But on a day like this, DVD commentaries are pretty cold comfort. When I arrived at the office this morning there was an e-mail awaiting me from That Little Round-Headed Boy, followed quickly by three or four other friends who all expressed condolences to me as they relayed the sad news. I’m so glad that the office was empty at that hour of the morning, because I’m not sure everyone who could have been nearby would have been as understanding of my reaction. In a way, I’ve already written my obituary for Altman in the form of a four-part career retrospective in honor of his 81st birthday and the honorary Oscar he received at last year’s Academy Awards. (You can read part one, part two, part three and part four here, and access a ton of other submissions to Matt Zoller Seitz’s Robert Altman Blog-a-Thon, of which my tribute was but a small part, here.) So for now I’m just going to go back to my work and try to think of all the great moments and movies that came courtesy of Robert Altman, and try not to think about the fact that there will be no more of them. I feel the same sort of loss today as I did in 1993 when Frank Zappa died, or in 2001 when we lost Pauline Kael. I feel, in a very real, substantial way, the way I always have when I’ve heard of a favorite teacher’s passing. And that’s how I’ve come to see Robert Altman, as perhaps the best teacher of film it’s ever been my privilege, through his films, of knowing. Thank you, sir, and God bless.

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Further reading on Robert Altman on this very sad day:

Keith Uhlich has a fine tribute and a collection of links to more on the director at The House Next Door and invites your own tributes as well.

Jim Emerson has compiled an Altman Home Comapnion for Roger Ebert’s Web site, and offers some Moments of his own, including a great story about interviewing the director in the days just before the release of The Player.

Richard T. Jameson writes about Altman’s influence in a fine appreciation at MSN.

Edward Copeland remembers interviewing Altman in 1994.

And David Hudson is compiling and long and increasingly invaluable lists of links to a wide variety of Altman tributes and reportage at Green Cine Daily.

UPDATE November 22: Here's Jim Emerson again, recounting some of his own observations, as well as fragments of Altman's universe that that passed through his thoughts while mourning the director's passing, in a lovely piece entitled Altman: Life Beyond the Frame.

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21 comments:

Edward Copeland said...

Well done Dennis and very moving. I was in such a rush to get mine up it doesn't come close to matching yours for its eloquence. Thinking back, I imagine that the first Altman I saw in a theater (when I was old enough to remember) was Vincent and Theo, though I do remember going with my parents to a drive-in when Buffalo Bill and the Indians was playing. I was already a huge Nashville fan -- even having only seen it in faded, pan-and-scan versions -- but one of my great moviegoing experiences was seeing a restored print at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center in New York in 1998.

Brian said...

Such sad news. I have to confess I often find myself relatively unaffected by the death of a filmmaker who has led a long life and given us so much already. Not this time; because Altman was on such a roll (I've loved each of his last four films, especially the Company, which I'd like to curl up with right now) I can't shake the selfish sense that he still had so much to teach me.

Of course, there are still a dozen or so of his films (not including his television work) I have yet to see, and I know I learn new things about life and art each time I rewatch and Altman film. So he will continue teaching me. But it's still tough to know he won't be drawing up any more lesson plans.

Thom McGregor said...

My sadness over Altman's death is mostly a response to how much he meant to you, Dennis. That said, I've always respected, if not liked, Altman and his movies, and for "The Long Goodbye" alone, I will miss him.

Benaiah said...

When I found out he had passed, the first site I visited was yours. You didn't have anything up then, but I just read what you wrote and I am teary eyed in public. There is the famous question: "Is art necessary? Would we include an artist in the bomb shelter?" All I know is that the passing of a more utilitarian person wouldn't hurt like this.


You might remember the first time I watched an Altman movie (3 Women) and how incomprehensible I found it. Truthfully I was simply to immature to touch a movie like that. Altman demands so much emotional investment and thought that you really have to come to watch. He is the most progressive film maker I know of and easily the most feminist and I wonder who will step into the gap in a society that still seems to despise female sexuality and immortalize male brutality. That headlines like "OJ Simpson releases "If I did it" are alongside Altman obits sums up how wonderfully different he was than most of our society. Thanks for turning me on the Altman Dennis, and I hope you curl up will a nice DVD tonight to remember.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, B. I thought I was gonna be able to avoid public tears too, but after your comment that ship has now sailed as well.

