Rewriting the Story of a “Maverick” Auteur in Hollywood
In standard accounts of the chapter in film history known as the “New Hollywood” of the late 1960s and 1970s, largely understood as the work of newly independent young film directors, Robert Altman has long been described as perhaps the greatest rulebreaker of his generation, subverting Hollywood’s stylistic conventions in films like M*A*S*H, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye, and Nashville. But this account has misunderstood both Altman and Hollywood cinema itself. So argues Mark Minett, UofSC professor of English and Film and Media Studies, in Robert Altman and the Elaboration of Hollywood Storytelling. In this new book, Minett combines archival research of Altman’s production practices and meticulous formal and statistical analysis of some of the filmmaker’s signature stylistic qualities (e.g., overlapping dialogue, heavy use of the zoom, and improvisation) to demonstrate that Altman’s early landmark films do not simply reject or defy the stylistic norms of classical Hollywood storytelling, but instead work from within them, even as they also innovate beyond them. Challenging multiple narratives in film studies, Minett’s rigorous scholarship requires us to reconsider long-held assumptions not only about the work of one of the most celebrated American filmmakers of all time, but also about film authorship and possibilities for innovation in Hollywood cinema.
Praise for Minett’s new book:
Minett offers the most precise account we're likely to get of Robert Altman's unique contributions to the art of American moviemaking. Covering the broad extent of his career, including television work, Minett analyzes the achievement of this “borderline” Hollywood filmmaker with sensitivity to the changing production contexts. While mounting original arguments, Minett revises, nuances, and challenges earlier work with persuasive arguments and careful documentation. This book is at once an in-depth study of a distinctive director and a revealing look at some unexpected cinematic horizons opened up by the New Hollywood.
-- David Bordwell, Jacques Ledoux Emeritus Professor of Film, University of Wisconsin
Minett's impressively extensive background research in Altman's technological and industrial options is combined with precise, perceptive analysis of some of the director's most popular films — all in clear, mercifully jargon-free prose. Tackling topics like Altman's fondness for zoom shots and dense, overlapping dialogue, Minett achieves a convincing account of the flexibility of the classical Hollywood cinema and the ingenuity with which Altman exploited that flexibility.
-- Kristin Thompson, co-author of The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style & Mode of Production to 1960
Robert Altman and the Elaboration of Hollywood Storytelling is published by Oxford University Press. It is also available as an audiobook. Listen to a sample.