Posted by: nastypen | November 22, 2006

Short Cuts and Paper Cuts

Filmmaker Robert Altman died today. I am saddened by this piece of news. Not only he was a great filmmaker. I could relate to his mood swings, his nonchalance for shallow Hollywood glamour and fluff, his astute sense of direction and he did not really care what others have to say about his works. He just kept on rolling the camera and even encouraged sponataneity from his actors.

But Altman was more than that to me. I make it sound as if I knew him right? Well, let us just say he has had quite an impact in my cinematic endeavors.

Robert Altman made films such as Pret-a-porter (Ready to Wear), a film about Paris fasion scene. I didn’t like it that much but I enjoyed the original soundtrack. His Gosford Park was notable. I liked the parallel lives of the servants and the masters, but I’m sorry, this is inferior compared to Remains of the Day. But in Gosford Park, it was a prismatic narrative of the different lives under the mansion’s grand roof. A party was in order and there are characters as the coquettish maid played by Emily Watson to the high society lady deliciously played by Maggie Smith with a withering gaze and caustic eyebrow. Clive Owen is here as a butler. But these are not the films that made me fall in love with Altman.

One of the very first movies I saw in my life was a betamax copy of his film adaptation of the comic strip Popeye. I was two years old when this movie was released. It was panned by critics and ignored by the audience but at such a young age, I did not care for the reviews. Hell, I could not even read then. But I was enthralled by this film. My father would tell me how much I laughed as a toddler at Popeye, both at the cartoons and at the movie.

I remember watching Popeye to a frequency of at least once a month. You have to remember I was born in the B.C. (Before Cable) era. I was so enthralled to see actual actors portraying my favorite comic strip and cartoon at that time. this was Robin Williams‘ debut film. He was pretty funny and captured the character dead-on. But, I’m sorry, I fell in love with Sherry Duvall and with her portrayal of Olive Oyl.

I (heart) Olive Oyl

Her song in that movie He Needs Me just seared itself to my memory. A few years ago, my sister and I were watching Paul Thomas Anderson‘s brilliant love story (brilliant because it is not insipid nor overtly saccharine) Punchdrunk Love starring Adam Sandler and the magnificent Emily Watson. One of the pivotal parts had that song and my sister thought, “Where did I hear that song before?”

I jumped from my seat and almost shrieked, “Oh my God! From Popeye!!!!”

This song can be my wedding march! Check out the lyrics here.

Here’s the clip of that song and my favorite part was when she said “…but He does!” Olive Oyl is, arguably, a diva and a gay icon. Two men fight over her, one a burly bear and another a muscle mary who’s into greens….how gay can you get?

What struck me in Popeye the movie is that it did not have the bright colors of the cartoon or the comic strip. there were no cartoon ports with deep blue sea. There were no cartoon houses with vermillion roof tiles and yellow walls. The seaside town in that film was not idyllic. It did not belong to a postcard for tourists. I remember wincing at the filth and the grime. People wore rags and I thought, “Popeye lives here?” Perhaps Altman utilized the grime as a counterbalance for a comic icon, like a jarring visual irony.

It is this sort of jarring visual irony that endeared Altman’s films to me. Fast forward from 1982 to 1993 when I would be embarrassed to admit to liking Popeye. Back in the early 90s, I hated everyone and was in love with Nirvana‘s Kurt Cobain. I know, typical. But Altman managed to snag my attention once more with his film Short Cuts.

It was shown on cable. I was trying to figure out a Physics equation and gave up on it and decided to watch this film. I did not what to expect. I was blown away. the film was made of different short stories of people in Los Angeles. I remember a bitter lounge singer and her distraught cellist daughter. There was a group of fishermen who saw a dead body by the creek. There was a fat guy and his flubbing over women. And the most stark, for me, was a scene with Julianne Moore (love her forever!) angrily talking to her husband about cheating. She spilled something on her skirt. She took the skirt off and washed it by the sink, then blowdried it as she lets out hurtful words to her husband. Oh, she was not wearing underwear, too. This movie answered the question “if you’re a red head, is the hair down there red, too?”

I was shocked to see this…on cable TV……in the Philippines!!! This is from a country who wanted to cut some scenes from Schindler’s List! My jaw was hanging open as the stories just unfolded before me. There will be an event that serves as a common denominator to all the stories. I won’t spoil it. Find this film and watch it. This movie shows we are all connected, moreso than what you think and deem comfortable. Powerful acting. The saddest story for me was the jazz singer and her daughter.

I thought it was eerie that I thought of introducing a new segment in this blog which I call “Paper Cuts.” Today was the day I alloted for the introduction then I saw on the news that Altman dies. It is like an homage to Short Cuts with a comics-style narrative. I made some short story comics and will be posting them occasionally on this blog. This is the first one:

Paper cuts#1

I already showed this comics somewhere but I “colored” it with grey swatches. If you want to read this, please click here.

Altman inspires me for a quiet yet unnerving manner of storytelling. No bombs. No CGI’s. No sweeping shots with MTV-type of editing. Just stories.


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