During the 1970s, an era widely recognized as a renaissance period of American moviemaking, few directors enjoyed greater prominence than Robert Altman. An iconoclast whose work acutely attacked the conventions of genre filmmaking, Altman both satirized and revitalized such warhorses as the Western, the musical, and the crime drama, waging war on the sterile artifice of mainstream storytelling by creating a singularly sprawling and deliberately messy cinematic world bursting at the seams with sounds, images, characters, and plot lines. Famed for his inventive brand of overlapping (and often improvisational) dialogue and an acknowledged master of modern camera technique, Altman's quixotic career has been uneven at best, yet he remains a pivotal figure of contemporary cinema, a true maverick responsible for many of the defining motion pictures of his times.
Born February 20, 1925, in Kansas City, MO, Altman was educated in Jesuit schools prior to joining the Army at the age of 18; over the course of WWII, he flew over 50 bombing missions in Borneo and the Dutch East Indies. Upon his discharge in 1947, Altman studied engineering at the University of Missouri, later inventing a tattooing machine designed for the identification of dogs. He entered filmmaking only as a whim, selling to RKO the script for the 1948 picture The Bodyguard, which he co-wrote with Richard Fleischer. Altman's immediate success encouraged him to move to New York City, where he attempted to forge a career as a writer; he enjoyed little luck, however, and after a similarly fruitless trip to the West Coast, he returned to Kansas City, accepting a job as a director, writer, cameraman, and editor of industrial films for the Calvin Company.