I suppose that my first Altman film was "M*A*S*H"—it was for many people. It took us all by surprise. The irreverence, the freedom, the mixture of comedy and carnage, the Korean renditions of American hits and the voice over the loudspeaker as running commentary or counterpoint, the creative use of the zoom lens and the long lens, the multiple voices on the soundtrack—he was like a great jazz musician, taking us all along on a grand artistic journey.
He changed the way we looked at people and places and listened to voices, and he really changed our understanding of exactly what a scene was. Bob made so many wonderful pictures, but finally it’s all the work taken together that is such a source of wonder.
Bob and I would cross paths from time to time every few years or so, and it was always memorable. He was there at the New York Film Festival in 1973 when "Mean Streets" was shown, which was a big event for me in so many ways. We met, and I remember that he was so gracious, so reassuring, and entirely complimentary. He really went out of his way for me. It was inspiring, and it meant the world to me.
Ten years later, we ran into each other at an official function on a yacht. We struck up a conversation, and we discovered that we both had pictures, made at the same studio, that had been pulled—"The King of Comedy" for me, “HealtH" for him. There we were, both at a crossroads. Given the way things were going in the industry, neither of us could get a picture funded. We were marked men. For a while, at least.
Bob’s solution to the problem was very simple: He just kept working. He persevered. Mind you, this is when he was almost sixty, a time of life when many other people would have given up. He was just getting his second wind—or was it his third? Or maybe his fourth
Excerpted from Martin Scorsese’s introduction in the new book “Altman" by Kathryn Reed Altman and Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan, published by Abrams.