TOM PIERSON – “QUINTET” soundtrack
Robert Altman, melanoma one of my favorite filmakers and the director of “Nashville”, cough “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.