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banner Monday, 21 January, 2002, 09:52 GMT
Altman: Maverick film-maker
Altman has a long-established film career
Robert Altman - famous for M*A*S*H and Nashville - has won awards for his work on the murder-mystery satire Gosford Park. BBC News Online takes a look at his long career in film.

Film director Robert Altman is famed for his uncompromising, irreverent movies.

He was born in Kansas City, US, in 1925.

From an early age his keen interest in sound recording was an indication of the direction his life would take as he took his place on the Hollywood stage.

Although at school he indulged his fascination with cheap tape recorders available at the time, he did not pursue a career in sound or film when he left school.

He went instead to Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, and in 1945, he enlisted in the Air Force and became a co-pilot of a B-24.

After serving in World War II, he left the military life and found his interest in films.

WWII pilots
Altman [not pictured] flew during WWII
He said in a recent interview with The Onion online that the first film that "allowed me to look at films as more than just a novelty" was David Lean's Brief Encounter.

"I was probably 21, and that film just startled me," he said.

He began writing magazine stories and radio scripts and worked for a small Kansas City company that made independent films.

Although one of his scripts was turned into the 1948 movie Bodyguard, Altman stayed low-profile, spending nearly a decade at the firm and producing and directing a couple of low-budget films.

His big break came when he began directing Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Combat and Bonanza on television. This led to a flurry of television work, until he was offered the script for MASH in 1969.

More than 15 other directors had already turned it down, but Altman accepted the script and had his first major success.

Robert Altman
He is highly respected in the film world
The black comedy about medics serving US troops during the Korean War, earned Altman an Oscar nomination and a place in Hollywood.

And it went on to spark the much-loved long-running TV series starring Alan Alda as Hawkeye and Loretta Swit as Hotlips.

He went on to make the 1971 Western drama McCabe and Mrs Miller, starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie, and Philip Marlowe whodunit The Long Goodbye in 1973, starring Elliott Gould.

The films helped boost his reputation still further, and he continued to make movies which revealed his idiosyncratic approach to film-making.

Oscar nominations

In 1975 he made Nashville, a portrayal of US life set in the country music capital, which brought him another Academy Award nomination and much critical acclaim.

He followed on this success with less high-profile, often offbeat films, which took him away from mainstream popularity.

His film version of Popeye, starring Robin Williams, did not fare well, but Altman's television work proved to be more successful.

He directed several plays and small-scale films, as well as the highly-praised election campaign parody, Tanner, the 1988 cable series that won him an Emmy.


Film success returned in 1992, when The Player, Altman's satire on Hollywood wheeling and dealing, earned him another Oscar nomination.

Altman's third Oscar nomination came just a year later with Short Cuts - a montage of Raymond Carver stories creating a complex but intriguing tale.

But Ready to Wear/Pret-a-Porter in 1993 did not do as well with the critics.

But Altman has never taken the populist line.

He said: "My films may not satisfy a mass audience, but they were never made to do that.

"This big store, they sell shoes, and I make gloves. With films I do or am going to do, I never take into consideration, "Oh, this is really going to sell a lot of tickets."


He continues to make the films he wants to and, it seems, he will always have an audience for his films, regardless of what the critics say.

His latest effort, the lavish Gosford Park, sees his first British movie set in 30s London.

An ironic dissection of English society between the wars, it includes multiple plotlines of intrigue, sexual trysts and murder, played out by an all-star cast, including Alan Bates, Dame Maggie Smith and Charles Dance.

All eyes will now be on Altman to see if he can repeat his Golden Globes success at the Oscars.

See also:

02 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Last of the 'Hollywood Ten' dies
24 Jan 01 | Entertainment
UK film honours Robert Altman
22 Jan 99 | Entertainment
Altman film opens Sundance
Links to more Oscars 2002 stories are at the foot of the page.

Links to more Oscars 2002 stories