Prologue

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Announcement from the Academy headlined “Robert Altman to Receive Honorary Academy Award,” January 11, 2006: Director-producer-writer Robert Altman has been voted an Honorary Award by the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Award, an Oscar statuette, will be presented at the 78th Academy Awards Presentation on March 5, 2006. The Honorary Award will be given to Altman to honor “a career that has repeatedly reinvented the art form and inspired filmmakers and audiences alike.” Altman has received five Academy Award nominations for directing—for M*A*S*H, Nashville, The Player, Short Cuts and Gosford Park—as well as two additional nominations as a producer of Best Picture nominees Nashville and Gosford Park—but has never taken home the Oscar. He has directed 37 films, produced 27 and written 16 of them. “The board was taken with Altman’s innovation, his redefinition of genres, his invention of new ways of using the film medium and his reinvigoration of old ones,” said Academy President Sid Ganis. “He is a master filmmaker and well deserves this honor.”

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Presentation of Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, 78th Academy Awards, March 5,2006

LILY TOMLIN (actress and comedienne): Boy, I didn’t think we’d get past security out there.

MERYL STREEP (actress): Yeah, I know. Now we just have to get past all our insecurities up here.

LILY TOMLIN: Okay. Hello, I’m Meryl Streep.

MERYL STREEP: And I’m Lily Tomlin.

LILY TOMLIN: And, and tonight we …

MERYL STREEP: No, no.

LILY TOMLIN: …are pleased to honor…

MERYL STREEP: No, no.… Wait, wait a minute. No, no…

LILY TOMLIN: To honor a man …

MERYL STREEP: No, no…

LILY TOMLIN: We are honoring a man…

MERYL STREEP: A man who we honor, that’s…a man who didn’t … that’s my, you’re reading my line. A man who didn’t play by the rules.

LILY TOMLIN: Yeah, that’s what I said. Who didn’t play by the rules or stick to the …

MERYL STREEP: Stick to the script.

LILY TOMLIN: I am, Meryl.

MERYL STREEP: No, I’m agreeing with you. I’m agreeing with you. I’m just saying that Robert Altman didn’t stick to the script. He colors outside the lines.

LILY TOMLIN: And he wants actors to do the same thing.

MERYL STREEP: Yeah.

LILY TOMLIN: I, I personally know …

MERYL STREEP: He doesn’t want us to act.

LILY TOMLIN: No, and I’m grateful for that. He, uh, he wants the kind of spontaneity that can only come from not knowing what the hell you’re doing.

MERYL STREEP: Like, like now.

LILY TOMLIN: Like now.

MERYL STREEP: Right?

LILY TOMLIN: Right. Yes. He just starts to film and we watch the dailies and, and it’s a magical point.

MERYL STREEP: The film just starts to wake up to itself. That’s what. And you see, you see …

LILY TOMLIN: You say, “Oh I see, I see something’s happening.”

MERYL STREEP: Yeah, but usually you don’t know what it is.

LILY TOMLIN: No, but, but Altman does, because otherwise it….

MERYL STREEP: Well, I would…

LILY TOMLIN: … wouldn’t be happening …

MERYL STREEP: …hope so. And his moviemaking style just does seem to enhance our capacity to take in more sounds and more …

LILY TOMLIN: more …

MERYL STREEP: images than …

LILY TOMLIN: layered…

MERYL STREEP: … than we ever knew we had the, the ability to process. You know, because the movies seem to have a different metabolism than other movies …

LILY TOMLIN: It, it, it …Well, well, he’s always been …

MERYL STREEP: …and it’s almost as if he’s just…

LILY TOMLIN: …been ahead of the curve.

MERYL STREEP: He’s just kind of…

LILY TOMLIN: And he’s able to capture the …

MERYL STREEP: He moves out…

LILY TOMLIN: … curve …

MERYL STREEP: …densely layered…

LILY TOMLIN: …on film, with floating cameras …

MERYL STREEP: …soundscapes …

LILY TOMLIN: …extended zooms.

