Notes On Auteurism Essay, Research Paper
The traditional model of an Auteur could be seen as a director that takes the script, and “transforms it into an original piece of work “. This may seem a rather ambiguous definition, but all that is needed to make clear what the practice of auteurism is, is one piece of work that fits the definition perfectly. Robert Altman?s Popeye is just that. Altman took an institution, that of Popeye, a classic American icon, and wrote it to fit it to his traditional thematic concerns. It has been Altman?s style to take a treasured and American figure whether it be “the Western” genre or Popeye, and turn the focus from the traditional action based narrative, to a more personal exploration.
From the opening sequence it becomes obvious this is an Altman movie with the self-reflexive opening in which Popeye addresses the camera claiming “I?m in the wrong movie”. Like in Brewster McCloud, where the MGM Lion asks for his line, it is Altman?s way of letting the viewer think about the film in a personal way making sure the audience realizes they are watching a movie. There is no third wall for Altman, as he constantly reminds the viewer of the fact that they are not viewing a reality, but a construct of media by placing various symbols throughout, such as a megaphone in the horse race scene and paintings of beautiful places everywhere (while the town, Sweet Haven itself is a complete dump).
Popeye sets out to be a deconstructive musical, which stays in congruence with the rest of Altman?s anti-Hollywood films (Brewster McCloud, Buffalo Bill and the Indians, The Long Goodbye, and The Player). Altman deconstructs the musical through the songs themselves as they are sung by the two leads without any ability to sing (Shelley Duvall as Olive Oil and Robin Williams as Popeye). On top of this is apparent that some of Shelley Duvall?s songs are purposely sung off key to emphasize the insecurities of her character as well as bring attention to her lyrics.
Altman?s films tend to generally deal with outsiders and alienated figures, who are longing or searching for something and how the interact or are accepted into a community . Popeye is no exception. The film begins with Popeye?s arrival into a small port town, Sweet Haven, in search of his father who had left him orphaned at an early age. Altman?s satire as well as his musical deconstruction become obvious in the very first seen as Popeye?s boat comes to port, the town people come out of there house singing a celebratory hymn “Oh Sweet Haven, God must love us”. Yet the town is completely dilapidated and run down, with poor people scrubbing the stairs and washing clothes in the open. Immediately people ignore or try to avoid Popeye, who is simply trying to find some with information in regards to his long lost father. As the film continues, we realize that the film is also a search for masculinity as Popeye has not had a male role model to grow up with, and as a result finds it difficult to fit in with the people around him. In turn he is shunned away from Sweet Haven?s residents, in one seen he goes to a party in town and is completely ignored. It is not until he defeats the town boxing champ that he becomes accepted, as the town people now can see him as a masculine entity. This is another moment when Altman?s signature satire is shown as the people cannot except or relate to Popeye until he conforms to their social construct of masculinity. Quite a bold statement in a film about a cartoon character.
Olive Oil takes a focus part way through the film as her numbers show us her situation. It is made clear that she is to be seen as a victim of a patriarchal society through Olive Oil?s opinions. She is obsessed with her appearance, and is worried about her weight. In one seen Olive sits down for dinner but is outraged because she has been given a “short fat glass instead of a tall skinny one”. She has been raised to believe she needs a man, in one song she sings about Bluto “he is virile and strong, has money and respect, and though he?s not the best, he is mine”, alluding that even though Olive Oil doesn?t like Bluto, that it is more important that she simply is not without a man.
While in preparation for this paper the only available print that I could find of Popeye was not in the original aspect ratio, which poses a considerable problem since the film was shot in the traditional Altman ultra-widescreen format. Never the less, obvious Altman style characteristics can be seen throughout. For one, the film contains constant zoom into characters, which is a favorite of Altman as it brings each respective character to the focus of the frame. Two, a number of frames are shot from doorways and seen through windows, a self-reflexive mode that causes the audience to see the characters within their own context and help to make create a distance between the audience and the characters.
Even while Altman undertook the film adaptation of what could have been seen as an exhausted character with no creative possibilities left, he was able to transform Popeye from a cultural icon into a medium to express his views. It is only through the eyes of Altman that such opportunities could be seen and so capitalized on. And while it was not a huge box office success, it still is an example of quality work, in which Altman?s integrity was left intact. The final result is a text that has truly been re-written to fit Altman?s thematic concerns as Popeye learned societies? expectations of masculinity and Olive Oil what a patriarchy means for women.