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HealtH (1980)
  • Director:
    Robert Altman
  • Category:
  • Writer:
    Frank Barhydt,Robert Altman
  • Cast:
    Carol Burnett,Glenda Jackson,James Garner
  • Time:
    1h 45min
  • Year:
A parody and satire of the U.S. political scene of the time, HealtH is set at a health food convention at a Florida luxury hotel, where a powerful political organization is deciding on a new president.
Cast overview, first billed only:
Carol Burnett Carol Burnett - Gloria Burbank
Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson - Isabella Garnell
James Garner James Garner - Harry Wolff
Lauren Bacall Lauren Bacall - Esther Brill
Paul Dooley Paul Dooley - Dr. Gil Gainey
Donald Moffat Donald Moffat - Colonel Cody
Henry Gibson Henry Gibson - Bobby Hammer
Diane Stilwell Diane Stilwell - Willow Wertz
MacIntyre Dixon MacIntyre Dixon - Fred Munson
Alfre Woodard Alfre Woodard - Sally Benbow
Ann Ryerson Ann Ryerson - Dr. Ruth Ann Jackie
Margery Bond Margery Bond - Daisy Bell
Georgann Johnson Georgann Johnson - Lily Bell
Mina Kolb Mina Kolb - Iris Bell
Allan F. Nicholls Allan F. Nicholls - Jake Jacobs (as Allan Nicholls)

HealtH (1980)

Lary Crews, 'Robert Altman''s personal assistant on the film, was injured in a hit and run accident in the parking lot of the Don CeSar Resort Hotel (the film's location.) during production and spent two weeks in Palms of Pasadena hospital. Years later, Crews wrote a novel, "Extreme Close-Up", based on his experiences working on pre-production of the film.

American President and former actor Ronald Reagan viewed the film at Camp David on 12th June 1982 and reportedly said that the picture was "the world's worst movie".

Has never been released on video or DVD due to a music clearance issue.

'HealtH' was an organization in the movie which was an acronym for Happiness, Energy And Longevity Through Health.

According to Allmovie, "the film's preview went so poorly that its release was held up for nearly a year".

The hotel which hosted the health convention in the film was the Don CeSar Beach Hotel in St Petersburg Beach (St Pete Beach), Florida.

The picture was shot entirely in sequence.

Reportedly, director Robert Altman rushed the picture into production due to reasons that were threefold: (1) Altman had contractual obligations to deliver films to the 20th Century Fox studio prior to 1981 (2) Some of the box-office returns from his recent films were low (3) Further delays could have an effect on whether Altman would acquire financing for his future films.

Was supposed to come out in 1980. According to Robert Altman, 20th Century Fox went through a regime change and wouldn't release it. Altman eventually released the movie himself in April 1982.

Dick Cavett (playing himself) is heard listening to the Tonight Show in his hotel room.

According to 'Robert Altman', Bacall's and Jackson portrayals were based on Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson. In fact Glenda Jackson as Stevenson had many of her speeches lifted from Stevenson.

This was 'Robert Altman''s fifth film in a row with 20th Century Fox and his last. Altman's supporter at Fox, 'Alan Ladd, Jr.', was replaced by Sherry Lansing during production.

The film was "shelved for two years" according to film critic Leonard Maltin.

Lauren Bacall played a character who was eighty-three years old, which was about thirty years more than her actual age. Bacall was around fifty-four years of age when she acted in this film. In real life, Bacall turned the age she played in this movie around 2007.

The film's title is known to have three different spellings: Health, HealtH, and H.E.A.L.T.H.

Fifteenth feature film of director Robert Altman.

The production shoot for this film ran for about three months.

The picture was filmed around late February, March, April and early-mid May 1979.

According to 'Time Out', the film was "never theatrically released in Britain".

Final film for the 20th Century Fox studio for director Robert Altman.

One of a number of collaborations (the second) of writer Frank Barhydt and director Robert Altman.

One of the first cinema movies of actress Alfre Woodard.

Due to the film's distribution problems with a non-cooperative studio, director Robert Altman started to distribute the movie himself by screening the picture on the film festival circuit.

One of the film's actors, Paul Dooley, co-wrote the film's screenplay with writer Frank Barhydt and director Robert Altman.

