Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Despite politics I generally despise, I occasionally enjoy listening to A Prairie Home Companion on national public radio. Being a music fan and a film buff, I expected something with the feeling of the radio show on screen in the movie. Alas, I was disappointed.

For one thing, the film was directed by Robert Altman who turned out occasional flashes of cinematic brilliance (Gosford Park), but whose work otherwise seems primarily self-indulgent and under-edited.

Early in his career, Altman directed episodes of Bonanza and several other 1950s television series. His first real critical acclaim came with his feature film of M*A*S*H, and he never approved of the way the bite was taken out of his political statement by the tv series that followed.

I adored Gosford Park, but this was perhaps better-than-typical Altman fare because he was working with a classically trained cast of English actors. Cookie's Fortune was also a delight and starred one of the all-time screen greats, Patricia Neal, as well as terminally cute Liv Tyler.

The style of his films tends to be very loose with script, with bloated super-ego actors improvising and generally in love with the sound of their own voices. The result is often muddled and directionless, in my opinion. Still, Altman has been one of the most revered directors of the twentieth century, particularly amongst the Hollywood set, and huge film stars would work for union pay scale simply to be included in his films. It's all a bit of log-rolling, if you ask me.

So, in the form of A Prairie Home Companion, here was an opportunity to showcase a weekly radio program populated with a permanent cast of singer/actors, musicians and special-effects people who are experts at their craft. Rather, however, than focus on the performances and the quirky corn-pone charm of the show as it exists, the film instead focused on the navel-gazing of ditzy songstress Meryl Streep, her sister Lily Tomlin and Streep's daughter played by Lindsay Lohan.

The great revolving schticks of APHC radio show were eschewed in favor of the rambling of the big-name stars of the film, which is a pity. Gone were the Powdered Milk and Ketchup songs. In was La Lohan's crappily warbled rendition of Frankie & Johnnie. Out was what should have been a focus on the brilliant sound effects man Tom Keith, and in was a little too much face time with Woody Harrelson. Ew.

Ironically, Garrison Keillor shared writing credits on this film, and manages to make himself seem ponderous and even tedious, when in fact, the APHC has always shown him to be rather clever. Pity. Add to that his made-for-radio countenance, and GK comes off looking like Michael Moore's slightly-more-fortunate-looking brother.

Anyway, you'll rarely see or hear me pan a film. I try to take them on their own merits, but in truth, when there is an established history behind a new film, the film makers should strive in some way to at least match the prior undertakings in terms of quality and pure entertainment value. On a scale of one to ten, I'd give this about a 3. Seriously.

I consider myself open-minded and able to appreciate even the outrageously bad film, if done with a point of view and sense of humor. Frankenhooker? Loved it. Basket Case II and Killer Klowns from Outer Space? Yes, I saw them in the theater. Rarely have I felt angry at myself for wasting time watching a stinker of a film, but this was one of those occasions.

Learn from my mistake and avoid this one.


FHB said...

Avoided this one like the plague. Figured they'd screw it up. Have loved the show, when I got to listen to it.

Sudiegirl said...

I know what you mean about Robert Altman. Some of his films are great (like Gosford Park, The Wedding, Nashville, Pret a Porter), and others bounce around too much.

I tried watching A Prairie Home Companion and think I will again when my room-mate isn't home so he can't ask me goofy questions when I'm trying to figure out a movie my own bad self.

Glad you're better!

brbiswrite said...

I think what you are hearing in A Prairie Home Companion are echos of old radio. You are not old enough to remember radio as it was in the early fifties, when it had TV competition.
With my grandparents, I listened to The Lone Ranger, One Man's Family, Fibber McGee and Molly, and others. We heard Ted Mack's Amateur Hour and other variety shows.

Radio shows rarely translate visually: That's why it's radio. You can tell I still love radio, even though most programming sucks.

Garrison Keillor succeeds because it's radio. The movie (I have not seen it) cannot do it justice, unless it just films a lot of shows back to back, and then what's the point.
Radio, like the printed word, makes demands on our imagination that film does not. Have you read WLT, A Radio Romance by Keillor? Pretty funny, and with lots of Keillor's pathos in place.

