A look back at this day in film history
November 20
Robert Altman November 20, 2006
Robert Altman dies

On this day in 2006, the legendary film director Robert Altman passed away at the age of 81 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Altman, the maverick filmmaker responsible for such classics as MASH (1970), Nashville (1975), The Player (1992) and Gosford Park (2001), had just released A Prairie Home Companion earlier that year, a movie inspired by Garrison Keillor’s radio show of the same name that would be his final film. A man defined by his craft, Altman was a filmmaker through and through, and continued to work on movie projects despite his age and poor health: at the time of his death he was working on adaptation of the 1997 documentary Hands on a Hard Body (about an endurance competition to win a hardbody truck), and by that time had been fighting leukemia for 18 months. 10 years previously, Altman had also had a heart transplant, a fact he only revealed a few months before his death. Altman was a director who had thrived during the 1970s, when the environment of New Hollywood gave him the creative freedom he needed to be able to do his best work, but had then suffered during the 80s when adventurous auteurs like him were considered a liability. He returned, however, in the early 90s with the killer one-two shot of The Player (1992) and Short Cuts (1993), films that ranked with his very finest work. In 2006, this cinematic iconoclast, who had begun making industrial films in the late 1940s, had cause to be philosophical about where he was in his career. Talking to Salon [http://www.salon.com/entertainment/movies/review/2006/06/15/btm/index.html]’s Andrew O’Hehir, Altman said, “I spend a lot more time sitting in a chair now. I don't get up and run around the set the way I used to. I just focus on what I need to do. You know the joke about the young bull and the old bull on top of a hill? The young bull looks down in the valley and says, 'Let's run down there and fuck all those cows.' The old bull says, 'No. Let's walk down there and fuck all those cows.'”

More Flashbacks
Nov. 20, 1992
Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant opens

The unlikeliest franchise was born on November 20, 1992, when Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant opened in New York City. Produced by Ed Pressman, written by Zoe Lund and Paul Calderon, and starring Harvey Keitel, Bad Lieutenant boldly yoked a tale of a distraught Catholic cop seeking redemption by pursuing the rapists of a nun to a sordid, walk-on-the-wild side panorama of downtown New York in the early '90s.

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November 20, 1981
Ragtime Starts Up

Released on November 20, 1981, Milos Forman's Ragtime presented a sweeping picture of America at the beginning of the 20th century. While based on E.L. Doctorow’s sprawling novel, the film centers on the story of Coalhouse Walker Jr (Howard E. Rollins Jr.), a young black pianist who fights to have his honor restored after being abused by racist volunteer firemen. For Forman, the film’s story of oppression connected to his own struggle in Communist Czechoslovakia. For others, the story was a reflection of America’s own new Gilded Age, especially as the holiday season approached. But all saw the 155-minute spectacle, with a massive cast that included actors and celebrities like James Cagney, Donald O’Connor, Pat O’Brien, Elizabeth McGovern, Norman Mailer, Mandy Patinkin, and many more, as a movie event. It took an impressive $17 million and was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, and even spawned a Broadway musical; today, however, Ragtime, a historical epic to remind of past excesses, has sadly been all but forgotten.

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