Robert Altman: Idiotarian — From a piece in The Times, reprinted on FoxNews, director Robert Altman makes a major bid to join the leagues of the fluorescently stupid:
I am a political person,” Altman says, “but I don’t have to put a strong debate into a film. This present government in America I just find disgusting, the idea that George Bush could run a baseball team successfully; he can’t even speak! I just find him an embarrassment. I was over here when the election was on and I couldn’t believe it; and I’m 76 years old. Then when the Supreme Court came in and turned out to be a totally political animal, the last shred of any naivety that was left in me has gone. When I see an American flag flying, it’s a joke.”
I’m not enthusiastic about Bush, but Altman’s implicit identification of intelligence with verbality is inane. Literary folk surround themselves with a like kind, and within this peculiar tribe linguistic virtuosity is the sine qua non of intellect. If you don’t say things like, um… “sine qua non,” then you’re a bumbling dolt, like Bush.
Growing up in Iowa, you meet lots of men who are spectacularly competent, if not rousing orators. I’m not that kind of guy, I’m all fancy talk and no competence. But I admire that kind of guy. They know how to do things that utterly mystify me, like fixing tractors and feeding the world. Although he can’t fix tractors, Bush is that kind of guy. He knows how to make things work. The fact that he sometimes sounds like a small town businessman firing up the Rotary Club is both a strength and a weakness. Ordinary folk can genuinely identify with him, because he talks like ordinary folk (despite his chi chi pedigree.) But he’s an embarrassment to guys like Altman. And that’s a genuine weakness because the opinion makers are so often condescending assholes, like Altman. Yet I don’t doubt that Bush holds the reins in his administration, or that he know what to do with them.
Now, the American flag… If it stood for the executive and judicial branches of the government, then Altman might be approaching outlying areas of intelligibility. But it doesn’t. It stands for America — an idea and a people. “When I see an American flag flying, it’s a joke.” Like freedom and the people who love it are a joke. Who’s the embarrassment?
An enraged Altman suddenly checks himself, aware that he is on sensitive ground in our post-September 11 world. But, controversially, he thinks that Hollywood may have inspired the World Trade Center attacks. “We gave them the ideas: it was a movie,” he fumes. “We should be ashamed of ourselves.”
The filmmaker’s wet dream: all ideas and originate in the movies, and people are puppets manipulated by those ideas. Altman’s an idiot. He should be ashamed of himself.