I think it's me and A Prairie Home Companion tonight. Somehow I think Nashville would be just too difficult to watch right now.

jim emerson said...

I loved this piece, Dennis. I'm just a couple years older than you -- but I remember seeing "Nashville" over and over again in 1975. (It's amazing to think that it came out the very same summer as "Jaws.")

For years I lived in dread that certain movie people would die, because I was always the go-to guy for a newspaper obit/appreciation. The pressure (deadline: "It's 8 a.m.; we need your piece on Cary Grant by 9:30 for the afternoon edition!") and the responsibility to do justice to these figures who were so important was overwhelming. I can't even think of all of them right now, but they included Grant, John Huston, Barbara Stanwyck, Mel Blanc, Divine... I loved 'em all.

But today it's different. I'm supposedly "on vacation" this week, but I had to write SOMETHING to acknowledge the passing of Altman, who matters more to me personally than any other director making movies during my lifetime. But I'm just overcome. It was a Long Goodbye, a long time coming (I remember seeing him at the Film Society of Lincoln Center tribute in 1994, and we all feared he'd be dead by the end of the year he looked so bad -- he's seemed so healthy in the last few years, after what turned out to be a heart transplant). But just knowing this day was inevitable doesn't make it any easier.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Yeah, Jim, just knowing that a man or a woman lived such a full life and achieved so much is often enough to ease the pain of a loss like this. But right now such rationalizations aren't much comfort. It was heartening to see him at the Oscars, and I have to confess I really believed he would go on for another 10 or 15 years. He looked so much healthier than he had around the time you mention, and his work was just as vital as ever-- The Company is a brilliant movie that could have been made by no one else. The man had so much more to offer, and to think that there will be no more movies made by Robert Altman-- and to think of some of the ones, like his versions of Ragtime and Angels in America, that he was denied the opportunity to make-- is really more than I'm able to deal with today. I know that you'll join me in spirit and thanksgiving for the films that he did make, and for the fact that this true maverick was able to sustain such a career, one in which the flops were never fatal-- and suggested he was willing to go further out on a limb that anyone else making films with no fear of failure-- and one in which the successes were so much more than just successes. As Henry Gibson said at the end of Nashville, "somebody sing!" And so we will. Have a good vacation, Jim.

blaaagh said...

As sad as this loss is, it's really satisfying to me that his last movie, A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION (unless there's another unreleased one), is so wonderful: I'd say it's made by a director at his peak, especially when I consider GOSFORD PARK a few years earlier (I haven't seen THE COMPANY yet, but I guess it's high time).

It's so fitting that I should have heard this news from you, Dennis, who loves and appreciates Altman more than anyone I know, and with whom I've shared quite a few first experiences with his films--not to mention many a late-night conversation about what we'd seen.

Also gotta see THE LONG GOODBYE, which somehow I've missed all these years! Jeez, how sad: like you, I somehow expected him to keep going at least another ten years. R.I.P. to an artist I'm sure we'll only appreciate more as time passes.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, Blaaagh. If not for your prompting, who knows how long it would have taken me to figure out how great Nashvilleis? I'll never forget seeing that film, and Three Women and Quintet and A Wedding with you, and knowing that I'd have somebody to talk with about them afterward, however they turned out. (What an amazing time, to be able to go to the movies on a Sunday afternoon in Eugene, Oregon and see movies like these?) I'm also glad we got to see A Prairie Home Companion together too. If anything could have made seeing that movie more special, it was the company I saw it with-- my wife the first time, you the second.

blaaagh said...

