Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Following up on some earlier posts...

Philip Marlowe: Nobody cares but me.
Terry Lennox: Well that's you, Marlowe. You'll never learn, you're a born loser.
Philip Marlowe: Yeah, I even lost my cat.

-- From The Long Goodbye (1973)

And then of course, Marlowe shoots him. But, thinking now about the Robert Altman films I've seen, what sticks in my mind now is a critique on winner-takes-all that runs through many of these films -- off the top of my head, I can clearly see it in The Long Goodbye, as well as McCabe and Mrs. Miller, California Split, The Player, and the class expose Gosford Park. Sometimes this critique is blatant, other times more sly and ironic, but I'll be looking for it in every Altman movie I discover from here on.

In California Split, the heroes win, but it's one of the most hollow, sad wins in cinema. In The Long Goodbye, the hero slams up against his cluelessness, but it seems like he might've gained an actual clue in the process. And in The Player, we learn just how much of a creep the "hero" is, when we see the lengths he will go to win, and just how good he is at it.

And Altman's career itself stands as a kind of testament against winner-takes-all. He's proof that there's a good reason to stick to your guns and not take any shit, even if it means long periods on the outskirts of success (however which way you might define it).

If nothing else, I'll always love Altman because he tried to portray life the way people actually live it; something too few artists shoot for, yet it's maybe the thing I value most in film, music, books, TV, etc.

As for Nate Wiley, sadly it had been a bit of a while since I last heard him play sax while drinking at Bob and Barbara's on a late night (though my liver is probably better off for this). But, I contend, he was a Philly institution. His presence succinctly summed up the city's flavor more than any tourist trap ever could.

Finally, how was I to know -- a little while after posting a fond Seinfeld memory -- how unpleasantly (to put it mildly) one of the former cast members would, out from nowhere, self-destruct in public?


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