Friday, April 6, 2012

'The Player'...'20 Years Ago, Hollywood Became Self-Aware; Or, How A Robert Altman Movie Helped Create TMZ'



                                                            PHOTO: VDO Vault Flickr

Everybody loves a comeback. It's always gratifying to see an athlete or musician or actor rebound from a potentially career-threatening injury or drug problems or racist comment and re-emerge to reign triumphant again. Of course, there's also a selfish component to other people's comebacks: On some level, it gives us hope that, hey, maybe we can rebound from that horrible thing in our own lives, too. But regardless of our reasons for enjoying them, high-profile comebacks tend to ooze a cozy sense of nostalgia. We're not so much welcoming back the prodigal son as we are savoring the chance to have one more go-round with an old friend. It's a feel-good story that everybody gets to share in.

That's why one of my favorite modern-day comebacks is nothing like what I just described. It was from a maverick filmmaker who had once been great but had more recently fallen out of favor. But when he came back, there wasn't anything coyly sweet about his return. Honestly, he seemed as ornery as ever. I'm thinking of director Robert Altman's The Player, which, good god, is now 20 years old.

Premiering as the opening night film of the Cleveland International Film Festival on April 3, 1992—it hit theaters seven days later—The Player was part moral drama, part Hollywood satire. And as Mitchell Zuckoff recounts in his terrific 2009 Robert Altman oral biography, the filmmaker (who had experienced a series of flops in the '80s after great '70s films like M*A*S*H and Nashville) only got to do it because several other directors, including Sidney Lumet, had already walked away from the project. Based on Michael Tolkin's excellent novel, The Player focuses on cold-blooded studio executive Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins at his soulless best), the sort of bottom-line guy who decides what movies get made. He's getting threatening postcards from an anonymous writer, but after he accidentally kills the writer (Vincent D'Onofrio) he thinks is sending them and falls into an affair with the writer's girlfriend (Greta Scacchi), the postcards keep coming.


Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.


JoJo said...

20 years already?!?!?!?!?!

Ruby said...

Great movie! Not enough of V's character, though. :(

Nantz said...

I couldn't believe it was 20 years either. Not a huge fan of this movie but I do appreciate its undertaking.