2014 Blind Spot Series: The Player (1992)

By acclaimed auteur Robert Altman. Considered among his best efforts as a director, which made it a good choice for Ryan McNeil’s 2014 blindspot series blogathon, where I watch a film each month that I have never seen before.

There’s plenty of wink wink going on to other films. If you are a movie buff, there are lots of movie references you may recognize. The opening with no cut is similar to Orson Welles’ opening in A Touch of Evil (1958). Not particularly subtle, truth be told, as Welles’ film is mentioned in the dialogue.
Other films mentioned are Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) which was edited so as to appear as a single continuous shot, Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky (1990), and Julien Temple’s Absolute Beginners (1986), which likewise used no cut techniques.
Classic films from the past show up in the story, Bicycle Thieves (1948) is playing at the cinema the main character (Tim Robbins) visits. Or on movie posters, Laura (1944), and other posters are in the background.

I feel the constant barrage of cameos and movie posters appearing becomes a bit tiresome. What is Robert Altman trying to say? To show how film history influences today’s cinema? Does he want to pay homage to these classics, and encourage us to watch them? Is he showing off that he was able to get all these actors to do cameos? You could argue that “spot the cameo”, and spot the movie reference, is a distraction, yet is also part of what makes the story unique.

If you take away all the references, what remains is a crime story, a budding romance, and a satire about the greed and lack of risk taking in Hollywood. An industry that encourages “safe” and “formulaic” mainstream movies that generate profit, and maybe that’s why Altman chose to have an excessive number of stars in his film, to make a joke about it’s the big names that make us go see the new movies, rather than the content. It poses questions like, is Hollywood really like that? Do we the audience want to support this type of greedy money making machine? Where is the art and originality in movies, if we know what the ending is going to be, before we even sit down to watch? Can art and risk survive in a commercial buisness based on profit? The Player is about what it’s like to work in that industry.

Some critics would probably call it a post modern film, a new thing built up in the form of ideas from other movies. From this, Altman creates a parody, which both mocks and celebrates Hollywood.

I could appreciate Altman made a different kind of film, which defies genre placement. It’s mildly entertaining and never boring. However I didn’t really care for any of the characters. For me, what makes it tough to have an emotional attachment to the characters is Altman is so concerned with the background references. It was like the meta elements of film about film was the main focus.
It’s possible Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) could be placed in the same category of postmodern films, which understands both the audience (and characters) have a knowledge of film history, embraces that fact, and runs with it in an ironic way.

Altman’s films are known for the dialogue heavy approach, and ensemble casts, and The Player offers more of that. I liked it, didn’t love it. I’m convinced that it’s a film where you notice new things on each rewatch, and it probably should be watched in a different way than other movies.
The Player is the opposite of the formulaic movie, a complex story that can be interpreted on various levels, and over the years, reviews, articles and books have attempted to decode its mysteries. The Player promotes discussion, and I think that was Robert Altman’s goal.

Agree or disagree? Have you watched The Player? Which are your favorite Robert Altman films?

16 thoughts on “2014 Blind Spot Series: The Player (1992)

  1. Interesting ideas about the film Chris. Altman loves his ensemble pieces and, for me, this can be detrimental to my enjoyment of the film. Here it allows him to cram in the cameos which I think you're right to point out as perhaps a little indulgent. Still, it's a terrific film about the movie business.

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  2. @Dan: Thanks for reading! Yeah, ensemble films can be a bit emotionally uninvolving, with less screen time for the characters.

    Cameos in Altman’s films, are they a curse or a blessing, I’m not sure which. I guess the movie business is kind of like that, bumping into actors at parties and on film lots 🙂

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  3. This is one of my favorite Altman films as I feel like it's one where it poked fun at Hollywood while one of my favorite moments in the film is the way it ended. It says a lot about how Hollywood would want to change things in order to make a quick buck.

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  4. It's been a long time since I've seen The Player, but I remember finding it be a pretty charming satire of Hollywood that took some good shots at it. It's been a while, though, so it's hard to say how it would play today. I just listened to an episode of the Cinephiliacs podcast with AO Scott, and they featured The Player. He raved about it, and it made me interested to see it again. I wonder if that's a good idea given my fond memories.

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  5. I've only seen Gosford Park from Altman which I thought was a great ensemble cast. The concept of this one sounds intriguing, great pick for BlindSpot, Chris, I'll definitely give this a rent.

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  6. I really liked this biting satire aimed at the very foundation of greed, back-stabbing & excesses that mark the movie industry, and the Hollywood machinery in particular. The topsy-turvy plot was brilliantly combined with tar black humour & ironies. I still remember the single-take dolly sequence that the film began with.

    Speaking of Altman's oeuvre, this is how I'd rate his films that I've watched:
    – Nashville [5/5]
    – The Long Goodbye [5/5]
    – M*A*S*H [4.5/5]
    – The Player [4.5/5]
    – Short Cuts [4.5/5]
    – McCabe & Mrs. Miller [4/5]
    – Gosford Park [4/5]

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  7. @thevoid99: I haven't seen all of Altman's films, my fav is probably 3 Women (1977). I also liked a few of the others too, including The Player.

    Agree ending pokes fun at Hollywood(and maybe also pokes fun at audiences who just want formulaic rom coms). For me, Altman says there are no happy endings in real life, there are just new challenges ahead. Happy endings, as you say, are what sell tickets, and are just added to make us feel good when we watch a movie.

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  8. @Dan Heaton: The whole movie is satirical, and fun to watch, especially for cinephiles.
    Thanks for the tip about the podcast! As I said in my review, definitely a film I could watch again, because of all the details and layered story.

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  9. @Ruth: Gosford Park was a murder whodunit, if my memory serves me, been a long time since I saw it. You should give The Player a try, it's a film suitable for movie buffs 🙂

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  10. @Shubhajit: From those rating I'm assuming you are a big time fan of Altman.

    Indeed, a satire about greed in the movie industry, and the film makes the viewer contemplate how we go about supporting that system. Do we want happy endings? If so, then it's a system that works. But maybe other types of film are healthy to watch too, that's what Altman is saying I think.

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  11. @Ryan McNeil: You really ought to do yourself a favor and watch The Player, it's a movie guy's movie.
    I have seen your blind spot Shaft, so I’ll head over and take a look soon.

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  12. @Alex Withrow: It is easy just to label it a satire, and that’s that. Perhaps the film isn’t as complex as I claim, dunno.
    I’m curious what the director said about The Player in the interview book Altman on Altman. Considering ordering it from the library, just so I can read that chapter.

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  13. @Josh: I quite liked MASH and Short Cuts. My fav Altman is 3 Women (1977)-an unusual choice I know, a movie which focuses on a small group of characters instead of big ensemble.

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