Connect with us

Film

The Filmstruck Cram — Day 14: ‘The Player’

When conceiving of The Filmstruck Cram, a priority was certainly to highlight the site’s role in making available the filmographies of iconic directors: Kurosawa, Hitchcock, the Coen Brothers, and Wong Kar-Wai have already appeared in this space — and now Robert Altman. Altman was famously somewhat in the woods during the 1980s after his Popeye became a historical Hollywood mess. One of the most prolific and well-regarded auteurs of the 1970s, he returned to prominence with The Player after a decade which was consequential for America and professionally unkind to the director. In response to both his filmmaking struggles and the corporate realities of post-Reagan America, The Player is a deft skewering of Hollywood that doubles as a cry on behalf of movies.

Altman’s satire follows Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins), a film-studio executive who is on the brink of being replaced by a younger, flashier hotshot (Peter Gallagher). At the same time, Mill receives a string of threatening postcards from someone claiming to be a jilted writer who Mill forgot to call back. While Mill isn’t a cartoonish villain — Robbins is an affable presence, and his executive often just seems motivated by professional and actual survival — Altman locates the degradation of the studio system in Mill’s job description. We see him take a series of meetings which skew humorous (one’s a parodic pitch for The Graduate 2), but Mill doesn’t actually have the power to make a movie. Instead, he only has the power to turn down a pitch or pass it on to higher-ups. As a result, Mill’s actual day-to-day is an exercise in ass-covering; he doesn’t need to succeed — he just needs not to fail.

Altman’s commentary is (like the most insightful satire) even more applicable today. One scene finds Gallagher’s exec glibly turning newspaper headlines into log lines, making the point that writers are an expendable cog in the filmmaking process. One can only imagine what fodder Altman would derive from the Superhero industrial complex. As for his portrait of Mill as a self-interested suit, Altman’s skepticism of corporate systems presages the emergence of even larger, more faceless media conglomerates.

The film’s first inflection point — and Mill’s initial turn toward villainy — comes after he confronts and accidentally kills the writer he assumes is responsible for his postcards. Adding to his precarious situation, he enters a romantic relationship with the dead writer’s girlfriend, which arouses the suspicion of the local detective (Whoopie Goldberg). Altman here is angling for his most obvious satire, the ultimate equivalence of studio executive and killer. Indeed, as the film wears on, Robbin’s appearance begins to morph; his usually slick hair becomes unkempt, and his suits become progressively darker until, in the film’s climactic scene, he is wearing all black.

Mill’s heel turn runs parallel to The Player’s secondary plot, in which his studio produces a gritty arthouse film. Here, Altman and screenwriter Michael Tolkin offer broad satire in the form of insider jokes which enlist cameos from A-list actors to underline the formulaic nature of Hollywood filmmaking. Predictably, the gritty arthouse film, Habeas Corpus, is neutered and compromised by the end of The Player, and made toothless for mass-market appeal. Altman’s film ends with Habeas Corpus being a hit and Mill running the studio, and his message that murder is acceptable for a studio executive as long as they can deliver a hit, is clear. Still, The Player isn’t merely sardonic. Characters reference films and figures from Hollywood’s golden age throughout, and Altman’s camera lingers on movie posters which emphasize the danger Mill is in. While he is skewering the business of Hollywood, Altman is testifying to the kind of movies he himself made just a decade earlier. The Player is a movie-inside-a-movie about movies, stewarded by a director who is laying bare his love for the medium while condemning the industry which controls it.

For more Filmstruck Cram, click here.

Written By

Mike hails from the great state of Massachusetts, where he structured his identity around three inarguable truths - that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, Pearl Jam is the best band since 1980, and those who disagree are dead wrong. He complains about the proliferation of superhero movies while gleefully forking over sixteen dollars for each new release, and believes Tom Cruise has yet to make a bad movie. Follow Mike on twitter @haigismichael.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Facebook

Trending

Greatest Canadian Movies Greatest Canadian Movies

Made in Canada: The 80 Greatest Canadian Movies of All Time

Film

Queer As Folk 1999 retrospective Queer As Folk 1999 retrospective

Queer As Folk – A Cultural Milestone

TV

The Witch: Part 2. The Other One The Witch: Part 2. The Other One

The Witch: Part 2. The Other One is a Disappointing Genre Hybrid

Culture

John Carpenter's The Thing 1984 movie retrospective John Carpenter's The Thing 1984 movie retrospective

Ambiguity Makes for Better Horror in 1982’s The Thing

Film

Web of Make Believe review Web of Make Believe review

Netflix’s The Web of Make Believe Gets Off to a Scary Start 

TV

Stranger Things Season 4, Chapter 6 "The Dive" Stranger Things Season 4, Chapter 6 "The Dive"

Stranger Things Scrapes the Bottom with “Chapter 6: The Dive”

TV

Ranking the 10 best Stranger Things characters Ranking the 10 best Stranger Things characters

10 Best Stranger Things Characters

TV

Stranger Things Catches Its Breath with “Chapter 5: The Nina Project”

TV

Stranger Things Screeches To a Halt with “Chapter 7: The Massacre at Hawkins Lab”

TV

Jurassic World Dominion - Tilt Jurassic World Dominion - Tilt

Jurassic World Dominion Misunderstands the Entire Franchise’s Allure

Film

The Umbrella Academy Gets Emotional, Mysterious, and Slightly Too Large With Season 3

TV

The Making of Jaws – Steven Spielberg’s Masterpiece The Making of Jaws – Steven Spielberg’s Masterpiece

The Making of Jaws – Steven Spielberg’s Masterpiece

Film

Rutger Hauer Rutger Hauer

Blade Runner and the Particular Qualities that Noir Fans Can Appreciate

Friday Film Noir

Stranger Things Papa Stranger Things Papa

Stranger Things (Slowly) Prepares for the End in “Chapter 8: Papa”

TV

Rise is Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Inspiring but Disney-fied Origin Story 

Film

Best 4th of July Movies Best 4th of July Movies

The Best 4TH of July Movies

Film

Connect