Music in the Films of Robert Altman: From M*A*S*H to A Prairie Home Companion

Magee Book Cover

Principal Investigator: Gayle Sherwood Magee, Associate Professor of Musicology

Grant Program: Summer Stipends

Year: 2012

"American director Robert Altman (19252006) first came to national attention with the surprise blockbuster M*A*S*H (1970), and he directed more than thirty feature films in the subsequent decades. In addition to his feature films, Altman worked in theater, opera, and television. His treatment of sound is a hallmark of his films, alongside overlapping dialogue, improvisation, and large ensemble casts. Several of his best-known films integrate musical performances into the central plot, including Nashville (1975), Popeye (1980), Short Cuts (1993), and A Prairie Home Companion (2006), his final film. Even such non-musicals as McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) have been described, in fellow director and protégé Paul Thomas Anderson's evocative phrase, as 'musicals without people singing.'

"My book, Robert Altman's Soundtracks (Oxford University Press, 2014), considers Altman's celebrated, innovative uses of music and sound in several of his most acclaimed and lesser-known works. In so doing, these case studies serve as a window not only into Altman's considerable and varied output, but also the changing film industry over nearly four decades, from the heyday of the New Hollywood in the late 1960s through the "Indiewood" boom of the 1990s and its bust in the early 2000s."

Gayle Sherwood Magee

"Top five Robert Altman films by sound," a blog post for OUPBlog written by Professor Magee in December 2014

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