From: Terrill Lankford (
Date: 21 Aug 2003

-------Original Message------- From: JIM DOHERTY <>

> Terrill,

Re your comments below:

> I don't think Altman has ever made such a statement
> about THE LONG GOODBYE. I believe the mandate he was
> given by the studio and the producers was that he
> make "A Robert Altman FILM", which he did.

"He made the statement by calling the film THE LONG GOODBYE, crediting Chandler with the source material, and naming the protagonist Philip Marlowe. All of that suggests a faithful adaptation, the director's reputation notwithstanding."

He was hired to shoot a script (written by Leigh Brackett, so you may also want to hurl some of your criticism her way) based on a book. The fact that they updated the story so that it takes place in the 70's should be your first clue, using your own set of rules, that this might not necessarily be a "faithful" adaption. Hiring Elliot Gould to play Marlowe should be your second.

"Moreover, in the only previous novel adaptation he'd done before GOODBYE (that I'm aware of, anyway), M*A*S*H, he WAS faithful to the spirit, if not the absolute letter, of Richard Hooker's book. And Richard Hooker ain't Chandler. So there was not necessarily a clue to his unwillingness to "play by anyone's rules" in his previous work.
  This is an amazing statement. Altman not only strayed far from Hooker's book, he was completely off the page of the screenplay (which, ironically, went on to win the Academy Award without the necessity of being used much by the filmmakers. Altman is on record as saying he hated the script). Altman broke so many rules shooting M.A.S.H. that most people involved with the film thought he didn't know what he was doing. Gould and Sutherland tried to get him fired. Then everyone saw the movie and he was hailed a "genius." By contrast, Altman stuck pretty close to Brackett's screenplay, if not Chandler's book. (I've read both.)

> I'm not sure how Altman got around this supposed
> "obligation" and slipped past the "ethics" police to
> use his own creativity on this project and bring us
> one of the most original and interesting films of
> its era (and a fantastic time capsule to boot), but
> I'm sure glad he did.

"There's no need to make snide remarks about the
"ethics police." The original question was an ethical one. Is an artist free to bring his own creativity to a work he adapts? I was attempting to answer that question. If you're glad that Altman felt free from the constraints of any obligation to the source material he purported to be adapting, so be it. If you feel ethics have no part in art, that's fine too. But the original question seemed to be an ethical one.
 There's no need to be sarcastic because I offered an opinion on an ethical question."

Jim, when you write a post as dogmatic as this, you might be prepared for "snide remarks" and "sarcasm". Certainly I feel ethics have a place in art. But you seem to live in a far more rigid universe than I do. I don't think Altman did anything unethical while making THE LONG GOODBYE. I think he updated the story (and the character) to fit the times. You act as if he committed a crime.

> It's certainly not a rare
> event when filmmakers don't "shoot the booK" (it's
> more often the case than not), . . .

"They may not "'shoot the book,'" but, more often than not, they at least stay within the framework of the spirit, if not the letter, of the source material. Even SATAN MET A LADY was closer to the spirit of THE MALTESE FALCON than Altman's LONG GOODBYE was to Chandler's novel. "

I just watched SATAN MET A LADY a few weeks ago and was amazed at how absolutely terrible it was. Agressively so. There seemed to be more of an attempt to be making a "Thin Man" type farce than a faithful adaption of Falcon. And everyone involved was failing miserably on both counts. I think you better take another look at this one before you promote it.

"And what really irritate me is that he strayed from the novel, not because of some overwhelming artistic vision, but because he clearly disliked the novel, the character, and the genre."

Is this your interpretation or Altman's actual statement?

> And if you don't like his movie, you don't have to
> watch it.

"I don't, and if you check the archives you'll see that I've refrained from comment on the film for the most part. Even here, my comment was less about the film, per se, than about a filmmaker's responsibility to the source material he's adapting, with Altman's film
(since that was the topic) used as an example of failing, deliberately failing, that responsiblity."

Your post read as a general attack on Altman as an elitist artist and a specific, vitriolic attack on THE LONG GOODBYE as a film adaption. BTW, have you actually seen the film? And was it recently or when it first came out? Maybe it is worth another look.

"If Altman doesn't like the genre, and wants to show it up in all its bourgeois phoniness, fine. It doesn't mean he's ethically free (and his being an artist doesn't free him from the restraints of honor, ethics, or morality) to take someone else's work and trash it, under the guise of "adapting it," to make his point."

And you think I was being "snide" when I referred to the "ethics police"? Many people (some even on this list) feel Altman didn't "trash" the book. Some even think he classed it up. I believe they are two different experiences, each with their own specific pleasures.

> It shouldn't be an insult that it exists.

"You're right, it shouldn't be an insult. But it is. Moreover, it's a deliberate, calculated insult. Insulting the book, the character, the author, and the genre was Altman's entire purpose."

Jim, I think you've taken the film, Robert Altman, and my post, far too seriously. Sorry if I steamed you up.


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