Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Unseen #10: A Wedding

Why’d I Buy It?: Came with Altman Box Set.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: See Thieves Like Us.

How Was It?: Quite a pleasant surprise actually. While Thieves Like Us was a virtual showcase for what I find frustrating about Altman, A Wedding equally highlights the qualities of his that I find so appealing and valuable about his work. His warmth, sharp eye and ear, and underrated sense of humor.

A Wedding was by all accounts, including his own, Altman’s attempt to top Nashville. Featuring a cast of hundreds rather then mere dozens, and spread out over a zippy (for Altman) two hours, A Wedding is the logical endpoint of Altman’s large canvas films, in the same way that Brewster McCloud is the Vanishing Point for his strange insular movies.

How’d it work out? Well being that Nashville is often cited as one of the greatest American movies ever made, and A Wedding is usually dismissed as only a curio if that, perhaps you can guess. And though A Wedding isn’t exactly a masterpiece, it’s jumbled and confused, I can’t help but love it a little.

It’s was the loosest, funniest film that Altman made since MASH, and would remain such until A Prairie Home Companion. Centering around a two large families, a nouveu rich group and a family of old money with more mongrels in their midst then they'd care to admit. They unite for a Marriage that everyone aside from the principles seem to realize is a terrible idea. The family returns to a palatial mansion where they drink, gossip, carouse, fuck, die, and suffer natural disasters.

While the film is hampered by it’s large stunt cast, and it’s hummingbird like attention span, no one really gets a whole lot of screen time. You come to care about the characters almost inspite of yourself. Altman was such a gifted artist that there he was able to capture a subjects humanity in a few quick sure handed strokes. He slips a strangely affecting middle aged love story into the mix, featuring a very game Carol Brunett.

Despite the lack of a lot of screen time, Altman never reduces anyone to caricature either. His reputation as a misanthrope was always overblown. Nobody as interested in people as he could simply hate them. Maybe it’s the natural joviality of the wedding, the films lighter tone, or the obvious affection he has for some of his most unlovable characters but that’s particularly easy to see in A Wedding.

The film has a wicked sense of humor, even playing a running gag with the corpse of Lillian Gish, kind of like playing a running gag with the Virgin Mary Of Cinema, that manages to be funny as it is tasteless, and even kind of sweet.

A Wedding might not be a masterpiece, but make no mistake it’s Altman at the very top of his game. And it’s always pleasurable to watch an old master at work.

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