MERYL STREEP: And it’s just incredibly living, almost like it came from a parallel universe.

LILY TOMLIN: And, well, and to some moviegoers it seems as if the popcorn they’ve just been munching …

MERYL STREEP: Yeah …

LILY TOMLIN: …had suddenly turned into peyote buttons. Oh, it’s just …

BOTH: WOW.

MERYL STREEP: I wouldn’t know. So…

LILY TOMLIN: Well, no, I mean just…

MERYL STREEP: Well …

LILY TOMLIN: Figuratively speaking.

MERYL STREEP: If, if, if you…Yes. M*A*S*H. McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Kansas City.

LILY TOMLIN: Nashville.

MERYL STREEP: The Long Goodbye. Thieves Like Us.

LILY TOMLIN: Short Cuts.

MERYL STREEP: Gosford Park. California Split.

LILY TOMLIN: The Player.

MERYL STREEP: Yeah, uh … Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. So many others. And television. He does plays, he does …

BOTH:… operas.

MERYL STREEP: It’s amazing.

LILY TOMLIN: Oh, and you know. Did I say Nashville?

MERYL STREEP: Yes.

LILY TOMLIN: It bears repeating [audience laughter]. Um, I must say you’re, uh, you’re worried now, that I got a laugh that you didn’t get.

MERYL STREEP: No…

LILY TOMLIN: I can see it….

MERYL STREEP: No, it’s okay.

LILY TOMLIN: I can feel it.

MERYL STREEP: It’s all yours.

LILY TOMLIN: [Laughs] Over the years, he has fired our neurons, opened our eyes…

MERYL STREEP: Um-hum. And bloodied a few noses.

LILY TOMLIN: Well, yes. Even his own. Um, he’s a satirist, he’s a sage …

MERYL STREEP: He’s examined the minute particulars of human behavior and he’s doing it right now and he’s dying for us.

LILY TOMLIN: [Laughs] And we, we are all richer for it.

MERYL STREEP: [Laughs] But if…

LILY TOMLIN: …dialogue…

BOTH: We leave his movies knowing that life is many things…

MERYL STREEP: …at once …

LILY TOMLIN: …at once …

MERYL STREEP: Let’s look at the clips!

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ROBERT ALTMAN (Recorded voice-over to Oscar audience, during a montage of film clips): I equate this work more with painting than with theater or literature. Stories don’t interest me. Basically I’m more interested in behavior. I don’t direct, I watch. I have to be thrilled if I expect the audience to be thrilled. Because what I really want to see from an actor is something I’ve never seen before, so I can’t tell them what that is. I try to encourage actors not to take turns. To deal with conversation as conversation. I mean, that’s what the job is, I think. It’s to make a comfort area so that an actor can go beyond what he thought he could do. I’ve done almost every kind of job. I love to take them and then kind of turn them over a little bit. Look at them a little differently. I purposely don’t go into a project that I know how to do. It’s just such a joyous collaborative art. When you start looking back, the real reward is the process of doing it and the people that you do it with. And man, it goes fast.

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After Robert Altman’s Death, in November 2006

ALAN RUDOLPH (director): You know he directed that thing at the Oscars, right? I was watching the Oscars on television, like ninety-nine-point-whatever percent of people. The day after, he called me, and I told him, “That thing with Lily and Meryl Streep was really the highlight for me.”

And Bob said, “You know, I directed that. When they were rehearsing, I heard one reading her lines and then the other, back and forth. I went over and said, ‘Just talk on top of each other.’”

MERYL STREEP: He told us, “This is a lot of horseshit. Just fuck around with it.” Of course we were terrified. It’s a big responsibility to honor this man we had admired so much. We wanted to make him laugh. That was our whole m.o.—make Altman laugh, and to hell with everybody else.

ALAN RUDOLPH: I wasn’t surprised. These were two actresses in Bob’s latest film, playing sisters, and they talked about Bob and how he does it in a way that Bob would have done it himself. Which means he wouldn’t take it too seriously, but the truth would come out.

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