Due to the film's distribution problems, director Robert Altman avoided big distribution for _his experiences would later convince him to skip major distribution for Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean_.

The name of the powdered kelp health food was "Vita-Sea".

One of the least seen and available of director Robert Altman's films.

Actor Henry Gibson appears in drag in this movie.

First of two films that actress Glenda Jackson made with director Robert Altman. The second would be Beyond Therapy (1987) around eight years later. Both movies were medical comedies.

One of five late-1970s films that director Robert Altman made for the 20th Century Fox studio. The movies are HealtH (1980), Quintet (1979), 3 Women (1977), A Wedding (1978) and A Perfect Couple (1979).

Second of three films that actress Carol Burnett made with director Robert Altman. The films include A Wedding (1978), HealtH (1980) and The Laundromat (1985), the latter being made for television.

According to "Robert Altman's Subliminal Reality" (2002) by Robert T. Self, director Robert Altman said: "HealtH could have only been made when it was made, and that was the end of the Carter era".

In the USA, the 20th Century Fox studio ultimately ruled that the film was uncommercial for major release and replaced it on its own release schedule with the canine crime comedy Oh Heavenly Dog (1980).

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has never released the film on home-video cassette, DVD or Blu-Ray.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has never released the film on home-video cassette, DVD or Blu-Ray but it has been released on cable on The Fox Movie Channel.

The film has often been compared with director Robert Altman's earlier movie Nashville (1975).

In 2000, according to the "Robert Altman: Interviews" (2000), director Robert Altman said to David Sterritt of his relationship with the film's original 20th Century Fox studio head: "[Alan Ladd Jr.] had great faith in me. He put his own job on the line".

Due to the film's distribution problems, director Robert Altman avoided big distribution for Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982).

Director Robert Altman's next picture after this film, Popeye (1980), got theatrically released before this movie did.

This was the picture that ended director Robert Altman's strong 1970s relationship with the 20th Century Fox studio which had started with the box-office success of M*A*S*H (1972).

The character of Colonel Cody played by actor Donald Moffat was a spoof of William F. Cody aka "Buffalo Bill". Director Robert Altman had around four years earlier directed Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976).

The movie was entirely shot in the one filming location.

First of three cinema movies that actor James Garner and actress Lauren Bacall both worked on. The films include HealtH (1980), The Fan (1981) and My Fellow Americans (1996), one in each decade of the 1970s [Health shot in 1979], 1980s and 1990s.

Filmed in the first quarter of 1979, the movie did not have its official premiere until 7th April 1982 at the Film Forum 1 in New York City.

The nickname of Dr. Harold Gainey (Paul Dooley) was "Gil".

Dinah Shore: As herself.

Dick Cavett: As himself.

Having only seen two of his pictures previously, I've come to terms with Altman. Before, though, I always labeled his style of film-making "boring." You just have to be in the right mind to appreciate his crazy genius.

"HealtH" is fairly underrated, and very questionably out of print. In fact, I don't think it's ever even been issued to VHS. Why is that? When all of these crappy films get DVD releases daily, this one is left behind for no good reason? Honestly, I had no real problems with this film. It was, for the most part, consistently amusing and funny. Almost all of the scenes are mysteriously interesting for some reason, be it the wonderful dialogue or the subtle performances. There is real skill here.

And Paul Dooley's stint on the bottom of the pool halfway through is fascinating.

If you can, try to find a copy of this forgotten little gem. It's not perfect, but it's much better than most of the sludge out there getting DVD releases. Hell, I'd be happy with a nice VHS copy of this thing.

It's often on the Fox Movie Channel, though, so look out for it.
Some of the acknowledged Altman "masterpieces" seem sadder to me now. Maybe it's me. Like the last reviewer, I even like this "lesser" Altman (shown recently on FMC), although I don't think he was aiming at a wide audience. Organization politics as a "microcosm" for public campaigns. Some of this satirical "docudrama" is now dated, like Dick Cavett watching the Tonight Show, but I found much of the dialog funny and insightful (e.g. "You are for real. That means you're no threat to anyone"). The story isn't "profound," but I liked it. And the performances are funny, especially Cavett (as "himself"), Lauren Bacall as an aging conservative figurehead, Glenda Jackson (who actually became a member of Parliament) as a left wing ideologue (in the opening scene lecturing someone dressed as a carrot on the sanctity of politics), and Carol Burnett as a basket case. All in the inimitable Altman style, although maybe not quite as inimitable as usual. But pretty inimitable.
I was mesmereized by this movie when it played on 1983 summer TV, but haven't been able to see it again, even though I've been searching off and on (mostly off) for 20+ years.

