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Premieres & Events

Altman's Last Hurrah Hits Lincoln Center

"The death of an old man is not a tragedy."

That is a line from Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion, the director's most recent -- and final -- film. Spoken by the character "Dangerous Woman" (an angel of death played by Virginia Madsen), it can now, in retrospect, be referring to Altman himself one week after we lost the legendary 81-year-old filmmaker to complications from cancer.

Nevertheless, for the Film Society of Lincoln Center to choose Companion for an Altman tribute screening Monday night seemed like a choice of convenience. Maybe there were no other prints available, and this latest release was readily on hand somewhere in the city; after all, this wasn't exactly one of his better-received works. Then again, how could the organization just pick one of his best? In his introduction to the film, FSLC associate programmer Kent Jones explained its appropriateness.

"Very often when someone makes a film that turns out to be their last," he said to the audience at the Walter Reade Theater, "it's read as a testament -- sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly. In the case of this movie, which deals so much with mortality and with endings and with loss, but in such a beautifully light-hearted way, it makes perfect sense."

It really does. Companion is about the ending of a long-running radio variety show, and the film is packed with philosophical dialogue -- some morbid, some comic -- about life and death. One character dies immediately following a performance. Much of the film seems almost intentionally about Altman's own passing, including Madsen's haunting presence and co-writer and star Garrison Keillor's lines, "Every show is your last show," and, "I don't want them to be told to remember me."

And as such, it is difficult to watch A Prairie Home Companion today without seeing obvious parallels to Altman's life, career, death and legacy. "This is one of those losses in the film world that feels like the shifting of a tectonic plate," Jones said. "It's hard to imagine that there won't be anymore Robert Altman films. I'm very happy that we have the ones that he made. They really changed the way that a lot of us looked at movies. And they changed how we experience them, and what we expect from them." -- Christopher Campbell

Posted at November 28, 2006 7:31 AM

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