A tribute to acclaimed director Robert Altman ("Gosford Park," "Nashville," Short Cuts," "The Player") on Sunday afternoon was an intimate, bittersweet, funny and fittingly unpredictable tribute to the late filmmaker. The Van Dyke Parks quartet opened the Sunday afternoon service, held at the Director’s Guild. DGA president Michael Apted introduced Altman’s sons Michael, Stephen, Robert Reed and Matthew Altman, who all spoke of how deeply their father’s independent spirit had shaped and inspired their lives.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson, who worked closely with Altman on his final film, "Prairie Home Companion," marveled at his stamina despite undergoing treatment for cancer. "When I asked him for advice, Bob would always say, ‘My advice is to never take advice,’ but then he ‘d go right ahead and give it anyway,” Anderson said.
Garrison Keillor described Altman’s years in the armed service, during World War II, piloting B-24 bombers on over 50 missions when he was just 19 years old. "When you’ve gone through that, there isn’t much Hollywood can do to you,” Keillor said.
Robin Williams recounted hilarious tales about shooting the ill-fated “Popeye” on the barren rock island of Malta: “And then we made it into a musical!”
Martin Scorsese, who had a cameo in an Altman film, recalled being blown away by the totally unscripted Altman set. “When I got home, I said to my wife, ‘Don’t say anything. I think I may still be miked.’"
Everyone who spoke to the packed DGA theatre — including Laura Dern, Malcolm McDowell, and Elliot Gould — praised Altman’s wife Kathryn, who equaled him with her vivacious wit. "When he first saw her," McDowell recalled, "He went up to her and his opener was ‘How are your morals?" "Not so good right now," she cracked back.
And everyone agreed that being cast in an Altman film meant becoming part of their family, and being always invited to "come and play," attend parties, do another film, what Altman used to describe as "building sand castles."
Before singing, "Somebody Call the Cops," torch singer Sally Kellerman sang the first line of “I’ve Got a Crush on You."
She slowly turned to face what she thought would be the huge photo of Altman that had been projected on a screen behind her as she got onstage. But what replaced his smiling face was a huge photo of her as Hot Lips in "MASH" — her skirt hiked way up to her crotch, garter belts showing — as she climbed out of a military jeep.
“Ohmigod! Where’s Bob?,” the horrified Kellerman shrieked, as the audience burst into giggles. Needless to say, Bob — whose motto was "Giggle and let go" — was probably laughing right along with them. And he would have loved Sally and Bill Henderson singing the "M*A*S*H" theme song "Suicide is Painless" to close the event.
Michael Kaplan, who produced all three of Altman’s memorial tributes, said, "Bob was definitely in the room."
Photo Credits: Bob and his wife Kathryn in 2003.
Photo Credits: Michael Apted at the DGA Tribute to Robert Altman.
Photo Credit: Sally Kellerman singing to Bob.