Apparently, no one else in the known universe has anything good to say about HEALTH. Perhaps I won't, either, on a second watching. But on that first watching it was one of the best, funniest, quirkiest movies I'd ever seen. I've actually been recommending it to some of my friends ever since.

Contrary to what one commenter noted, I did recently see a reference to it on VHS, but I was hoping to find it on DVD. I guess a director's commentary would be too much to ask for .
In the classic sense of the four humors (which are not specific to the concept of funny or even entertainment), Altman's "H.E.A.L.T.H." treats all of the humors, and actually in very funny, entertaining ways. There's the Phlegm, as personified by Lauren Bacall's very slow, guarded, and protective character Esther Brill, who's mission in life appears to be all about appearance, protecting the secrets of her age and beauty more than her well-being. There's Paul Dooley's Choleric Dr. Gil Gainey, who like a fish out of water (perhaps more like a seal) flops around frenetically, barking and exhorting the crowds to subscribe to his aquatic madness. The Melancholy of Glenda Jackson's Isabella Garnell smacks of Shakespeare's troubled and self-righteous Hamlet -- even proffering a soliloquy or two. And let's not forget Henry Gibson's Bile character, Bobby Hammer ("The breast that feeds the baby rules the world"). Then there's the characters Harry Wolff and Gloria Burbank (James Garner and Carol Burnett, respectively), relatively sane characters striving to find some kind of balance amongst all the companion and extreme humors who have convened for H.E.A.L.T.H. -- a kind of world trade organization specializing in H.E.A.L.T.H., which is to say anything but health. This is Altman at his classic best.
This was the very first film I was in as an actor. Robert Altman himself chose me as "The Carrot" after casting director Rick Sparks suggested me for the role. The total experience filming was nothing but positive. Mr. Altman was a delight to work with and watch him gleefully direct his cast of repertory actors. The film was "shelved" for a few years before it was finally released nationwide in limited release. His films are more for "groupies" who "get" his brand of humor, where today Christopher Guest's improvisational films featuring a "rep" group of actors seem to be more widely accepted and understood. Mr. Altman is a sincere passionate director and lets his ensemble of players breathe life into the improvisational scenes. Carol Burnett is a class act on and off the screen. Glenda Jackson equals her. Lauren Bacall was more aloof. James Garner would spend hours signing autographs on the beach for the gallery of fans in the hot sun following the long hours of shooting. He is the consummate pro. Many people may not "get" HEALTH, but it was way ahead of its time and today would be a hit with the world's political scene more controversial as this cast of characters is. P.S. I played "the carrot" in the opening and closing scenes! how's that for getting "roots" as an actor?
As disjointed as it is, HEALTH is still light years more clever than a lot of movies that get wide release so it's a real head scratcher why it sat on the shelf for so long...and is pretty much forgotten now. Assembling his standard large cast, director Robert Altman makes some pointed comments on the hypocrisy of many health food aficionados. Lauren Bacall and Glenda Jackson are well-used as rivals vying for president of a national health organization. Bacall is the best thing in the movie as she claims to be in her eighties --- and has a dog in his forties to boot! She's also senile and kept alive by a sex-starved nurse and a shady manager. Jackson is the clipped tongue naturalist who views herself some sort of Jesus figure for the Health conscious set. Carol Burnett is terrific as a government representative who grows more and more wary of the health movement the more she is exposed to it. Her interview scene with Dick Cavett, as himself, is priceless. James Garner plays Bacall's manager and he's appropriately caddish. Henry Gibson is a hoot as a political dirty trickster. Paul Dooley and Alfre Woodard have a few funny moments as well.
HealtH by Robert Altman is probably the goofiest film made by the master of improvisation cinema. It is a satire on the many organized associations which have emerged in the modern world concerning better living. Think of the many associations which are linked to industries, such as in sports, food, and medicine. So many of these associations become political entities in and of themselves, not just influencing the politics without but also within. Altman's film pokes fun with the sharpness and sting of a fireplace poker to reveal the insanity of the politics within these associations. In this case, the organization is a fictional health-food organization in which a new president must be elected at their annual convention being held at a Florida hotel.

