The Trick is the Confusion
All (fiction) films are about other films. Every actor we see on the screen
has another life. Every film somewhere contains a story about itself --
often it takes a film archeologist, but sometimes it is registered in a
readable, even unavoidable way.
All of the masters and a good many ordinaries play with this notion in one
way or another. Some even take it on as a literal challenge: `Sunset Blvd.,'
`Wayne's World,' `French Lieutenant's Woman,' `Apocalypse Now,'
`Draughtsman's Contract,' `Bowfinger,' `8 1/2' quite a few. `The Player' has
the advantage of excess which makes it seem unique. It is not, but because
the method of making it is as much a part of the parody it is uniquely
Part of the parody is the one and only thing most people see. Dozens of
actors play themselves amidst many other actors who play characters. Some of
those characters are film types, some not. This shifting of worlds is a
simple trick, but it works. Much more subtle (except at the beginning) is
how Atlman uses the camera to sometimes be in the film's film world, then in
his film world (the character's real world), then in our real world (the
same as most of the actors). It starts with that first Wellesian shot which
includes a comment on pretentiousness of such shots.
The writer is watched by both use, but also by a writer who eventually gets
his film produced. And of course at the end we discover that it is the film
we have been watching. The player is the creator of the player at play. I
love this stuff, but get offended when it is juvenile hands as is the case
in say `8MM,' or even `Cut.' But Altman is different, he is smart and not at
all afraid to take chances.
This film marked a change in Tim Robbins. He would go on to produce his own
version, `Cradle will Rock,' with many of the same tricks, including the
narrative shift and the long tracking shot.
Ted's rating -- 3 of 4: Worth watching..
So This Is What Altman Thinks of Hollywood
Leave it to Robert Altman to announce his return to Hollywood with a
scathing indictment of it.
After a decade of working in virtual anonymity, Altman made a comeback
with this dark comedy, scoring his third Academy Award nomination as
director and his first since "Nashville" nearly 20 years earlier. It's
instantly recognizable as an Altman film -- the opening of the movie is
an 8-minute tracking shot following various conversations about either
story ideas or movies in general, including one about famous tracking
shots from famous movies.
Tim Robbins plays a self-absorbed producer who begins to receive death
threats from an unknown writer whose idea Robbins ignored. As he
becomes increasingly paranoid, the movie becomes increasingly like a
nightmare, and the world of Hollywood begins to become more and more
removed from the world of everyone else. Altman vents his frustration
and disdain for the asinine business of making movies, even while he
suggests that the business is worth putting up with in order to do what
he loves. Pretty much everyone who had ever been in an Altman film to
that point in time (and many who hadn't) have roles in this movie, some
-- Peter Gallagher, Sydney Pollack, Vincent D'Onofrio, Whoopi Goldberg
(hilarious) -- playing fictional characters while others -- too many to
name -- play themselves. Robbins anchors the film though, with a great
performance completely lacking in vanity. Only Altman would choose to
do a full frontal male nude scene with the actor caked in mud.
"The Player" is not actually one of my favorite Altman films, but it
did signal his return to his typical large-scale ensemble format, and
it allowed him to make "Short Cuts," which IS one of my favorites, the
very next year.