47 FILMS: 5. THE PLAYER
More 47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams. This episode we tackle Robert Altman’s slap in the face to Hollywood, The Player.
I liked Bob Altman he was a mean old bastard but he made Popeye: The Musical which should be shown in every film school as a lesson as to why excessive amounts of cocaine and a large production budget is a dangerous combination.
Altman was on coke, Robin Williams was on coke and my old tennis partner Robert Evans got arrested for smuggling pounds of coke onto the set. Hell they even hired Harry Nielson to do the soundtrack which on a drug-riddled film set in 1980 was the equivalent of employing Count Dracula to run a blood bank. After the cast and crew had sniffed everything that wasn’t nailed down, they’d managed to cobble together something that only just resembles a film. Popeye was critically mauled, Altman was blamed for losing control and he spent the rest of the 80s in limbo making patchy work with few highlights and plenty of stinkers.
Then in 1992 he pops up from nowhere with The Player, a savagely satirical character assassination of Hollywood and the scoundrels, chancers and lowlifes that work in the movie industry. Altman sticks the knife into the back of the major studios and everyone who has pissed him off during his film making career and then spins them around and sticks a knife in their front. From the vapid, morally bankrupt executives to the screenwriters willing to compromise their integrity for a deal, Altman exposes the business side of the show where the rules of normal society don’t apply, the dollar rules and if you have enough cash and enough power you can get away with anything, even murder.
The real beauty of The Player though is Altman’s dismantling of the tricks and conventions of film making, whilst he’s making a film. You never know if a certain shot is a parody or if all of the 80 or so cameos from actors playing themselves are in on the joke. Christ knows how he got so many major stars to climb aboard in the first place but it seems they were all sold on the idea of biting the hand that feeds them, even just for a few seconds. Critics of the picture will say that it’s Altman’s own bitter and cynical perspective of the business but if he could get so much talent on board to knowingly send themselves up, it’s either a mass delusion or it cuts very close to the bone.
If you’re doing film studies you should already have seen it and if you haven’t then your lecturer should be fired. As for the rest of us citizens there is plenty to admire and enjoy on the surface but if you’ve got a bit of film knowledge and you’re willing to dig a little deeper, the rewards just keep on coming.
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