Three women with polarized demeanors, sensibilities and comportment are vying for the top job. And each has their own strange quirkiness. Gloria Burbank (Carol Burnett), who works as a deputy consultant for the US President, is the least confident and least vocal of the three. However, her libido becomes overly active when frightened. In an initial television interview with Dick Cavette (playing himself) along with the two others, she's terrified of the spotlight and constantly gropes Cavette. Isabella Garnell (Glenda Jackson) is the most sober of the three. She is dedicated with a sense of what "should be done" in terms of future plans, but she's not as appealing as her two rivals, barely cracking a smile. Even her female assistant regards the other rivals as "rock stars". Esther Brill (Lauren Becall) is the most flamboyant and outwardly vocal of the three. She claims not only that she's 83 years old but her dog is almost 41. (Burbank whispers to Garnell , asking how many 41 is in dog years, to which Garnell replies that the dog should be dead.) Brill's main gesture is a kind of one-arm salute which, upon occasion, causes her hand to stay in the air, and she loses consciousness.

From the start, we see the nuttiness of the whole operation. The hotel has been decorated like a quasi-Disneyland. People are dressed in costumes of plants and other food-stuffs. The audience and participants are treating the gathering like some cultural event, and yet, it's only about health food. As the film progresses, we see the inner politics, scandals, and back-biting of an organization which is supposed to be centered upon improving people's lives.

This is certainly the nuttiest film in the Altman Canon. The overlapping dialog is ever-present, and there is even overlapping gestures and behaviors. If you can understand Altman's point about health and well-being organizations being overtly political among their own people, this film is a hoot. Everything is applied with the subtlety of a sledge-hammer, but Altman has never been one to shirk from the controversial. It's a riot in a certain Altman way, but not the kind of comedy which is for all tastes.
If you are a fan of Altman's large ensemble casts, as evidenced in major films like M.A.S.H., Nashville, Gosford Park, and lesser seen films like A Wedding, then you will no doubt be entertained by HealtH. Centered around a Health Convention where two women are running for President, HealtH contains many of Altman's latter 70s regulars like Paul Dooley (who helped write the film), Carol Burnett, and Henry Gibson, while also including top star Altman newcomers like Lauren Bacall, James Garner, and Glenda Jackson. Like a lot of Altman ensemble films there are numerous subplots in this film, but it is not nearly as overwhelming as films like Nashville or A Wedding, rather it has a more centered feel, perhaps like M.A.S.H. or Gosford Park. The whole thing is an obvious satire on the Health movement, filled with over-top, outlandish, contradictive characters, with guest stars like Dick Cavett providing a wry commentary on the whole thing. Underlining the whole election process is Altman's characteristic pessimism about politics and public appeal but what is most appealing about this film is the sheer fun most people seem to be having. This would be one of Altman's last films like this for a while!
"HEALTH" never comes near the brilliance of Robert Altman's earlier political satire, "Nashville"; but it has its moments. I found it interesting because of the good characterizations from all of the participants, but bringing it all together into a unifying theme seems to be absent from this Altman effort. The movie starts out promising but seems to lose steam before its hour and 45 minute running time is over. The ending disappoints because the outcome is so obvious from the first few frames. Still the viewer can have fun along the way: Lauren Bacall lifting her hand for purity and then sometimes inexplicably dropping off into oblivion; Paul Dooley lying at the bottom of the swimming pool as a campaign stunt; Dick Cavett relaxing in his hotel room watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Granted you would have to be a certain age to appreciate that last joke. Still, one wonders what was in Altman's mind in creating this film. Since it was made in 1980, I would think it would be a veiled criticism of Ronald Reagan's ascension to the presidency. But it never stretches itself far enough to really make that point. So I may be reading more into it than is intended.
"We have lost interest in our Constitution and democratic ideals. None of this has made us happier, wealthier, healthier, safer or better custodians of this land." - Sam Smith

"If it moves, tax it." – Ronald Reagan

A satire of the 1980 American presidential campaign, Robert Altman's "HealtH" takes place entirely within a glitzy Florida hotel, and uses a zany health food convention as an allegory for the various deceptive, dishonest and downright bizarre political manoeuvrings which typically occur during an election year.

