Watch Robert Altman's First Movie: An Industrial Short About Football

Slate's Culture Blog
March 14 2012 12:06 PM

Is This Robert Altman's First Film?

modernfootball
A still from "Modern Football," a 1951 industrial short film directed by Robert Altman

Late last month, a Kansas City filmmaker named Gary Huggins uploaded to YouTube a long-lost movie by Robert Altman: "Modern Football," an educational short film for high school football programs. As he told SF Weekly earlier this week, Huggins "bought a stack of old instructional films for $10" at a drive-in flea market in Kansas City, and only recently got around to watching them. Then he spotted Altman in a cameo (it's at 2:37 in the video below) and realized what he had.

The movie has begun making the rounds, and has won some enthusiastic fans. At SF Weekly, Alan Scherstuhl hails the picture's "outstanding technique," seeing in it "Altman's great gift for clear storytelling in frames alive with numerous bodies in independent motion." ("Overall," he concludes, "I enjoyed this more than Ready to Wear!") And at Forbes, Bob Cook argues that "Modern Football" is "like a lot of Robert Altman movies, in that he presents a large, chaotic group of characters, and then intertwines them over the course of the film into a cohesive whole."

Advertisement

You can judge for yourself:

Cook notes that while "Modern Football" is being hailed in some quarters as Altman's first film (perhaps because IMDb lists the short as his first work as a director), another industrial short, Honeymoon for Harriet, may have the greater claim. As the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research explains, Altman told critic David Thompson that the Calvin Company, Altman's employer, "allowed him to direct [Honeymoon for Harriet], which he also wrote, because no one else could figure out how to record the soundtrack of the open road conversation."

You can watch that one—as well as several other examples of Altman's earliest work—here.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Alabama’s Insane New Abortion Law Gives Fetuses Lawyers and Puts Teenage Girls on Trial

Tattoo Parlors Have Become a Great Investment

A Year Ago I Decided to Never Fly Again. It’s One of the Best Decision I’ve Ever Made.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Politics

Big Problems With the Secret Service Were Reported Last Year. Nobody Cared.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The Secret Service’s Big Problems Were Reported Last Year. Nobody Cared.

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM It Wasn’t a Secret A 2013 inspector general report detailed all of the Secret Service’s problems. Nobody cared.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 2 2014 12:58 PM Why Can’t States Do More to Protect Patients From Surprise Medical Bills? It’s complicated.
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Oct. 2 2014 1:05 PM What's Wrong With "America's Ugliest Accent"
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 2 2014 12:37 PM St. Louis Study Confirms That IUDs Are the Key to Lowering Teen Pregnancy Rates
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 1:29 PM Want to Know What Makes David Fincher Great? Focus on What He Doesn’t Do.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 2 2014 1:22 PM If Someone Secretly Controlled What You Say, Would You Notice? What cyranoid experiments reveal about how people act.  
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 2 2014 12:53 PM The Panic Virus How public health officials are keeping Americans calm about the Ebola threat.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?