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  Prairie Home Companion, A Spirit Of Radio
Year: 2006
Director: Robert Altman
Stars: Marylouise Burke, Woody Harrelson, L.Q. Jones, Tommy Lee Jones, Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, Tim Russell, Sue Scott, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Tom Keith, Jearlyn Steele
Genre: Comedy, Drama, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 3 votes)
Review: It's going to be another long night for Guy Noir (Kevin Kline), the head of security at the Prairie Home Companion radio show, and as he leaves the nearby diner to got to work at the theatre where the broadcast is performed, he muses upon his life and what has brought him to this point. This is an especially important occasion, as tonight is to be the final show because the radio station which funds it is moving on, so with Garrison Keillor (as himself) making his last minute preparations backstage along with his special guests, and the audience arriving, it should be quite something...

Of course, A Prairie Home Companion was a film about the end of things in more ways than one, because it was the last work of director Robert Altman, the cult moviemaker who had enjoyed his ups and downs over the course of a fascinating career, and by this point had won an honorary Oscar and was regarded as a treasure in the industry that had not always appreciated him. So how fitting that the subject should be death - Altman died soon after completing this - and the final curtain lowering on things, even if the actual radio show continued in real life.

Garrison Keillor is considered to be something of a treasure in his field himself, and he wrote the script to this tribute to his creation, which at first glance seems to be a random collection of conversations and songs around a loosely plotted event. All the cast performed their songs live, and it helps quite a bit in conveying that sense of a vital happening that may be laid back but is also shot through with an electricity that renders it easygoing on the surface, but deceptively commanding underneath. After all, it's all about the onset of death, which is enough to sharpen anyone's thoughts.

A lot of this comes across as too folksy to be true, but Altman's sure hand behind the camera and the willing cast carry it through its more contrived patches. Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin are the last of a family of country-singing sisters and Streep has brought her daughter Lindsay Lohan as the suicide-pondering Lola along in the hope that she might perform a tune as well. Then there's Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as two amusingly antagonistic singers who round off their act with a fine paean to bad jokes, thus harrassing the stage manager.

Kline shows that he could have been just as easily cast as Inspector Clouseau in the remake of The Pink Panther as he bumbles through the honey-coloured sets while trying to keep his cool, and Virginia Madsen shows up as a kind of angel of death who explains to Keillor that he was responsible for her fatal accident after she lost control of her car while laughing at one of his jokes on the radio. That spectre of our demise is always hanging about in the background, making us all too aware that all good things may come to an end, but you should still enjoy life while it lasts, because after all, it doesn't last, does it? A Prairie Home Companion leaves you reflective and entertained, almost achieving the profundity it dances around as if reluctant to challenge death, yet with bittersweet acceptance that it happens to us all, maybe a tragedy and maybe a welcome release.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Robert Altman  (1925 - 2006)

Maverick director responsible for some of the most distinctive American films of the last 35 years. After serving in the military during the 1940s, Altman learnt his filmmaking craft by making advertisements and training films before breaking into TV, where he worked throughout the sixties. Altman's breakthrough feature was MASH in 1970, an acerbic Oscar-winning Korean war comedy that introduced his chaotic, overlapping narrative style. Throughout the seventies, Altman turned in a series of acclaimed films including Images, Brewster McCloud, California Split, The Long Goodbye, the western McCabe & Mrs Miller and the brilliant musical drama Nashville. The 1980s proved to be less successful, as Altman struggled in a decade of slick blockbusters to raise funds for his idiosyncratic movies; nevertheless, the likes of Popeye, Fool for Love and Vincent & Theo were all flawed but interesting work.

Altman returned to the A-list of directors with 1992's cameo-laden Hollywood satire The Player, which was followed by the superb ensemble drama Short Cuts, based on the stories of Raymond Carver. Since then until his death Altman turned in almost a film a year, which ranged from the great (Gosford Park, The Company) to the less impressive (Dr T & The Women, The Gingerbread Man), but always intelligent and unusual. At over 80, Altman remained an outspoken anti-Hollywood figure who showed no sign of slowing down right until the end, with his last film A Prairie Home Companion released in 2006.

 
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