Robert Altman Gets Honorary Oscar Recipient + Kirby Dick vs. Censorship

Robert Altman, directed MASH, Thieves Like Us, Popeye, Short Cuts, The Player, Gosford Park, Brewster McCloudIconoclastic director-producer-writer Robert Altman, 80, will be the next recipient of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Honorary Award, to be presented at the 2006 Academy Awards ceremony next March 5. The Honorary Award will be given to Altman for “a career that has repeatedly reinvented the art form and inspired filmmakers and audiences alike.”

Altman has never won an Oscar despite five Academy Award nominations for directing – for MASH (1970), Nashville (1975), The Player (1992), Short Cuts (1993), and Gosford Park (2001) – in addition to nominations as a producer of best picture nominees Nashville and Gosford Park.

In the last 55 years, he has directed nearly 90 features, made-for-TV movies, and episodes from televisions series, in addition to producing and/or writing nearly 40 of them. His latest effort, A Prairie Home Companion, set in the world of radio, and starring among others Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Woody Harrelson, and Lindsay Lohan, will open later this year.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Altman began his film career working on documentary, employee training, industrial and educational films. While still in Kansas City, he made his first feature, The Delinquents (1957), which was eventually distributed by United Artists.

Later on he moved to Hollywood, where he directed episodes of television series such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Bonanza. His film career took off in 1970 following the gigantic box office success of the military satire MASH, starring Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould.

Altman's career peak was in the early '70s, when he made a series of generally well-received offbeat films such as the anti-Western McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie (above); the anti-noir The Long Goodbye (1973), with Elliott Gould; and the anti-musical Nashville (1975) – Altman's best film of the ones I've seen and eons better than his other efforts of the period (with the exception of M*A*S*H and the weird Brewster McCloud).

Among Altman's other films are several critical and box office flops, including the mystifying Quintet (1979), with Paul Newman; the disastrous Popeye (1980), with Robin Williams; and the much-panned all-star extravaganza Prêt-à-Porter / Ready to Wear (1994).

Tim Robbins in The PlayerAmong Altman's well-received recent efforts are the caustic unHollywood Hollywood drama The Player, starring Tim Robbins (right), and the more than a little baffling (but entertaining) anti-murder-mystery murder mystery Gosford Park, featuring a top-notch all-star cast that includes Maggie Smith, Alan Bates, Helen Mirren, and Clive Owen.

Photo: Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Kirby Dick 'This Film Is Not Yet Rated' Takes on the MPAA

Kirby DickUSA Today reports that Kirby Dick's documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated “drew cheers from an audience of 1,200 at its Sundance Film Festival premiere Wednesday for its exposé on the secret group that can mean life or death for movie earnings at the box office.”

The “secret group” in question is the ratings board of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which makes some of the wackiest – or just downright inane – decisions about what is and what isn't acceptable for American children and teenagers to watch.

Worse yet, with the NC-17 rating (no one under 17 allowed), the MPAA censors actually have the right to prohibit teens from watching films even if their parents would consent to it. That's a lot of (undemocratic) power. (Ironically, NC-17 was the initial rating given to This Film Is Not Yet Rated.)

Needless to say, the censorship board of the MPAA finds graphic violence acceptable if teens are accompanied by an adult, but explicit or semi-explicit sex or nudity are major NC-17 baits – especially if it's gay sex or male nudity as in, for instance, Pedro Almodóvar's outstanding Bad Education.

“We don't try to set standards,” explains MPAA spokesperson Kori Bernards. “We just try to reflect them.” In other words, the MPAA is supposed to be a reflection of America's cultural hangups and prejudices. But the question is, whose America do those censors actually represent?

As an aside, Dick, whose documentary Twist of Faith was nominated for an Academy Award last year, has accused the MPAA of making pirated copies of his film. An ironic twist worthy of an unrated Hollywood movie.

More on This Film Is Not Yet Rated on the Independent Film Channel page where filmmakers are invited to share their own “MPAA horror stories.”

István Szabó Defends Past as Informant

Istvan Szabó, Jennifer Ehle, Ralph Fiennes on Sunshine set

The Guardian reports that Hungarian director István Szabó, 67, whose Mephisto won the 1981 best foreign-language film Academy Award, has been exposed “as a former informant for the communist authorities in 1950s Hungary. His activities coincided with the Soviet crackdown that followed the 1956 revolution and occurred when he was a student at the Budapest Academy of Film.”

Szabó defended himself from the accusations, saying that “the state security job was the bravest and most daring endeavor of my life because we saved one of our classmates after the revolution of 1956 from exposure and certain hanging.”

Besides Mephisto, which stars Klaus Maria Brandauer as an actor who sells out to the Nazis, Szabó's films include Colonel Redl (1985), also with Brandauer and a best foreign-language film Academy Award nominee; the anti-Communist family saga Sunshine (above, 1999), starring Ralph Fiennes, Jennifer Ehle, and Rachel Weisz; and the fluffy Annette Bening vehicle Being Julia (2004).

According to the IMDb, the director is currently working on Rokonok, the tragicomic story of a young man (Sándor Csányi of Kontroll) whose life is changed after he becomes the attorney general in a small Hungarian town. The film is scheduled to be released later this year.

'Two Sons of Francisco': Brazilian Biopic Becomes 'Sertanejo' Hit

Two Sons of Francisco by Breno SilveiraIn the New York Times, Larry Rohter writes about last year's biggest box office hit in Brazil, 2 Filhos de Francisco / Two Sons of Francisco. Directed by Breno Silveira, the film tells the rags-to-riches story of two poor rural boys – Zezé and Luciano di Camargo – who grew up to become one of Brazil's biggest sertanejo (the national “country music”) singers. Two Sons of Francisco is Brazil's submission for the 2006 best foreign language film Academy Award.

Rohter's article is quite readable, though I do have a couple of quibbles with it. To the best of my knowledge, the current Brazilian president, generally known by his nickname, Lula, was never really a peasant. He was born in the rural Northeast, but his family migrated to the industrial south when he was still a small child. Also, the article never explains why the Portuguese-speaking sertanejo singers cut a Spanish-language record in English-speaking Nashville. (Are they trying to break into the Spanish-language market? Are they already famous in Spanish-speaking countries?)

In the last five years at least two Brazilian films set in the poverty-stricken Northeast – Andrucha Waddington's Eu Tu Eles / Me You Them and Walter Salles' Abril Despedaçado / Behind the Sun – opened commercially in Los Angeles. Even though most Brazilian films depict the lives of working- or middle-class urban Brazilians, I can't think of a single internationally renowned Brazilian movie in the last several years that was set anywhere besides Rio's slums or the Northeastern hinterlands.

I should add that Two Sons of Francisco has also created a political furor.

If it weren't enough that his Labor Party is at the core of what may well be the worst corruption scandal in Brazil's history – and that is saying a lot – Lula was caught watching a pirated DVD while aboard his private jet during a Moscow-Brasília flight last October. The Brazilian president later expressed his regret over the incident, stating that he is friends with the two singers.

Update: If Two Sons of Francisco becomes an international hit, I'll have to add “Midwestern hinterlands” to the shortlist above. See comments section below.

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1 Comment to Robert Altman Gets Honorary Oscar Recipient + Kirby Dick vs. Censorship

  1. Welington Liberato

    2 Filhos de Francisco is not set in northeast of Brasil, is set in center-west, close to Brasilia, our capital, and the vegetation, culture and people are quite different. In this terms, Larry Rohter is right.