Chattering Mind

Chattering Mind

Catholicism’s Influence on Director Robert Altman

I found a choppy, but fact-filled run-down on the religious upbringing of late, great film director Robert Altman:

“Catholicism was, to me, school,’ he has said. “It was restrictions; it was things you had to do. It was your parents. It was Mass on Sunday and fish on Friday. And then when I got out of that, I got into the Army. It was the same thing–you had to have a pass to get out. You had to wear this kind of clothes, and you had to address them so-and-so . . . you’ve got to wear a tie to get into this restaurant or you’ve got to have a suit if you’re going to the party. Or you don’t try to [have sex with] a girl on the first date if she comes from a good family. All of those things. I was never a revolutionary. Those were just some of the things in life that you had to do.”


Yet many people who know Altman feel his half-denials of Catholicism are but proof in reverse that Catholicism is embedded deeply in his life and in his films. And that the guilt, the fatalistic viewpoint, the themes of death and redemption, the ambivalent attitude toward women and family, the furtive sex and love, the questioning of command and leadership (which is a kind of Jesuitical questioning of God)–all of these, so prevalent in his films–have their roots in his early Catholicism.

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Ernest Kroll

posted November 25, 2006 at 5:57 pm

I have found during my 77 years of varied experience and personal analysis, that immersing one’s self in a religious order can be either a centering experience or a fragmenting one. I have known people whose faith is rooted so deeply and strongly in their belief (whatever that may be) that they cannot be shaken from it. On the other hand I have know people whose faith has shallow roots, who with their questioning of their beliefs flail about in seeking answers to their questions without success, resulting in either becoming an aethiest or an agnostic. On the other hand (did you notice I have three hands?) some people go blithely through their lives without a spiritual anchor, not bothering or caring to involve themselves in any religious order. I can understand the religious impact of catholicism on Altman’s work. I have studied catholicism and found it to be unalterably structured for the individual who commits himself to it. This structuring, or rote effect, leaves little or no variation in one’s beliefs — the concept of Free Will is smothered by the very organization of the Catholic Church from the Pope and Cardinals, down to the Fathers and Friars. A Catholic prays to intermediaries, like the holy Mary, Mother of Jesus, or to a particular saint depending on which category his prayer fits. Ah, well, my intention is not to be critical of catholicism, only to show that it can sometimes present a dilemma in the life of a Catholic. This problem usually does not present itself in one who belongs to a protestant sect such as Baptist, Prespyterian, Lutheran, etc. (The Episcapalions, or should I say the Angelicans, are an exception in that they voluntarily bind themselves to the Holy See and the Roman Catholic Church.) Protestants in general subscribe to God’s gift of Free Will which can also create problems in the solidity of a person’s belief commitment and the strength of his faith.Regardless of one’s religious belief, it is a challenge to provide proof of that belief. How can anyone prove his belief in His Creator? Faith is a mixture of believing and hoping that something will come true. Faith, Hope, and Love, and the greatest of these is Love. The Ten Commandments. Man’s inventive Golden Rule. All these factors will color all facets of a person’s life for better or worse.

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Regina O'Leary

posted November 26, 2006 at 9:49 am

I will try to be brief, but wish to say just how greatly I can relate to the effect a Catholic upbringing had on Mr Altman, and know there are many of us of a like mind; that the authoritative, fearful method foisted on children in many cases can have deep-rooted repercussions throughout one’s life.The reference to rebelliousness interested me, as myself and cohorts did tend to act out and get up to not the best activities when we were out of school … and sometimes in, as well! I, subsequently as a mother, did my best to not let my kids be bullied and outright beaten (although they do not do that, I hear, anymore for fear of lawsuits), still feeling the trauma from scary experiences that had befallen myself and siblings at tender ages, and I was a good student, not a troublemaker or slackoff; at least not in the formative early grades, until a nun totally humiliated and berated me for getting lost at the World’s Fair (when I was just trying to buy a souvenir for my Mom and not given enough time with the long line and ended up being left behind!) I wanted to die a thousand deaths … and got in trouble with my mother, when I got home finally, as well, believe it or not … there wasn’t a whole lot of sympathy forthcoming if you were in hot water with the clergy/teachers back then in the sixties, at least not in MY house … but not to complain as much, as I had seen boys, especially, get beaten so badly it was unbelievable. The clergy would largely be in jail for what I witnessed as a youngster, should they try that kind of vicious behavior these days in most cases, I suppose. I do not want to exclusively badmouth the faith of my youth, as it was not all bad and we really learned in private school, even if the methodology was frequently based on fear of reprisal and the almost constant threat of shamefully humilating public punishment. I have since embarked and integrated an ongoing interest and insatiable knowledge of various theologies since my teens, being disenchanted with what had been taught and the manner of such, but I’ll always have some of the more ingrained Catholic values at a cellular level, I believe.There’s a saying where I hail from, Rockaway Beach, NY … that you’ll always have sand in your shoes if you are a native or even a frequent vacationer, no matter where you roam … perhaps an amusing analogy can be made that … if raised Catholic, you’ll always have holy water in your blood! So maybe, although I believe it IS all a great mystery, there is some truth to ‘once a Catholic girl, always a Catholic girl’… at least I certainly know they tried their damnedest (oh yes, I dared to say!) to instill the same! Holiday Blessings to All! Regina O’Leary

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