Honoring Kansas City filmmaker Robert Altman

Sarah Abney

February 20 marked what would have been unconventional filmmaker and Kansas City native Robert Altman’s 95th birthday. 

Altman captivated audiences during his 50 years of work. He was nominated for five Academy Awards. In 2001, Altman received the Golden Globe for best director for his film “​Gosford Park.” After his passing in 2006, Altman was paid homage to by the Academy Awards. 

However, filmmaking was not always a part of Altman’s script. He originally was a member of the U.S. Air Force. In 1946, he was discharged and moved to California. Fascinated by movies, Altman briefly made efforts at acting, songwriting and screenwriting.  

Altman entered the filmmaking world inspired by the desire to break boundaries. 

Altman soon moved back to his hometown of Kansas City and worked for the production company, Calvin. During his work with Calvin, he furthered himself in the Kansas City entertainment industry. 

Altman’s big debut in Kansas City was the documentary “​The Delinquents.” He then moved back to California in the pursuit of the Hollywood dream. 

“He wanted to go out and go to Hollywood,” UMKC communication studies professor Mitch Brian said. “He had an interesting relationship with Kansas City.” 

Altman hopped between Kansas City, California and even New York City. 

“If I come back again, you can keep me,” Brian recalled Altman saying. 

Altman was known for filming everything. Overlapping dialogues and using actor improvisation was his specialty. 

 “People, behavior and environment. He was always trying to go against the grain.” Brian said. “He encouraged people to improvise by filming everything.” 

Altman worked alongside actors such as Meryl Streep, Shelley Duval and Robin Williams. He also inspired director Paul Thomas Anderson. 

“His legacy lives on in different ways. He challenged traditional Hollywood storytelling,” Brian said. 

Altman passed away Nov. 20, 2006 after a battle with leukemia. According to IMDb, Altman worked far into his later years. 

“Retirement? You’re talking about death, right?” Altman said. ​ ​

 Altman’s art of direction still lives on today through his work, proving that artistry truly never dies.

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