Yeah, and that we got to see PRAIRIE HOME in Eugene, at the Bijou, was perfect. A great memory for me, too--to accompany all the good ones of times we saw his films during college. Maybe the best for me is the memory of walking out of 3 WOMEN with you, starting to cautiously talk about the film, and both of us coming the the astonishing realization that we had loved it. I think I, at least, was prepared to find it hopelessly pretentious and dull, and it was great to bounce my impressions off you and get good ones back. As for NASHVILLE, it's one of those movies that seems to hit me a different way each time I see it, at different times of my life...in fact, now I want to see that one again, too.

Thanks for such a lovely, heartfelt tribute. I know you're having a REALLY sad day, and clearly I'm not the only one who appreciates your putting your thoughts and feelings out here so eloquently.

Brian said...

These are lovely thoughts, esp. about seeing Nashville, and the importance of rewatching (and therefore re-envisioning) a movie. Your experience of Nashville matches my own, and also reminds me of my experience with Rules of the Game, which I saw when I was 19 or so, and totally didn't get until I saw it several years later, at which point it seemed like the most fascinating, endlessly open film in the world (it still does). And while you might think all the thoughts rushed out of your head when you met mr. altman, I can't imagine being nearly as articulate when meeting one of my heroes as you were in meeting him. Thanks for a great post.

Oh, and I like Pret-a-Porter, too. (:

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thank God! Someone else who's in the Pret-a-Porter camp! That cheers me up a little right there!

It's funny that some of the films that become so important to us are ones we disregard in our more youthful days. Like you, I tried to sit through The Rules of the Game twice, and my poor, malnourished head just wasn't ready for it. So when my wife and I impulsively stepped into a London movie theater near Piccadilly in 1996, where the movie was showing on a very limited rerelease, it felt, again, like a whole new world had just been laid out for me to discover, and I realized it really was one of the greatest movies ever made.

It really heartens me to see all the tributes from all the people who were so moved by what Altman did with his films. Just looking at the growing list David Hudson is compiling makes me feel like Altman's legacy and memory are, for the moment anyway, in good hands. Thanks for your thoughts Brian.

Patrick said...

Hi Dennis. Great write-up. I wrote a fairly rote farewell to him here:

http://www.justpressplay.net/news/Movie/287-Farewell_Robert_Altman.html

Hardly in a category with you and your friends, but no less heartfelt. Altman, I've said for the last couple years of my young life (I'm 23) is the greatest living filmmaker of all time. Now I can make that a simple "greatest filmmaker of all time", without the pesky qualifier.

On Pret-a-Porter (some clips from a small blurb I wrote a year ago):

"Can I tell you that I loved it? Will that taint your image of me? Can I say that I give it four stars and still maintain a shred of credibility?"

"As far as I can tell, the beef most people have with it is that Altman isn't sassy enough in his critique of the fashion world. But why must it be a satire on the level of MASH?"

"It is a tapestry of attitudes and personalities that is sometimes pointed, sometimes meandering, sometimes banal, sometimes elevating. In other words, classic Altman."

****

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, Patrick. I hate the reason why the writing is coming, but I love reading tributes to the man and his art, yours included.

And thanks for joining me and Brian in our appreciation for one of Altman's most universally trashed movies. At this point, I bet there's more people willing to come out for Quintet than Pret-a-Porter. But I just loved that movie's crude fizz, it's lack of structure, and its undeniable, if somewhat curdled, joie de vivre. As you implied, it doesn't necessarily all have to come together. Most Altman films have ragged or otherwise loose ends-- it just so happens this whole fabric was pretty frayed, but no less enjoyable and entertaining because of it.

Thanks for checking in!

John McElwee said...

Dennis, you've written a beautiful tribute here. I suspect your personal "Nashville" saga reflected the experience of a lot of Altman admirers who came to the same conclusions by way of age and maturity. The man made movies for adults. Thanks for an unforgettable read.

Peet said...

I've been sick these last two days, so this news is still fresh to me. I just want to express my condolences to you, Dennis, because I realize how much Altman's cinema means to you. Just find a little comfort in the fine way that you (and Matt at the House, and Bob Cumbow at 24Lies, and all the bloggers who took part in the Altman blogathon) have inspired others recently to share your appreciation for this remarkable filmmaker.

