Saluting the Master of Anti-Genre, Mr. Robert Altman
In looking back on the career of a legend, I turned back to the 1970’s and Robert Altman’s Anti-Establishment experiments in genre. During the decade, he made the opposite of a war film with M*A*S*H, the opposite of a western with McCabe and Mrs. Miller and revisited Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe to make anti-noir with The Long Goodbye.
The film is one of the most bizarre and curious entries into noir that one will ever see—Elliot Gould plays Marlowe as an easygoing slob, obsessed by finding the right food for his cat in the middle of the night, helping a friend without thinking of the repercussions, and buying brownie mix for his topless, stoner yoga bimbo neighbors. Simply put, he’s the 40’s and 50’s Marlowe that’s become an anachronism in the 70’s—he no longer fits in with the surroundings and tries to make sense of this wild Los Angeles. The film’s dialogue is clever and fun, penned by Leigh Brackett of Rio Bravo fame and the film’s decidedly un-Marlowe like ending left devotees of Chandler cold but the “hooray for Hollywood” feel of it seems very tongue-in-cheek. Overall, Altman’s cinematic choices are surprisingly odd, such as his decision to only have one song in the film (the title tune) played under as many different arrangements as possible. It must’ve been a shocking neo-noir for fans to behold in the 70’s but has grown in reputation over the years, for example film critic Roger Ebert was both in awe and bewilderment upon its release and gave the film three stars until twenty years later including it in his legendary tome of criticism, his “Great Movies” series when he changed its rating to four out of four.