THE LONG GOODBYE (1973; Robert Altman)I will say this right up front, THE LONG GOODBYE is one of my all-time favorite movies. We're talking top 5 for me. I find this interesting because I didn't necessarily love it the first time I saw it. I can't recall my exact reaction when the film finished, but it was not one of having been blown away. I'd hate to run into that earlier version of me in a bar by some mishap in the space time continuum someday and get into a discussion about it, because I'd probably end up punching myself. As it stands now, I find the movie to be nearly flawless. A remarkable, free-wheelin' adaptation of a hard boiled crime novel that is infused with such a glorious post modern-ish viewpoint that I can't help but adore it. You what else helps it? Elliott Gould. You wanna talk about an actor being in their heyday, let's talk about Gould in the 1970s (I still love him to this very day btw, but in the 70s he was a man on fire). Gould's performances during that period were perfectly suited to the time. He was able to capture a laid-back coolness that Steve McQueen never reached. And his coolness was never more cool than in THE LONG GOODBYE .I love him in CALIFORNIA SPLIT, BUSTING, LITTLE MURDERS, M.A.S.H. and others as well, but this was his pinnacle in my mind. Not only was Gould like Jeffery Lebowski for the 1970s (the man for his time and place), but he was also the man for Altman and his sensibilities as well. There's just something about Gould's voice, his mannerisms and his general physicality that make him wonderfully unique and a perfect fit for this role in particular.
Now I love Altman's films and his style. I've heard some folks that I respect aren't into him (*cough* Tarantino) and I just don't get it. I mean, yeah I get that Altman's films don't appeal to everyone, but it seems that most of the hardcore cinephiles I know can at least appreciate him if they don't outright adore his output. Anyway, we've all seen a lot of private eye films and in turn a lot of self-aware private eye films to boot. What THE LONG GOODBYE does it take that sort attitude of self-awareness and fold it in on itself with character, location and some undefinable sense of the time in which it was made. Speaking of location, Los Angeles has a long and torrid history with the movies and private eye movies in general. I do tire of hearing that inevitable phrase, "the city is really a character in the movie". I see what is trying to be touched upon but I feel that it's become a shortcut quip for press junkets and people don't really even think about what it means anymore. Los Angeles is most certainly a big part of THE LONG GOODBYE. It is not and I don't think it ever could be a New York movie. I think there are a lot of movies that could be set in a lot of different places and they'd still be as effective as they are with wherever they happen to be located. Altman's Los Angeles of the THE LONG GOODBYE is such a great fit. This has to do with a lot of things as Altman tends to create a kind of tapestry in his cinematic melting pot, but credit certainly needs be given to the great Vilmos Zsigmond. The great Hungarian-born cinematographer and Altman worked together previous to this on MCCABE & MRS. MILLER (which is a gorgeous-looking film) and he had just shot DELIVERANCE (and Altman's woefully underrated IMAGES, both in 1972) the year before rejoining Altman to do THE LONG GOODBYE. Zsigmond is no accidental part of a lot of great 70s cinema. His contributions to the works of Altman, De Palma and Steven Spielberg in the 1970s and 80s cannot and should not be left as a small footnote. The look he gave to each of the films he worked on during this period is specific and evocative. THE LONG GOODBYE is no exception. Zsigmond chose to 'flash' the to give it a Los Angeles a look more evocative of the 1950s in his mind and it works beautifully. Once I'm in the movie I don't think about it, but it effects the mood of things in such a way as to be more immersive for sure. Another thing that helps me get lost in the world of THE LONG GOODBYE is the music. John Williams' theme is weaved throughout the movie in a truly wonderful way. It starts off in a lovely, croonery style with Johnny Mercer singing the song with lyrics as the credits roll. That version of the theme is a stunning mood-setter without question. From there we begin to hear the theme in all manner of ways diegetically throughout the movie. It crops up in muzak form as Philip Marlowe shops for Courry Brand cat food at the supermarket. It can be heard in a bar as the piano player noodles about on the piano. It finds its way into the movie in all these different wonderful ways and I've always adored that approach. Sure it's not a novel idea to have your film's theme pop up again and again, but I love the way Altman does it here. Speaking of Altman, this film is full of a lot of his trademarks. His penchant overlapping dialogue (one of the more distinct things he does) is quite apparent and put to good use here. He also throws in a lot of actors in smaller roles that work well in that space (David Carradine, Mark Rydell and many others all slot right in). I hope the release of this Blu-ray will remind people just how good this movie is as I believe it to be one of the greatest of the 1970s. I used to love CHINATOWN more, but THE LONG GOODBYE has surpassed it for me.
--"Rip Van Marlowe" – An interview with director Robert Altman and star Elliott Gould
--"Vilmos Zsigmond Flashes THE LONG GOODBYE" in this 14 minute interview, the veteran cinematographer talks about his working relationship with Altman, and their specific process on THE LONG GOODBYE. He touches on their decision to flash the film 50% to give it a certain look, Altman's affinity for the zoom lens and other technical details of the production.
Bonus: Elliott Gould discusses THE LONG GOODBYE:
THIEVES LIKE US (1974; Robert Altman)
Robert Altman followed THE LONG GOODBYE with this adaptation of Edward Anderson's novel Thieves Like Us. Though Altman's film of THIEVES LIKE us is based on the same material as Nicholas Ray's THEY LIVE BY NIGHT, it is intriguing to me how different the two films are. Of course there is a gap of almost thirty years in between them so there's a natural shift in how movies look and feel, but there's more than that. Altman has truly made the material his own, for better or for worse. It shows a lot of his trademark filmmaking techniques which certainly gives a feeling much more laid back than the 1948 film.then you've got the boy and girl played by Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall. A more Altman couple than that is hard to find as I personally associate these two actors strongly with his movies. I happen to prefer Cathy O'Donnell and Farley Granger, but Keith and Shelley are a nice pair too. THIEVES also features several other Altman regulars like John Shuck and Bert Remsen as well as Louise Fletcher and Tom Skerritt. The script by Calder Willingham (THE GRADUATE) and Joan Tewksbury (NASHVILLE) is interesting and low key. For me, it's an oft overlooked film in Altman's quite robust filmography. Quite worth discovering.
This disc features the commentary track from the old MGM dvd with Altman himself. It's a solid track and a nice one to hear especially now that Altman is no longer with us. It's a screen specific thing and within it he talks about various aspects of the production. He talks about his DP Jean Boffety, and the actors (how he first met Shelley Duvall and his initial impressions of her). He also goes into detail about his decisions with regards to how to show period and tell this story in particular. It's a loose commentary, but just the kind of thing you'd expect from a guy who made films as Altman did.