By Nick Alderink

Cinema Revolution began two months ago in celebration of Art House Cinema and its defining examples that authenticated the movie industry outside of Hollywood, where films were made on shoestring budgets and accommodated artistic liberties typically unwelcome in the profit-driven Hollywood system. The filmmakers we have showcased took risks and made stylistic choices to turn movies into a new and indisputable art form that drew audiences in search of unique viewing experiences. Although most of our selections saw little distribution at the time of their release, it is thanks to these audiences, audiences like you, that supported such visions and risks and ultimately pushed Hollywood into reform, launching the movie industry to new definitions. And it is thanks to these new standards that independent establishments like The Michigan Theater are alive and possible today.

To conclude the series, we will take a look at Robert Altman’s 1992 black comedy The Player, the film that gave Altman his big comeback and succeeded thanks to these new standards in Hollywood, making Altman the ultimate independent film success story. Altman, in fact, may be the best representation of ‘revolution’ in cinema as he never escaped his reputation in Hollywood as a maverick, and like previous Cinema Revolution subject John Sayles, is included in the University of Michigan Library’s Mavericks and Makers Collection.

A Bit You Should Know

In looking at the filmmakers we’ve previously showcased, Altman’s story stands out from the rest in that The Player doesn’t necessarily represent his big break or crowning achievement. At the time of the film’s release, he had already been nominated twice for a Best Director Academy Award with MASH (1971) and Nashville (1976) but was burdened with a reputation that frustrated Hollywood producers who became reluctant to produce or distribute his films. To maintain artistic license, he founded his own company Lion’s Gate Films, Inc. (not to be confused with the Lionsgate Corporation that exists today), but sold the company in 1980 when he still found trouble distributing his work.

As the 1980s saw a rise in blockbusters, he tried his hand at conformity by taking the job from Paramount and Disney to direct Popeye starring Robin Williams and Shelly Duvall, but the film is remembered famously today as a flop. Through the rest of the decade he was an outlier and his work incorporated even smaller budgets and distribution than ever before. He found little acclaim as his cinematic view narrowed and the ensemble casts for which his work became known disappeared.

However, by 1992 the world was ready for Altman again. His work found distribution in Fine Line Features, New Line Cinema’s new Art House division run by Cinema Revolution curator and Cinetopia symposium subject Ira Deutchman and The Player signified his return to form, as well as a return to Hollywood. The film marked a new era in his career that would follow with successes like Short Cuts and Gosford Park in the coming years. However, The Player does not come without some bitterness to the studio system that shut him out for over a decade.

The film’s satire comes across as a biting statement, with a story featuring a writer sending threatening post cards to a studio producer, played by Tim Robbins, who is conveniently described by Burt Reynolds early in the film as an “asshole.” Meanwhile, continuing conversations surround his studio regarding the nature of Hollywood and the story elements films require to succeed. The happy “Hollywood Ending” comes up often as well as the nature of star power, violence, and positivity. Altman humorously includes all of these elements into The Player, almost in a sneering, sarcastic matter as he throws in cameo after cameo of famous celebrities which you only get for a few bits of dialogue if they have any speaking lines at all.

When it comes to the “Hollywood Ending,” well, you’ll just have to see for yourself how it all comes together in the end but be ready to question what the “Hollywood Ending” really requires. 

What To Look Out For

  • The opening shot of the film lasts 7 minutes and 47 seconds and sets the self-referential tone. Among the many conversations featured in the scene, one includes two studio executives discussing their favorite ‘long-takes’, referencing Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil among others, which also has a famous opening shot. Also featured is a writer pitching his idea for The Graduate 2. This writer is Buck Henry, the co-writer of the original The Graduate.
  • You’ll be pressed to spot all of the cameos made in this film as The Player still holds the record for the most Oscar-winning actors to appear on screen in film history. Twelve Oscar-winners are included in the cast as well 13 others who were nominated. A bit more interesting, all of the actors volunteered their time for the production and improvised their lines.

The Player will screen tonight in the Main Auditorium at 7:00 PM completing Cinema Revolution: Independent Films That Defined a Genre. This Thursday, Cinetopia Film Festival will begin but be on the look out for the schedule release for our annual Summer Classics Film Series coming in June.

We want to know, what did you think of this blog? Would you like to see more like it for future film series? Let us know!

See you at the Michigan!