Film

A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

Matt Mazur

A Prairie Home Companion combines typical Altman strategies, like overlapping dialogue and converging multiple storylines, as well as his fanatical appreciation for the process of creating art.


A Prairie Home Companion

Director: Robert Altman
Cast: Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, Maya Rudolph, John C. Reilly, Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, Garrison Keillor
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Picturehouse
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-06-09 (General release)
Website
Trailer

Robert Altman accepted an honorary Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in March. At the time, he observed, “When the news first came to me about it, I was caught kind of off guard. I always thought this type of award meant that it was over”.

For months, reports circulated that the director was near death on the set of his latest film, an adaptation of Garrison Keillor’s radio show, A Prairie Home Companion. An insurance company hired Paul Thomas Anderson to “shadow” Altman in case he wasn’t able to finish the shoot. Disheartening news came that the maverick maestro, once known to hold court on set with a scotch in one hand and a joint in the other, was working from a wheelchair.

And still, he completed his most personal film to date, A Prairie Home Companion, filmed on location in St. Paul, Minnesota’s Fitzgerald Theater. It draws from all his interests, familiar from his previous films: humor (M*A*S*H), music (Short Cuts and Nashville), and drama in unexpected places (McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Gosford Park). A Prairie Home Companion combines those elements with typical Altman strategies, like overlapping dialogue and converging multiple storylines, as well as his fanatical appreciation for the process of creating art.

Kneading his own story into Keillor’s script, Altman here flips the bird to the grim reaper with touching, even light-hearted ruminations on family, loyalty, and performance. This backstage story is based loosely on Keillor’s experiences. He started working for a Minnesota radio program named after a cemetery in 1969, then wrote an article for the New Yorker about the Grand Ol’ Opry that sparked his interest in creating a program that combined musical guests and imaginary commercials. The shows played to a live audience, and tickets sold for a dollar at the start. It still airs today on public radio, heard by over four million listeners every week.

Blending Keillor’s mythology with Altman’s style, the movie is nostalgic without being saccharine or cynical. As the crew and cast of a long-running radio show rush about, preparing for their broadcast, we learn that the long-running radio program is set for cancellation and has been bought up by a nameless, evil corporation. On learning this will be their final show, the performers -- including sister singers (Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep) and two trash-talking cowboys (Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly) -- react with sorrow and anger. During the onstage commotion, backstage, a beloved crew member mysteriously dies and a shadowy figure dressed in white (Virginia Madsen) finds her way onto the set. (We learn that she is, in fact, an angel who was a fan of the show while she was alive.)

It’s difficult to describe what follows, as not much does. Like Keillor’s hilarious radio program, the movie is more about process than plot. The audience is treated to a number of bawdy jokes, courtesy of Harrelson and Reilly, heart-felt musical numbers (where Lindsay Lohan, as Streep's daughter, is actually good!), and wise words supplied by the host. The climax, a confrontation between the stuffy corporate raider (Tommy Lee Jones) and Madsen’s angel, comprises an almost operatic justice.

The delicious irony is that after the Academy of Motion Pictures granted Robert Altman an honorary Oscar, he may be poised to flip the bird at not only death, but also Oscar voters. This is a fitting honor for a trailblazer who has worked so tirelessly outside the industry.

8


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.