By Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy
[Originally published in Movietone News 55, September 1977]
Robert Altman visited Seattle late last year in connection with the world premiere of Welcome to L.A. at the Harvard Exit. The directorial debut of his sometime assistant director and—on Buffalo Bill and the Indians—co-screenwriter Alan Rudolph, Welcome also marked Altman’s bow as a producer. As a producer, he’d functioned idiosyncratically—as one might expect. Although he consulted on the casting of the film and talked with Rudolph about the general concept, he stayed out of his director’s way from then on—even the morning he woke up to find Rudolph waiting to use his house as a key set. Come to think on ‘t, holding a world preem in the Jet City was a bit idiosyncratic, too. But the town had been good to Altman movies, and for tax purposes Welcome had to open somewhere in 1976 even though its general release wasn’t due till February ’77, and the year-end biggies would effectively shut it out of New York. So here were Altman, Rudolph, Sally Kellerman, and actor, publicist, and Barbet Schroeder–movie distributor Mike Kaplan (seen in the small but telling role of Russell in Welcome), making the rounds of the morning talkshows, meeting the press individually and ensemble for lunch, and wondering, perhaps, whether Seattle knew what to do with the world premiere of a relentlessly … well, idiosyncratic art movie. Seattle, as it turned out, was wondering the same thing.
MTN would like to get one thing absolutely straight: Welcome to L.A., which placed very high on several Contributors’ Ten Best Lists in #54, is Alan Rudolph’s movie; and we regret that the interview schedule obliged us to talk with Rudolph before we had had an opportunity to see his film. We used that occasion for simply getting acquainted with Alan Rudolph: enjoying his delight in Children of Paradise, which he had just seen for the first time a week or so before; sparring over Buffalo Bill, a film we are far from appreciating to the degree he might have preferred; and coming decidedly to respect his way of standing by his work and his opinions where other Hollywood junketers often defer smarmily to the least suggestion of criticism. A day later and we might well have been worrying at the fascinating fiber of his auspicious debut. But for now, the interview of record must be Altman’s.
Altman had appeared a couple days earlier at the University of Washington, played off a packed Roethke Auditorium for an hour or so, charming one and all with his admission that he loves all his own movies, and vastly pleasing the (naturally) predominantly student audience with a laid-back attitude about film form and construction. An English prof (who happens to be a full-fledged film freak) tried to get him to comment on the suggestively rhymed imagery of the final tilt to the white sky in Nashville and Ned Buntline’s just winking away into the absolute blackness of the night late in Buffalo Bill, but it wasn’t the forum for that sort of thing and so the director just shrugged and said,
“Well … ya have to tell the audience the picture’s over!” He got an even bigger laugh anticipating the final shot of 3 Women: “We’re just filming the outside of this house, see, and the people have all gone inside and you just hear them talking, and then I had to have enough footage to play the end credits over without going to a freezeframe, so it was getting a little dull and I said to the cameraman, ‘Pan over there,’ and there was this pile of tires, you’d never seen them in the film and I’d never noticed them before…”