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Today—February 20th—marks the birthday of Robert Altman. Personally, if I had to choose any stretch of films by one director that 1) I had to teach as a “history of cinema” course unto itself, and 2) contained the only movies I could ever watch again… well, then, sign me up for Altman’s 1970s run from M*A*S*H through A Wedding. It doesn’t get any more well-rounded, feisty, funny, invigorating, and alive than that.

On the occasion of the man’s date of birth, I figured I’d post this collection of favorite quotes I compiled many years back when reading the David Sterritt edited Robert Altman: Interviews (buy it here):

“I find more and more that the less I do the better the work comes out. So now my function is really to try and stay out of the way, and make the conditions and circumstances as conducive as I can for the actors to do what they do…it really starts in the casting.” (pg. 24)

“We sit and demand such great answers in our drama but in our lives we’ll accept anything.” (pg.32)

“Because when you start trying to explain what you do…well, once you find out, you probably won’t be able to do it again.” (pg. 41)

“I sometimes think that if we were all paid less money and nobody could make a big killing, most of these clever manipulators who are in this business strictly for the money would stay away from the movies and leave them to the artists—to people who really love what they’re doing.” (pg. 56)

“The artist and the multitude are natural enemies.” (pg. 71)

“Well, I have a job, and I love all my films. I look back at them and I run them quite often. I go over here and we run everything because we have nothing else to do. And I sit and look at them with this new audience every time, and they’re all terrific. But I don’t think they mean a goddamn thing.” (pg. 99)

“I have this great optimism that always translates into pessimism.” (pg. 105)

“I consider myself an artist, and I don’t have anything to say. I just show what I see.” (pg. 110)

“I think it’s very dangerous to have this kind of conversation, to talk about your work, because once you start to understand it, a certain section of it is gone.” (pg. 113)

“Every breakthrough film that’s ever been made has been a film that nobody wanted to make.” (pg. 179)

“Everybody feels that they have to have an explanation of why everybody does everything, and my contention is simply that that is not truthful.” (pg. 203)

“And unless I feel that I will have fun with the shooting of a film, and afterwards, when you kind of smile and say, ‘We really did a good job on that,’ then I don’t want to do it.” (pg. 210)

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Michael Tully was born and raised in Maryland and now lives on Tennis Court in Brooklyn. His most recent narrative feature, Septien, world-premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and was picked up for distribution by Sundance Selects. In addition to directing Cocaine Angel (2006) and Silver Jew (2007), he is also a proud alumni of Filmmaker Magazine's annual "25 New Faces of Independent Film" club (2006). Visit his indieWIRE blog Boredom at its Boredest——for more sporadic personal updates.

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