Robert Altman’s the player was a major comeback for the artist who was right there on the Mount Rushmore of the American new wave of cinema in the 1970’s. I’ve seen the film at least a half dozen times. It’s a solid top 10 film of 1992 even if it falls short of spike lee’s Malcolm X, eastwood’s unforgiven and maybe even reservoir dogs, husbands and wives and twin peaks.
What struck me most about this most recent viewing of the player is the opening long take which is, deservingly, quite famous. It’s a wonderful long take that pays tribute to other famous long takes with the characters dialogue (mainly fred ward) during the scene. It’s both breathtaking and damn funny. What stuck out to me while watching it this time was how Altmanesque this long-take is. There’s overlapping dialogue (another altman trait), satire (of course), and tons of camera zooms. It’s not fluid like Ophuls and it doesn’t frame faces like Iñárritu. It really shows that not all “oners” or long-takes are the same. Compare this one with Welles in touch of evil, cuaron in children of men (or gravity), or bela tarr, joe wright, de palma, godard (weekend), antonioni, kalatozov, Scorsese, hitchcock, or kubrick… They are all subtly different and I take great satisfaction in seeing that Altman can pay tribute to Welles but still make this shot his own. His long take isn’t beautiful like many of the others—it’s pure Altman—which really is better.