Altman by Kathryn Altman
and Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan
Abrams Books, 2014; 336 pp
Reviewed by Charlie Riccardelli
For fans of legendary director Robert Altman, the compendium to his life and work, Altman, offers a beautiful peek behind the curtain into his six decade career. Compiled by his widow Kathryn Altman and author Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan, Altman mines the archives of the Altman family photos as well as publicity stills, contact sheets, and artwork to show the many touchstones of the directors career, which included films like M*A*S*H, Nashville, and The Player, among many others. Many of Altman’s collaborators reflect on their history with the man, such as Lily Tomlin, Michael Murphy and Julian Fellowes. The authors also use essays from his some of the critics who championed him like Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert.
Those looking for an in-depth history into Altman’s life and career may be disappointed. Vallan offers some background information as the book progresses through the years. There’s no critical reflection. Those closest to Altman are understandably reverent when talking about him, which comes as a surprise for anyone who has read other books and interviews in which he’d come off as ornery, direct, and difficult – albeit charmingly so. Of course many texts already exist to get that look into Altman’s life. This book more than makes up for it thanks to the intimacy the authors create, especially those touching images that show the love Altman built around him with his family and community of collaborators. The book would prompt even the casual admirer to return to his rich body of work.