Despite the film's title, an acronym for "Happiness, Energy And Longevity Through Health", Altman seeks not only to mock the health and fitness craze of the early 80s, with its fad diets and grotesque leotards, but to deride those "sickly people" responsible for looking after a country's "health" and "productivity". The "candidates" running for "election" at this health food convention are thus a trio of emotionally and intellectually challenged oddballs, one a 83 year old virgin who occasionally slips into a catatonic state, and another a pseudo-intellectual transgender. Rallying against what he sees to be an unfair two party system, which allows voters to choose only between a pair of idiots, is an "independent candidate" called Dr Gil Gainey. But Gainey is so ignored by the media that he relies on spectacular stunts to garner whatever publicity he can, and when the cameras do finally turn to him, he simply reveals himself to be yet another scheming huckster.

The film is anarchic, but Altman's humour is so deadpan and his various symbolic episodes so difficult to read, that the film's overall tone is one of monotony. All the usual Robert Altman traits are here - layered dialogue, multi-threaded plot lines, ensemble casts and a style in which a roaming camera floats from one nodule to the next, stumbling upon bits and pieces of a "story" which is non-defined and left up to the viewer to synthesise – but rather than enrich his tale, Altman's sprawling style seems to dilute the film's satirical and comedic edge.

But though the film doesn't work as drama, comedy or satire, for those willing to pay close attention to what is actually going on, some pretty timely themes begin to appear. Observe, for example, how Altman has Texan businessmen controlling the film's election. Observe how the votes are rigged and the film's electoral outcome already predetermined. Observe too how the "next convention" at the hotel is a "hypnotism convention" (implying that the nation's acceptance of the presidency is a kind of sham or mass delusion), how various motifs hint of the assassinations of "third party candidates", how Altman deftly aligns politics with show business, how completely disillusioned the film's ending is (despite its upbeat facade), how the lead characters symbolise America's cultural shift away from the liberalism of the 1960s and 1970s to the conservatism of the 1980s, how the "health food" candidates are either staunch adversaries of consumer capitalism or exude the kind of passivity and doped up self-satisfaction of Reaganism and how the film anticipates today's "prozac nation", the allure of health fads and anti-depressants the dark underside of a system that is wholly unhealthy. And of course Altman has always been great - particularly in his terrible films - in the way he captures the increasingly simulacral fakeness of contemporary capitalism.

For this reason, the capitalisation of the second H in the film's title ("HealtH") is very important. With the second "Health" capitalised, the film's title becomes an acronym within an acronym, meaning (quite paradoxically) "Happiness, Energy and Longevity Through Happiness, Energy and Longevity". In other words, the American Dream through believing in the American Dream. This was a common theme for Altman, many of his films dealing with a nest of characters whose faith in the ubiquitous virtues of the market is seen to be as monomaniacal and psychotic as the creeds of religious fundamentalists.

Like Altman's "California Split", "HealtH" is therefore not only about national/personal health, but national/personal addiction, where the cure for capitalism's discontents is itself "the cause of the problem" (think the miracle drug Prozac, which relies upon repeated acts of commodity consumption).

So everyone in this film, like "California Split", is "normal" despite being an addict in some way. As "addiction" is a process which converts human pleasure into a kind of consumer dependency, it's unsurprising that consumer capitalism is the economic system in which addictions have diversified and awareness of addiction itself has become commonplace. Not only does capitalism encourage its users to become dependent upon a particular form of repetitive action, it is in capitalism's interest to engender addictive dependency in its subjects in order to maintain itself and produce the illusion that there is no alternative.

Incidentally, this film was shelved for a number of years and didn't receive a mainstream release. Altman's next film, "Popeye", was a big box office hit, but he'd spend the 80s filming stage plays, TV shows or very small productions.

6/10 – Prophetic but ponderous. Worth one viewing.
As an Altman fan, I'd sought out this movie for years, thinking that with such a great cast, it would have to be at least marginally brilliant.

