QUINTET

TOM PIERSON – “QUINTET” soundtrack

Robert Altman, one of my favorite filmakers and the director of “Nashville”, “M.A.S.H.” and “McCabe & Mrs. Miller”, was iconoclastic, original — and sometimes, made films that were either downright terrible or completely impenetrable. And no film of his is more impenetrable than “Quintet”.

Made at the tail end of a highly prolific period in the late ’70s, “Quintet” is an sci-fi post-apocalypse scenario in which Paul Newman is a wandering seal hunter in a new Ice Age, who comes across a mostly abandoned former megalopolis to find that its few survivors occupy their remaining days ritualistically playing a bizarre board game, the results of which spill over into real life as the losers actually lose their lives.

This sounds kinda cool, but Altman for some reason chose to bathe the entire film in a litslessness which is hard to describe, but easy to want to avoid, once you’ve started watching. Vincent Canby of the New York Times wrote:

At its least boring, “Quintet” has a dream-like quality that is very soothing even when the movie means to be stern and scarifying, if only because nothing seems to be very important. Like its characters, “Quintet” is passionless, to such a degree that when one person stalks another with murder in mind, there is absolutely no suspense. Such total apathy is not easily attained without the help of chemicals.

After all that, I actually like the film, despite its being mostly terrible. It’s got a cockeyed charm that wins me over, even though I’ve tried to watch it at least three or four times, and have only made it through to the end once. It does have some bat-shit crazy costumes, and some killer production design (the majority of it was filmed in the ruins of Montreal’s Expo 67: Man and His World Pavillion).

Part of the reason the film is so difficult is its score, a blob of amorphous, atonal wind section bleats and vague underlying string sections. When viewed in the context of the film, the score hardly works at all — but when listened to on its own, it’s actually a pretty cool avant-garde little suite.

Miraculously, the film is now available on DVD, probably only due to Newman being in the lead role. Watch at your own risk.

Tom Pierson – “Quintet” soundtrack (ZIP file)

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60 Responses to QUINTET

  1. caleb says:

    Though the film sounds too tedious to agree with my anxiety, I’m just to intrigued not to Netflix it. If anything Paul Newman’s hotness should carry me through (even if it is from the late 70′s).

  2. robin says:

    Spot on really. Amazing film-maker; tedious film. It’s hard to know what he was after with this one. Best to watch “Images” or “Three Women” and blow your mind wide open.

  3. human says:

    After listening to this, I hired the film from my UNI out of curiousity to see where the sounds sit, and yep, the film is a head scratcher that’s for sure……. vaseline around the edges of the camera!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? oh dear…. To give it some credit I didn’t mind the set design (montreal expo building leftovers I believe….as mentioned in the dvd extras). Interesting sound design captured on the soundtrack though, cheers for that! I do have a penchant for absurd 70′s sci fi/cult flicks though, and have sat through worse with little or no reward…..”no blade of grass” anyone?

  4. John Terhorst says:

    I think he was trying to make the film seem in real time and in that way immerse you in the future and it’s tedium seem more real. It seems to me to be a distopianian science fiction film that was a reaction to star wars and action and quick cutting. Zardoz is kind of similar that way.

    After this movie was made the tax breaks that had been the basis of independent filmmaking up to that point fell apart. You could pretty much take a couple of years to get a film to screen and investors could write down a total loss during that period then the profets would come in the third year of the incorporated business.

    After this film one of three in the same year for Altman he did not have the chance to make a movie again till the late 80’s with the video to film Nixon movie.

  5. Mr X says:

    Are you joking human!? No Blade Of Grass is a far better film than Quintet.