A lot of people think this movie is fabulous. One guy on IMDB says he thinks about it every single day, even though it was made in 1973; another says he watched it twice last week. I really don't get it.
Of course, I'm not a habitual movie watcher. Movie buffs seem to distance themselves from the movies they watch in a way that I just can't; to me, watching a movie is like spending an hour and a half in somebody else's mind.
Last night we watched Robert Altman's 1973 movie "The Long Goodbye." Warning: if you're considering seeing it, my comments here are spoilers, so stop now, but I'll leave you with this one thought first: Robert Altman hates everybody.
Being in Altman's mind for an hour and a half is a really desolate experience. Even the people who love Altman films will talk about his 'misogyny' as a feature of his work, as though it were morality-neutral; and it's true that the women in The Long Goodbye are uniformly flat mannequins, from the naked yoga druggy cultists who live next door to Marlowe to the lead female character, whose motives are inexplicable because they are not those of a real human being.
But Altman's women aren't just flat mannequins; they are flat mannequins that Robert Altman personally hates. Nor is he just a misogynist; he hates his male characters too, to the point where he can't understand their motives either (and so at the end of the movie, Marlowe is shown going skipping down a street playing a harmonica like Harold at the end of Harold and Maude -- having just murdered a man who has been his friend since boyhood. This is Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe we're talking about).
I must say, Altman is great at putting you right inside his mind; it's just that it's not anyplace you would ever want to be. I refuse to excuse Altman on the grounds that he is an artist; I assign him full responsibility for his hatred of humanity.
Starting with the (apparently) famous Coke bottle scene, which I knew nothing about in advance, and which more than half of IMDB reviewers didn't even comment on (and when they did it was only to claim that it was a scene that really redefined movie violence for the other artistes of Altman's generation). The Coke bottle scene is, to my mind, one of the really unforgivable moments of cinematic history.
A thug is visiting Phillip Marlowe (played by a mumbling Elliott-Gould-as-Trapper-John) with his henchman. He has brought along his lovely flat mannequin girlfriend, who is so innocent that she enters the apartment where the thug is shaking down Marlowe because she's been scared by something that made a noise when she was left out in the car. She is beautiful and sweet and utterly brainless and unreal, since she apparently habitually drives around with her lover and his henchmen and never is touched by the violence she sees them perpetrate.
The thug praises her beauty and her innocence and tells Marlowe that he loves her above everyone in the world but his family. He instructs his hoodlums to get her a coke from Marlowe's refrigerator; he empties it; and then he brutally bashes it across her face so hard that not only must her bones all be broken, the glass breaks and she is hideously cut by the breaking glass. She screams and writhes horrifically as the blood pours down her face and gets all over everything; the camera rests lovingly on her at length, while we are privileged to ponder the utterly brainless destruction of her beauty and innocence.
(Altman loves this crap. He loves it. He did it also in McCabe and Mrs. Miller, in a scene in which gangsters slay in cold blood a good and innocent 17-year-old boy after a long and drawn out preamble. I saw it years ago, and I do think about it often, but that's not a good thing).
After that, I was unwilling to stick around Altman's brain any longer. I suppose I am writing this article as a way to try to get back at him for polluting the world with his hideous vision of the destruction of innocence, goodness, and beauty. Thanks for listening.
(and if you liked that.. you should hear what I have to say about "The Talented Mr. Ripley").