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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2006, 10:00 GMT
Robert Altman's career in films
Robert Altman
Altman won an honorary Oscar in March 2006
Film director Robert Altman, who has died aged 81, made 36 motion pictures in a career that spanned 40 years.

Although he never won an Oscar, he received an honorary award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences earlier this year for his work.

Giving the award, the Academy said they were honouring the director for "a career that has repeatedly reinvented the art form and inspired film-makers and audiences alike".

Here are some of the films which cemented his reputation.

MASH - 1970

Set during the Korean War, but made at the height of the conflict in Vietnam, Mash was a dark comedy centring around the staff of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.

The film follows the adventures of three rebellious young surgeons, led by Donald Sutherland's Hawkeye Pierce, who make life miserable for chief nurse Hot Lips Houlihan and the deeply religious Major Frank Burns.

Amongst their pranks, the surgeons broadcast Houlihan and Burns' passionate embraces over the camp's public address system, and drug an opposing football team before the start of a match.

A masterpiece of black comedy, MASH juxtaposes the surgeons' high-jinks against the relentlessly bleak wartime setting, and is seen by many to be a direct criticism of the Vietnam war.

MASH won an Oscar for its screenplay, and spawned the hugely successful TV series.


Based on a Raymond Chandler novel, The Long Goodbye annoyed many of the author's fans by deviating from the source material.

Elliott Gould plays the classic film noir detective Philip Marlowe, who gives his friend a lift to Mexico - only to learn that he is wanted for murder.

Convinced of his friend's innocence, Marlowe investigates the crime for himself - but rather than the wisecracking tough guy of the novels, Gould portrays the hero as a bumbling eccentric.

Critics were not kind to the film, with the Illustrated London News calling it "a spit in the eye to a great writer".

But film experts have subsequently praised Altman for pushing against the boundaries of the film noir genre - and juxtaposing the deeply moral 1950s film hero against the selfish, self-obsessed 1970s.


A highlight of Altman's 1970s work for the major Hollywood studios, Nashville introduces 24 characters over a sprawling two-and-a-half hours - although the director claimed to have shot enough material for a four-hour cut of the film.

The plot centres around a political campaign in Nashville, which tries to harness the popularity of local country singers to promote presidential hopeful Hal Phillip Walker.

The actors were encouraged to write and perform their own songs for the film, and Keith Carradine won an Oscar for his composition I'm Easy.

Amazingly, the film was shot for about $2m in less than 45 days, but the stunning mosaic of sharply observed characters and improvised, overlapping dialogue came to be known as "Altmanesque".


The Player tells the story of Griffin Mill, a Hollywood studio executive played by Tim Robbins, under investigation for the murder of a scriptwriter.

The plot is fairly standard thriller fare, but it gives Altman the chance to poke fun at the film industry.

Along the way, we meet a screenwriter pitching his ideas for The Graduate 2 and Whoopi Goldberg mimicking her own Oscar speech while in character as a police detective.

Altman enlists the help of more than 60 actors, directors and producers to make the Hollywood setting more realistic, and the eagle-eyed viewer can spot cameos from Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, John Cusack and Anjelica Huston.

The film's most celebrated scene is the bravura, 8-minute-long, one-take opening shot, featuring Altman's trademark overlapping dialogue as characters walk on and off screen.

The director won awards from Bafta and the Cannes Film Festival for The Player, but missed out on the Oscar.


Based on the work of Raymond Carver, Short Cuts weaves together the stories of 22 separate characters against a sumptuous jazz soundtrack.

The ensemble cast featured actors such as Andie MacDowell, Julianne Moore, Lily Tomlin and Matthew Modine - as well as singers Tom Waits and Huey Lewis.

The tales, taken from nine short stories and a poem, were not originally linked - and many Carver fans baulked at the attempt to connect the characters.

But critics called the film Altman's masterpiece - marvelling at how the director managed to juggle ten separate stories without losing the viewer's interest.

Short Cuts won Altman another Oscar nod for best director, but he was beaten by Steven Spielberg, who swept the board with Schindler's List.


Another huge ensemble cast was put together for Gosford Park, a whodunnit set in an English country manor shortly before World War II.

As ever with Altman, the intertwining vignettes and Agatha Christie-like plot are a device to examine a deeper theme - in this case the British class system.

Although the film is entirely fictional, Jeremy Northam stars as the real-world composer Ivor Novello, potentially to suggest how celebrity would soon eclipse money as a way of gaining recognition in British society.

Other actors included Dame Helen Mirren, Charles Dance, Richard E Grant and Stephen Fry.

Gosford Park became Altman's second-most successful film after MASH, making $87.7m (46.2m) at the box office.

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