The Northwest Film Center (NWFC) has taken a few lumps lately, and while some grievances hold water (namely, the Whitsell Auditorium has all the charm of a college lecture hall), it seems negligent not to point out what the NWFC is doing right, and that's showing great movies. Over the past year or two in particular, they've put together a ton of good programs (even if they haven't completely figured out how to appeal to audiences under 50). Case in point: "It Don't Worry Me," their tribute to the late, great Robert Altman, which kicks off this week.
Fans can quickly tell you: Robert Altman is not "great" because he's old, dead, and important. His greatness lies in the movies themselves, which are (with a handful of exceptions, as you'd allow anyone with a 50-year career) hilarious, vibrant, smart, and not the least bit pretentious. And he didn't just pull off that feat a few times: The number of grade-A films Altman left behind is astonishing. The NWFC is showing all of the biggies from the archive, as well as a few lesser-known favorites. If you have a favorite Altman flick, NWFC's probably screening it. If you don't have a favorite yet, start with one of these:
Brewster McCloud (1970) is my current favorite, with hilarious car chases, tons of killer bird shit (literally), and bumbling cops—sort of like a hipper, Nixon-era It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. If you're not a card-carrying member of the Elliott Gould fan club, you will be after.
The Long Goodbye (1973), which sets the Raymond Chandler private dick classic in the sunny, aerobics-crazy Los Angeles of the early '70s. And as we pull into election season, there's no better cinematic warm-up than...
Tanner '88, the HBO series about a Democratic presidential hopeful that Altman co-created with Doonesbury whiz Garry Trudeau.
Reviews, obits, and websites abound with treatises on Altman's influence on Paul Thomas Anderson, his symphonic use of ensemble casts, and his still-wicked innovations in overlapping dialogue. These points are all legit and true, but they can obscure the most important fact: Robert Altman's films continue to be kickass, witty, and manic all at once. More simply: They're really great movies.