John said...

a very moving tribute, dennis. he'll be sorely missed

Matt Zoller Seitz said...

More dittos, Dennis. I had a similar experience with Altman expanding my consciousness as a student of filmmaking. But for me, because of the timing -- the 80s, my high school years -- it wasn't the presumed golden era of Altman's theatrical masterpieces, but the period when he was doing adaptations of plays, some of them low-budget art movies, some made for TV. The first one was "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean," which I think might have been the first American art film I asked to go see, and I only asked because "60 Minutes" did a profile of him, and I figured if "60 Minutes" thought a movie was important, I'd better see it. I was 12, and I couldn't make heads or tails of it, but I did know it was unlike anything I'd seen. A bit later, with "Fool For Love," "The Dumbwaiter" and "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial" (the latter made for television) I started to be mesmerized by his style -- the long takes, the cutaways to geographically adjacent action while key conversations continued offscreen, the zooming in and out to prevent you from getting too comfortable and force you to think about the whole space.

Nobody made movies that way then, and still nobody does; it's interesting that of all the filmmakers identified as Altman acolytes -- including P.T. Anderson and Alan Rudolph -- none are as radically decentralizing in how they direct. Most directors still go out of their way to "direct" your attention to particular people or objects or moments; Altman does that sometimes, but a lot of the time he leaves it up to you to decide what to look at and listen to (the Renoir influence taken to the next level), and that, more than perhaps anything else, including choice of subject matter or sense of humor, probably explains why he was never as popular as some of his filmmaking contemporaries, and why the general moviegoing public didn't embrace him the way they did, say, John Ford or Hitchcock or Spielberg.

And yes, "A Prairie Home Companion" is a hell of a note to go out on. For a director famed for his anti-endings, this one was damned near classically perfect. That he apparently knew he had cancer 18 months ago and chose to go out with this movie is just so funny I can't stop smiling over it.

beege said...

Dennis, when I heard the news I immediately thought of you. I know you were such a fan--although "fan" hardly seems an adequate term for the depth of your esteem--and I knew you'd be sad.

I guess one of the lovely things about filmmakers is they leave a bit of themselves behind in a very unique way, and so as long as there is someone to appreciate their work: they're never really gone.

Brian said...

Again, a great commentary. I don't know if this is an appropriate thread to post this on, but since this is one of my favorite film blogs, I thought it was a good space to also mourn the loss of another film and stage legend, Betty Comden, who I just found out died over the holiday weekend (she was 89). Along with her partner Adolph Green, she wrote the screenplays for the two greatest Hollywood musicals, Singin' In The Rain and the utterly sublime The Band Wagon, as well as the book and lyrics for On The Town and Bells Are Ringing (the two also did a wonderful cameo in the 1985 concert version of Stephen Sondheim's Follies, transforming the very brief "Rain on the Roof" into something both knowing and sincere at once, which might be a good description of their writing, too) (you can rent the concert-- well, a documentary about it, actually-- on DVD). When the history of the film musical is written, we rightly recognize Kelly, Astaire, Minnelli, Donen, etc., but Comden and Green are equally important. All of this is just a long way, I guess, of saying-- rough week for losing some wonderful film people.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks for the words on Betty Comden, Brian. I meant to write a little something, but the stomach flu descended upon my household over the Thanksgiving weekend and has yet to fully let us loose.

When my wife and I were still just dating, she took me to the Hollywood Bowl on my birthday for a screening of Singin' in the Rain-- imagine seeing that movie on a giant screen in that setting. To top it off, Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Stanley Donen, Adolph Green and Betty Comden were all there on stage before the show. It was deliriously wonderful, and it was also the first time I'd ever seen the movie.

We showed the movie to our girls this weekend and they were enthralled-- by the hilarity of "Make 'Em Laugh," of course, and O'Connor and Kelly's great vaudeville number at the beginning, but also by the beautiful melodies of songs like "You Were Meant For Me," "Good Mornin'" and, of course, "Singin' in the Rain." It made me feel good about passing this bit of film history on to my family-- and that's a far better tribute to Comden that anything I could have come up with here.