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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION AT BERLIN

At the Berlin International Film Festival during the world premiere screening of PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION, Robert Altman was treated to a thunderous standing ovation. Expect more kudos for the 80-year-old American master this year.

PHC embodies many of the trademark Altman storytelling devices -- great ensemble acting; layers masking reality and facade; soft political satire; and parodies of social convention. Like Altman's classic microcosm films that get inside the skin from M*A*S*H* (military field hospital) , NETWORK (television news), THE PLAYER (Hollywood), KANSAS CITY (Jazz music), to MCCABE AND MRS MILLER (cowboy western), with PHC (the world of live radio) he has put together an astonishing cast, under-stated performances with an unassuming almost dispassionate central character.

With PHC Altman centers this milieu on the slow-talking Jimmy Stewart-like persona of Garrison Keillor. Altman began his career in Kansas as a writer for radio and the world of Keillor and PHC is a fitting turn of circle for the America auteur become legend.

Teaming with GK seems to suit Altman well. Both men come out of the midwestern soil of determined iconoclastic Protestants who share suspicion for the hierarchy dominates entertainment and cultural commerce. As such, both men forged their careers and industry by laboring outside the pale and taking stands against powerful Hollywood and New York industry interests with a stubbornness born or landlocked midwestern values.

While Altman and Keillor share critical distan for the hyprocracies of modern Christian life and stingy illiberal politicians, they also maintain a sunny optimism that even if life is unfair "it could be worse." Just so, the show must go on. GK's character in PHC is confronted with the possibility of the last radio show, to which he responds, he treats every show as if it were his last.

For many years, in Minnesota we have talked about a local or midwestern regional aesthetic, even a Minnesota representation in culture. With GK and Altman, this hard boned and bull-headed sensibility has become fully realized. PHC can easily be compared with LAST PICTURE SHOW, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES or MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL for its regional attitudes.

Sure to get a lot of play, partly due to Altman's career arch, unfortunately due to Lindsay Lohan's place in the cast beside a cast of acting legends, and in some part due to the Prairie Home Companion brand, expect a lot of buzz come around the June 9th theatrical release.

If timing is right and planets align, the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival should open with this film.

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