Wednesday, March 14, 2007

shut up and act!

Belatedly, I come to a topic that has been distracting at me for a couple weeks now.

Everybody has one - an opinion, that is. Opinions are as ubiquitous as, well, you know what. Especially opinions about movies. Anyone who has ever worked for a newspaper and has had access to wire services can attest to the fact that opinions about films and filmmakers come cheap.

As someone who freely pontificated opinions for a living for longer than I care to remember, I've learned to respect those of others. But some are just too annoying and have to be addressed - and must.

This is in preamble to confronting Lily Tomlin's gratutious remarks about Alfred Hitchcock during a tribute to Robert Altman - the latest of many in recent months - at the Independent Spirt Awards ceremony, held on February 24th. (You did know that Robert Altman was remarkable, right?) Anyway, Tomlin took the stage with Robert Downey, Jr. to praise Altman's famed indulgence of actors, needlessly and unfavorably contrasting Hitchcock with him. Hitch, of course, was infamously more demanding of actors.

Yes, she even hauled out that old Hitchcock analogy that actors are - gasp! - cattle. Heaven forbid.

William H.Macy pretty much recited the same spiel - needless digs at Hitch, a man he never met - when he was doing PR for Gus Van Sant's unnecessary remake of "Psycho" several years ago. (Hey, I have a message myself: I've seen Gus Van Sant movies and, believe me, he's no Hitchcock.)

Look. I liked Altman. I especially liked him during my formative years as a critic in the 1970s, but I grew up and, hopefully, grew wiser. "Nashville," which was my reason for living in 1975, slowly became less illustrious over the years and, yes - dare I say it? - even boring. Altman was of his time, and many of his titles are starting seem like weird artifacts of a brief, fleeting period in Hollywood that, for better or worse, was creatively fertile. I should note here that, as a working critic, I did not believe in or practice blind loyalty. There's no place for it in criticism.

Hitchcock isn't here to defend himself (not that he necessarily would), so I will. His work, unlike Altman's, has proven to transcend time and place. It defies age, even those titles hastily dismissed in their time. The delectable "Marnie" has improved with age; Altman's "Images" hasn't. I'd also wager that, arguably - arguably - there are better, richer performances in Hitchcock's films than in any of Altman's. He was a great, if limited, filmmaker. Hitchcock, on the other hand, was simply great, whether he liked actors or not. I'm sure he disliked critics, too.

So what?

My problem with Tomlin's remarks is based on the fact that I wholly disapprove of denigrating one filmmaker in order to celebrate another, and I hope that I didn't do that here today. Oh, and for what it's worth, I think Tomlin has been quite remarkable on screen.

And not just in Robert Altman movies.

(Artwork: Master filmmakers top: Robert Altman and bottom: Alfred Hitchcock)

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com


Donna Lacey said...

Amen! I thought the same thing. Thanks for saying what I was thinking.

Janeen said...

Altman is great but not that great. Enough with the drippy tributes, I say!

Jonathan Ambrose said...

Lily Tomlin is entitled to her opinion and I'm glad she is loyal to Robert Altman. But I agree - why drag down Hitchcock to make Altman look good. Altman's work stands on its own, as does Hitchcock's. I'll be visiting this blog often!

Anonymous said...

I really disagree about Lily Tomlin. I've never seen her onstage, where she may be compelling. But on film her face is an inexpressive mask. You can't see behind her eyes; her characters seem to have no inner life. In most roles that's a very bad thing.