Thursday, October 23, 2008

Currently Watching: The Long Goodbye (1973)

One of several Altman films sandwiched between "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" and "Nashville," "The Long Goodbye" is an interesting if not too incredibly artistic look at the detective movie from one of the 70's most distinct voices.  Altman's signature roaming camera and naturalist dialogue are really the key aesthetic "updates" in this reworking of Phillip Marlowe detective stories.

I really enjoyed Elliot Gould in the starring role, especially contrasting him against actors like Bogart who helped define the character.  Part of the charm of "Long Goodbye" seems to be the way Altman incorporates ideas from the 70s - cocaine, nudity - more explicitly than could be allowed in the 40s under the PCA.  In a way this makes "Long Goodbye" feel dated, a kind of novelty item whose ideas of reworking a genre feel misplaced and shortsighted.

The film is visually very appealing, with Altman doing some great stuff with pans and zooms to incorporate many different views of the same conversation or character within one take.  Unlike "The Big Sleep," the plot is laid out very well, and the film avoids over-exposition or inducing any kind of weird psychological undertones.  It's appropriately plot-driven, with Marlowe existing, as always, as a mere catalyst and guiding narrative force for the story - an embodiment of the audience's curiosities.  Further production values stress a decomposing world with more grit and dark alleys and a more "street-wise" kind of a vibe.

Altman is saluted and recognized for his many contributions and innovations to the cinematic form in New Hollywood.  I like to signal him out as really driving genre deconstructions and reappropriations in a different kind of direction.  Propping this alongside "M*A*S*H" and "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" can only confirm this.  Whereas the other two are more like tapestries where the characters become interwoven threads within a larger commentary - much like his other great success of the decade, "Nashville" - "The Long Goodbye" uses adheres rather faithfully to its conventions, toying instead with the characterization of the protagonist, the delivery and formation of the dialogue, and the aesthetic of the camera and production design.  A very entertaining and often engaging detective film from a man whose loss still resonates.

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