cover image Robert Altman: The Oral Biography

Robert Altman: The Oral Biography

Mitchell Zuckoff, . . Knopf, $35 (560pp) ISBN 978-0-307-26768-9

In this fitting tribute to one of Hollywood's greatest directors, journalist Zuckoff (Ponzi's Scheme ) chronicles Altman's remarkable life both in and out of the spotlight. Though it's arranged roughly chronologically, Zuckoff wisely chooses to reflect the director's nonlinear approach to storytelling in crafting the biography. Interspersed with Altman's own words—from interviews with Zuckoff near the end of his life—are memories from his large family and extended circle of cinematic collaborators, and excerpts from critics' reviews of his almost 40 films. More interested in character than traditional stories, Altman put his own spin on everything from war films with 1970's M*A*S*H —which Pauline Kael dubbed the “best American war comedy since sound came in”—westerns with 1971's McCabe & Mrs. Miller , and English murder mysteries with 2001's Gosford Park . Despite his artistic achievements, Altman's personal life was often rocky, with philandering and a penchant for alcohol, aspects that Zuckoff's interview subjects confront with refreshing frankness. The myriad stars who worked with Altman and share their reflections with Zuckoff include Lauren Bacall (Prêt-à-Porter ), Julie Christie (McCabe & Mrs. Miller ), Paul Newman (Buffalo Bill and the Indians ) and Robin Williams (Popeye ). A rebel to the end, Altman's spirit is perfectly captured in this fascinating read. (Oct.)