Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Prairie Home Companion

It's hard to let go of the people you love and respect, but life sorts us out, and death is part of that continuum. Robert Altman has directed some of the great American films, and is one of the greatest American filmmakers, whose ascendancy into the pantheon will surely be accelerated by his passing. His final outing is well aware of his inpending death, and now that he has passed, there is a great sense of fait accompli in watching A Prairie Home Companion. The sketchy, loose narrative is in essense Altman saying there is no point in mourning the course of nature. There will always be a sense of loss, but, as a character says, there is no tragedy in an old man dying. In that way, the film itself is something of a vessel, or at least it feels that way today, now - perhaps when the film is cemented in the canon, a different reading of it will be atainable, but likely not. With his slowly darting camera, the audience hangs out, as it does in most of his film, surveying the recording of the final show of Prairie Home Companion like an uninvited guest at a party, bouncing from clique to clique, an observant wallflower. That was his gift, and in the corners there is always something interesting to discover.

I don't know if it's a great film, my sense is that it is minor, though an essential piece of the canon (unlike something like Pret-A-Porter, or Cookie's Fortune) and strikes me as more resonant than something like 3 Women, though that's just me. The film is very charming, but what I didn't expect is how emotional the last act made me, in a very sneaky way. Say goodbye, the film offers, I'm going away, but it don't worry me. There's something profound in that, and a perfect summation of Altman's sloppy genius. If I am a little depressed at Altman's passing, it's only for the loss of a master whose career is now encased in amber.