clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

'MASH' filmmaker says he hates series

Robert Altman might not say much, but when he finally cuts loose, watch out.

After a relatively sleep-inducing 62 minutes of commentary track on the upcoming DVD release of "MASH" (Fox, 116 min., $26.98), Altman lets loose with a cannon's roar against the TV series that his film inspired.

Sparked by the appearance of Gary Burghoff (who played Radar in both the movie and the series) at Painless' coffin during the mock-suicide scene, Altman suddenly decides to let listeners know that "I didn't like the series because that series to me was the opposite of my main reason for making this film — and this was to talk about a foreign war, an Asian war, that was going on at the time. And to perpetuate that every Sunday night for 12 years — and no matter what platitudes they say about their little messages and everything — the basic image and message is that the brown people with the narrow eyes are the enemy.

"And so I think that series was quite a racist thing. I didn't approve of it, I don't like it, and I thought it was the antithesis of what we were trying to do. But most people don't even know this movie exists. If you poll the world, they'd say, 'Oh, that was that series with Alan Albert,' or whatever his name was."

That's what you might call a rare moment in the world of commentary tracks — a world where truth is usually filtered through such nacreous statements as, "He's great!" or "This is my favorite scene!" or "She's wonderful!"

But this is Robert Altman, after all, the man whom Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould tried to have fired from "MASH" because they thought he was nuts, according to the many documentaries included in this two-disc set.

And speaking of those documentaries — which are actually TV shows culled from the History Channel and AMC — there's about two too many in this set. After a while, you start hearing the same stories over and over again.

Not that they're not interesting, but once is enough, especially considering that Altman covers much of the same material in his commentary track.

Among the more interesting tidbits, apart from the failed mutiny, is the story of Altman's ingenious strategy for getting the film made in the first place.

At the same time "MASH" was filming on the Fox back lots, the studio was making "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and "Patton."

So Altman decided to keep his head low and bring his movie in $500,000 under budget. But even that didn't keep the Fox execs from panicking over the blood in the operating room.

"This film wasn't released — it escaped," Altman says. "Because the general second level of bosses at Fox, they thought it was terrible."

Among the other features are a split-screen comparison between the old and the restored film; a Fox Movie Channel special featuring a cast reunion; a photo gallery; and, of course, the theatrical trailer.

Among the many documentaries about the film, the History Channel's outranks the others, featuring interviews with real Korean War surgeons and pictures of the real people the "MASH" characters are based on.