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January 29, 2006

O.C. and Stiggs


Robert Altman - 1987
MGM Region 1 DVD

Robert Altman will be honored with an honorary Academy Award after five nominations for Best Director. Including his forthcoming Prairie Home Companion, he has directed over thirty-five theatrical films, plus a greater number of television films, episodes for television series and industrial documentaries. As part of the perpetually failing efforts to keep the Academy Award broadcast within a reasonable length, the Altman salute will by necessity have to be limited to clips from career highlights. It is a good bet that O.C. and Stiggs will be one Altman film left unmentioned.

After seeing this film I had to wonder why MGM made a point of releasing it on DVD while the much better, and funnier, Brewster McCloud remains on the shelf. The DVD includes a brief interview with Altman explaining his intentions, and what what a good time he had with the actors. Even though as a director for hire, Altman personalized the film with his use of overlapping dialogue, O.C. is only an intermittently funny, but mostly sour vision of Americana.

The film is based on a story published in National Lampoon. The producers convinced MGM that the story could be made into a film for teenagers. Altman doesn't mention any films, so I don't know if he is thinking of Porky's and similar films, or perhaps one of the films from John Hughes. Altman thought that he was making a satire of teenage films. One of the first rules of any good teenage film is that the adults have to either be non-existent, peripheral or at worst, supporting characters. O.C. and Stiggs fails as a teenage movie or even a satire of teenage movies because Altman spends too much time with the grown-ups. Additionally, scenes that may have seemed funny on paper, such as the boys floating on inner tubes on their way to Mexico, aren't funny on screen.

There are a few inspired moments - O.C. (Daniel Jenkins) doing a Fred and Ginger dance with the young Cynthia Nixon and Dennis Hopper in a couple of enjoyably goofy moments spoofing his role in Apocalypse Now come to mind. More often, O.C. and Stiggs is marred by attempts at humor that are smug, if not outright racist or homophobic.

That Altman even attempted to do his own version of a "teenage film" is logical in viewing his overall career. A film student friend of mine thought of Altman as the "revisionist Howard Hawks". What he meant by that was that both directors tackled different genres and had a way of making their films unique. While that may be oversimplifying the similarity of the two filmmakers, it is probably no coincidence that Hawks filmed Raymond Chandler's first Philip Marlowe novel while Altman filmed the last, and both had screenplays by Leigh Brackett. (I should clarify that Brackett co-wrote The Big Sleep screenplay with Jules Furthman and William Faulkner.) Among the films I am thinking of here in addition to Altman's version of the detective film (The Long Goodbye) are the western (McCabe and Mrs. Miller), the musical (Nashville), the war film (M*A*S*H) and the screwball comedy (Brewster McCloud). Howard Hawks had his misfires. I don't blame Cary Grant for running away after reading the script for Man's Favorite Sport?. For Robert Altman, among some great films and several that are merely good, there is O.C. and Stiggs.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 29, 2006 02:38 PM


I second these emotions!

Posted by: Ju-osh at March 3, 2006 02:58 PM

"Director for hire." Heh. I like that. Thanks for writing up this obscure piece, which I knew nothing about, and especially for the link to its "National Lampoon" source.

Posted by: Maya at March 3, 2006 06:18 PM

I'm not sure how O.C. and Stiggs got such a bad rap. It's on my top ten movies list.

The sound track alone is precious. It has the hallmark Altman montage of intertwining dialogues, and by itself with no video to support it, is worth listening to several times.

The studio apparently intentionally tried to sabbotage the film by chosing not to release it immediately after production, and when it was released it was only put in to limited release. I feel that this had a fair amount to do with its later poor showing.

Make no mistake, Altman films are too nuanced under any circumstances for mass market appeal. That's what Fast Times at Ridgemont High is for. I'm just hoping more of the cinema sophisticati will buck peer pressure and admit that O.C. and Stiggs is a good film in it's own right.

After checking reviews made at the time of the film's initial release, there was a preponderance of poor press from reviewers who just didn't "get" what an Altman film was all about, and the main complaint seemed to be from viewers who went to see it expecting it to be like the magazine story. Note that Altman's last film: "Prarie Home Companion" is now being critisized for not playing well to audiences not familiar with the radio show. It appears that he overcompensated.
The film is an excellent film. I give it at least four out of five stars compared with other films in its genre.

Posted by: shadow at January 29, 2007 12:02 AM