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Robert Altman Collection: Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Robert Duvall, Carol Burnett - PopMatters

Matt Mazur

This uneven collection is a definite example of the adage 'when he's good, he's very good, but when he's bad, he's very bad'.


Robert Altman Collection

Director: Robert Altman
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Robert Duvall, Carol Burnett, Paul Newman, Bibi Andersson, Paul Dooley, Marta Heflin
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
MPAA rating: R
Studio: 20th Century Fox
First date: Ingo Preminger Productions, Aspen Productions, Lion's Gate
US DVD Release Date: 2006-04-26
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If director Robert Altman's 2006 theatrical release, A Prairie Home Companion, represents a highlight in his vast body of work, than the April DVD release of the Robert Altman Collection offers fans of the living legend a glimpse of his decidedly less crowd-pleasing, wildly experimental films of the '70s.

As collections go, this is a curiously culled set of films: three of the four discs, A Wedding, A Perfect Couple, and Quintet (all released between 1978 and 1979) were previously unavailable to the format. The fourth offering included here is a re-packaged, weak single disc version of the director's '70 comedic classic, M*A*S*H, which was given a more extensive two-disc treatment only two months earlier in February (which itself was only a repackaged version of a stellar 2002 edition).

In fact, the extras that we are "treated" to here are sorely limited: there are interviews with stars Paul Dooley and Marta Heflin, as well as one with a blink-and-you-will-miss-him Altman. The tepid ramblings of the few (rather uninteresting) cast members that are assembled (along with various Altman associates) are in no way insightful or intrinsic to the films. Also sadly missing is any actual commentary, save for the regurgitated M*A*S*H track, originally recorded four years ago. Any explanation for the existence of the three other films in this package would have been greatly appreciated.

Quintet and A Perfect Couple are two good example of the director's weaknesses as a filmmaker and auteur. They have lofty ambitions and ideas, but their execution is amateurish. Both could, on one hand, be commended for their eagerness to play but then again, "experimental" doesn't have to equal shoddy quality of product (it seems as though during this period, Altman's goal was to be solely prolific). A Perfect Couple seems a distant cousin of some horrible early '70s-era Neil Simon concoction (complete with cornball humor and a whole lot of awkward, geeky romance), while Quintet might be right at home on late at night on an obscure science fiction channel.

Starring a rather grim, post-apocalyptic Paul Newman (swathed in fur and a ridiculous sci-fi costume), Quintet is a bizarre, highly experimental film that should at least be given some credit for its bleak, fatalistic ideas and icy landscapes. Unfortunately the actual implementation comes off as cheap and phony. Not even the charms of one of Ingmar Bergman's muses, Bibi Andersson, can stop the unintentional laughter that follows as the rest of the eager cast (filmed through a bizarre, crude fuzzed-out lens) acts out the titular game, in which the loser is killed and thrown to wild dogs for dinner. Fun times.

Out of the unreleased films that have all aged poorly, only A Wedding can even come close to achieving the patina associated with Altman's reputation of being a master director who effortlessly juggles various multi-layered plots that send his actors into realms of mad, improvisational glory. (Carol Burnett, here a prime example of the Altman school of playful, improvisational acting, is an utter delight as a put-upon mother of the bride). On those terms alone, the film succeeds, but when compared with the stalwart examples of Altman's more sterling Nashville or Short Cuts), it is actually quite a dismal failure, functioning as a sort of filmed acting exercise more than a conventional film. Not to say that his satiric take on a traditional wedding isn't entertaining: it is quite humorous to see the mother of the groom shadily shooting up drugs in her bathroom, or watching a near-mute Mia Farrow, as one of the all-time sluttiest maids of honor, count her sexual conquests not only on her own fingers, but on those of random wedding guests.

Selections that could have been chosen for this set (that will certainly only appeal to hardcore fans of the auteur) might have been glorious: why not include 1982's Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, which showcases Altman's fondness for theater and female acting (with stellar performances by Cher, Sandy Dennis and Karen Black)? For that matter, why not release any of his unreleased-to-disc works instead of another M*A*S*H? The hallucinatory Brewster McCloud, Thieves Like Us, That Cold Day in the Park (also starring Oscar winner Dennis, in her best filmed performance), or even the god-awful box-office bomb H.E.A.L.T.H would have been more interesting choices, if not completely marketable.

This uneven collection is a definite example of the adage "when he's good, he's very good, but when he's bad, he's very bad". The cadre of films here exposes Altman as a maverick, ballsy filmmaker and artist, but also as a man who can be too reliant on his instincts, which at times seem a bit skewed. His willingness to play with the forms of genre, character, and story are also commendable, even when the results are not always pretty to look at. Altman seems game for just about anything: from middle-aged, ordinary romance to pregnant corpses being eaten by dogs. This sort of daring is what the collection shows best, and fans of the director will be delighted that their collections are one step closer to completion. However, if you are looking for the quintessential Altman canon, you should avoid this one.

3

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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