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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Drama > Family > A Wedding (1978/Fox DVD) + Dr. T & The Women (2000/Lionsgate DVD)

A Wedding (1978/Fox) + Dr. T & The Women (2000/Lionsgate)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+/B-     Extras: C     Film: C+/C-



Robert Altman was one of the great architects of cinema.  Even when his work did not work, it was always unique, distinctive and more than enough proof of the how the Auteur Theory is correct in the case of filmmakers like he was and one of the little-discussed aspects of his work was about women and neurosis.  Some wrote these works off as crude and condescending (not entirely invalid) outside of the likes of a Nashville or Prét-A-Porter while others just saw it as another unique aspect of Altman’s world of cinema.  A Wedding (1978) and Dr. T & The Women (2000) are two such examples now on DVD.


To nip one point in the bud, Altman has been accused in these types of his films to be condescending and that word that so many critics and others turn to when they do not want top analyze a great filmmakers work: cold.  Yes, cold, the big cop-out you hear from so many when they don’t want to think much or be challenged.  Even when there are some aspects of a given film being so, this form of “cold” is a blanket (no pun intended) over any kind of deep analysis of a complex or challenging work.


In the case of these films, both have many problems, with Wedding working just enough in its ambitions more than Women which shows Altman at his most repetitious and possibly commercial since Popeye despite some graphic scenes that earned it an R.  The PG-rated Wedding seems more realistic by comparison.


In both cases, anything about cold characters and situations is at least ironic in an eccentric Altman way as the casts in both more obviously are comprised of comic actors, especially using famous TV comedy stars as leads, than most critics have really examined.  Wedding has Carol Burnett, the TV comedy heir to Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Jr., the son of Lucille Ball, Paul Dooley, Pat McCormack, Pam Dawber (soon of Mork & Mindy), Dina Merrill, Bert Remsen, Geraldine Chaplin, Lillian Gish, Vittorio Gassman, Mia Farrow, Lauren Hutton and Nina Van Pelt.  Note the mix of film comedy and TV comedy as well, but just how highly unusual this was at the time.


By the time Women arrives, too many films have become like bad TV and worse, as we get Helen Hunt, Shelley Long, Kate Hudson (daughter of Goldie Hawn), Cloris Leachman (the big movie star who was also Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and a spin-off named after her character), Farrah Fawcett (the former Charlie’s Angel), Tara Reid, Liv Tyler, Laura Dern and the safe-to-cast Richard Gere as a gynecologist.  Will he cheat on his wife?  Is there a lesbian relationship somewhere here?  One of his poorest later films (followed by the most overrated of all, the grossly overrated Gosford Park) and preceded by another obnoxious-fest in the mode of these two films (Cookie’s Fortune), Altman was obviously getting bored with filmmaking at this point.  Compare it to the same material in Stanley Kubrick’s mixed-but-effective Eyes Wide Shut (1999, made at practically the same time) and its numerous problems are far more apparent.


At least when Altman did this kind of thing in 1978, it was still fresh.  A Wedding involves the chaos that happens when two snobby families are about to be united by the title event, but it has an idiot plot (as written by John Considine, Patricia Resnick, Allan Nichols and Altman) that thinks it is an upscale Eight Is Enough meets Three’s Company, but it never resolves itself despite being unique.  It is still more interesting than most comedies being made now, but that is not saying much.


So, does Altman get into the psyche of women?  Does having a female writer on each (Anne Rapp wrote Dr. T herself and despite wanting to tighten the script, Altman sadly said no) help?  Altman likely thinks it does not matter, but he kept making such films as if he felt he never got it correctly.  For this reason, his “women/neurosis” cycle remains the one with the least closure and now that he is gone, may speak volumes about both his ability and inability to grasp the opposite sex.



Both DVDs offer anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 images that are softer than the format should deliver, even with the stylizings Altman demanded in each case.  Charles Rosher lensed Wedding and its lush/phony look is only complemented and made more dense and chaotic by the great compositions throughout.  Jan Kiessler lensed Women and though it also offers good composition, it is flatter and less stylized, with too many closer shots versus the earlier film.  Both will arrive in Blu-ray eventually and they’ll make for interesting comparisons.  Note that Women recycles the old Artisan transfer.


Wedding offers Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with weak Pro Logic surrounds, though was likely one of Altman’s 16-track stereo releases limited to a few theaters, while Women has a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is good, but nothing spectacular.  Though weaker, Wedding has more character and ambition in its sound by comparison.  If the 16-track master still exists, a good DTS-MA 5.1 mix could be made for the Blu-ray.


As for extras, Wedding only has a vintage making-of featurette while Women offers a mixed audio commentary with Altman, Anne Rapp & various cast members, trailers, TV spots, on camera interview with Altman and three featurettes.  Though they all have their moments, they somehow do not add up to much.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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