Notes on Auteurism
The traditional model of an Auteur could be seen as a director that takes the script, and "transforms it into an original piece of work ". This may seem a rather ambiguous definition, but all that is needed to make clear what the practice of auteurism is, is one piece of work that fits the definition perfectly. Robert Altman’s Popeye is just that. Altman took an institution, that of Popeye, a classic American icon, and wrote it to fit it to his traditional thematic concerns. It has been Altman’s style to take a treasured and American figure whether it be "the Western" genre or Popeye, and turn the focus from the traditional action based narrative, to a more personal exploration.
From the opening sequence it becomes obvious this is an Altman movie with the self-reflexive opening in which Popeye addresses the camera claiming "I’m in the wrong movie". Like in Brewster McCloud, where the MGM Lion asks for his line, it is Altman’s way of letting the viewer think about the film in a personal way making sure the audience realizes they are watching a movie. There is no third wall for Altman, as he constantly reminds the viewer of the fact that they are not viewing a reality, but a construct of media by placing various symbols throughout, such as a megaphone in the horse race scene and paintings of beautiful places everywhere (while the town, Sweet Haven itself is a complete dump).
Popeye sets out to be a deconstructive musical, which stays in congruence with the rest of Altman’s anti-Hollywood films (Brewster McCloud, Buffalo Bill and the Indians, The Long Goodbye, and The Player). Altman deconstructs the musical through the songs themselves as they are sung by the two leads without any ability to sing (Shelley Duvall as Olive Oil and Robin Williams as Popeye). On top of this is apparent that some of Shelley Duvall’s songs are purposely sung off key to emphasize the insecurities of her character as well as bring attention to her lyrics.
Altman’s films tend to generally deal with outsiders and alienated figures, who are longing or searching for something and how the interact or are accepted into a community . Popeye is no exception. The film begins with Popeye’s arrival into a small port town, Sweet Haven, in search of his father who had left him orphaned at an early age. Altman’s satire as well as his musical deconstruction become obvious in the very first seen as Popeye’s boat comes to port, the town people come out of there house singing a celebratory hymn "Oh Sweet Haven, God must love us". Yet the town is completely dilapidated and run down, with poor people scrubbing the stairs and washing clothes in the open. Immediately people ignore or try to avoid Popeye, who is simply trying to find some with information in...