I'll stop now. You're always a good read.


phlegmfatale said...

fhb - you are wiser than me.

sudiegirl - watch at your own peril! Thanks, am feeling MUCH better!

brbiswrite - excellent points. Come to that, I would have preferred a straight documentary. Yes, you're right. And radio succeeds in making the demands on the imagination by taking the purely visual out of the picture in the same way books succeed. This is why the film version of books so rarely live up to the imaginings of an adoring public. No, haven't read WLT ARR. I'll check it out. I do think GK is clever, and I was sad it really didn't come through in this film. I felt he was mis-/under-used.

Glad you enjoy my blog. :)

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you made it through the whole thing. I stopped at MS and LT blathering on in the dressing room. LLO needs to be slapped til she pees and then slapped for peeing. Terrible, terrible movie. A

Anonymous said...

WOW. Roger Ebert you are not. Streep, Jones, Tomlin, Kline and Altman. You are right, don't use the best actors of a generation, use radio performers for a movie. Did you even watch this movie ? Navel gazing ? WTF !!! Meryl Streep is the best actress, EVER, and gave a brilliant performance. Get a clue.

phlegmfatale said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
phlegmfatale said...

A - Well, I'm just stubborn that way. I kept thinking with all these talented actors whom I admire, it MUST get better, right?

anonymous - Wow. I never claimed to be Roger Ebert, for I am female and waaay cuter. I also am not beholden to anyone in Hollywood, so I make free to call the Emperor out on his new clothes, if that's alright with you. This film sucked. I agree Meryl Streep is brilliant and fun to watch even when she is bad, but I disagree with your apparent belief that the woman shits diamonds. Did you see "Death Becomes Her?" Get a clue yourself and build your own shrine to her if you feel that strongly.

Anonymous said...

I saw about 6 minutes of it until I lost interest and started looking for my home trepanning kit for the rest of the afternoon.

omgwow u saw frnknhkr! In the theater! Amazing. I thought it was released to Skinemax about 15 minutes after general release.


phlegmfatale said...

rabbit - I'd say your afternoon was more productively spent.

Yup - I saw it at the Inwood theater, but in all fairness, it may have been a midnight movie. I did go to the world premiere of Basket Case II which was hosted by Joe Bob Briggs, also at the Inwood. Killer Tomatoes, Killer Klowns, I saw all those movies there, and they've always had a great variety of midnight movies on Friday and Saturday.

Anonymous said...

I have a t shirt that says "Joe Bob Briggs is a close, personal friend of mine" It might be the coolest thing I own. A

Anonymous said...

Get a grip. I was discussing Meryl's performance and my opnion on ONE particular film. If you want to bring up Meryl's other films what about Sophie's Choice, Out of Africa, Kramer. I don't have enough room for this list. I was sharing my opinion. Still don't get the navel gazing. Crawl back under your hole you hag.


phlegmfatale said...

A - Yeah, that shirt rocks.

meryl fan - Great. I'm glad you are fond of Meryl's performance. I hated the film. This is my place, and I get to say what I think here. And by all means, we could list Streep's many brilliant performances, but you still have not in any substantial way defended her performance in a half-baked, poorly-realized film. May Robert Altman do the St. Vitus dance on Beelzebub's very spear for underusing one of the dramatic film talents of all time in the form of Ms. Streep. I never crawled out of my hole, snugly ensconced as I am here. Your insistence on coming here and trifling with me indicates you yourself enjoy crawling into my hole, darling. I hope it was as edifying for you as it has been for me. I also hope you have learned a little something about objective analysis of film.

...and THAT is all.

Anonymous said...

No matter what cinematic treats my mother views she must compare everything to 'Out of Africa'.

Sorry, but whining about 'Ahhhh haaad ahhhh faaahm een Aaaaafreekaaah', bitching about a gadabout husband who brings you the clap and not much else, and getting run off a marginally productive agricultural collective to go on to write books in wintry Hell ain't much more for me than a reason for a longer nap.


phlegmfatale said...

rabbit - *LOL* Great analysis. Sometimes an impeccable accent, immaculate wardrobe and breathtaking cinematography are simply not enough. Here's to the modern sleep-aids!