Big mistake.

This is one of Altman's big-cast mishmashes, thrown together haphazardly and improvisationally (or so it feels) with the hope that it would all come together in the editing room. It doesn't.

As Maltin points out, this turkey is notable only for the debut performance of Alfre Woodard, who outshines the vets all around her. But other than that, avoid at all costs. (Which is pretty easy to do -- it's never been released on video -- to my knowledge -- and its cable appearances have the frequency of Halley's Comet.)
When Altman made "Health" his career was sinking fast. Hollywood had discovered the summer special effects blockbuster and had no further need of 70's temperamental, erratic, auteurs like Altman or Bogdanovich or Cimino or Coppola. And considering that they were producing stuff like "One From the Heart", "Heaven's Gate", "Quintet", and "At Long Last Love" who can blame them.

The New York Times reviewer, maybe it was Judith Crist, was trying real, real hard to like this movie. She honestly acknowledged that she did not want Altman to go the way of Orson Welles or Erich von Stroheim and knew that his career could not survive more flops. Altman had made one flop after another since "Nashville" (then again his critically praised overlapping dialogue technique confused and alienated audiences so he had never been much of a moneymaker, just a critical darling. Now the critics were abandoning him.). The reviewer desperately wanted this film to be good enough to save Altman's career.

It wasn't anywhere close.
This Robert Altman film has not seen much light of the day since its very brief release in 1980, followed by a short commercial release two years later. Coming out originally during the era of the Carter/Reagan presidential election, this deals with the election of the president of a National Health Organization, focusing on various health issues of all sorts and the campaign right before election day at the health festival. the candidates for president are 83 year old virgin Lauren Bacall and the outspoken Glenda Jackson secrets are revealed in a stunning twist of events. In the center of this perplexing black comedy is Carol Burnett as the health adviser to the current United States president who secretly supports Jackson and his astonished by the secrets she learns.

This ensemble cast also includes James Garner, Donald Moffat, Henry Gibson and Charmaine Woodard, with Moffat and Gibson (in drag!) standing out in showy roles, and Woodard proving once again how underrated a performer she is. Of the three leading ladies, it is Jackson who stands out, with Bacall's character not really all that well developed and Burnett basically playing a variation of Eunice (albeit a lucky Eunice in a highly influential position) without mama stepping on her every dream. Jackson, commanding and strong, gets the best writing, the rest of the script weak and aggravating.

Quirky, even my director Robert Hoffman standards, this has many good ideas but Michelle. I have seen films about various types of elections before, and this is as far from "The Best Man" as you can get. Dick Cavett, as himself, does get to deliver an interesting performance, covering the event and revealing subtle ruthlessness in getting the story. The comedy surrounding Burnett is forced, seemingly influenced by her experience in skit comedy. The funniest moments come from the ironies in the story. however, most of the time, it's really just rather talkin and ultimately dangerously dull.
The minor reputation of HealtH among Robert Altman's films isn't really undeserved - it's immediately recognizable (stylistically and tonally) as his, but in this case that often seems largely as a function of self-absorbed affectations, seldom revealing anything very meaningful about the situation under examination, or about anything beyond it. The setting is a resort hotel, and the national convention of a health association, focusing on a race for its presidency between two unsuitable individuals (Lauren Bacall and Glenda Jackson); the mix includes a White House representative (Carol Burnett) and her ex-husband (James Garner) who now works on the Bacall character's campaign. That last detail, with its intimations of privileged connections and influences, is just part of a broad political allegory that includes various Watergate-inflected dirty tricks, a third candidate fighting hopelessly for attention, and (rather peculiarly) repeated comparisons between Jackson's character and Adlai Stevenson. But again, this amounts to correspondences (for example, the entirely generic, or else incoherent, promises of the two candidates) and references rather than to resonant illumination or commentary, and in the end events mostly just peter out. Even Altman's more notable movies - California Split - for instance, run the risk of being consumed by the underlying emptiness that they examine: in the case of HealtH, Altman's interest in the edges and the backgrounds and the asides ends up looking like a reluctance to look too directly at anything at all (hucksterism and fake science don't come under as concerted an attack as they might, for instance). But there are plenty of minor compensations, including the presence of all those name actors (albeit that they mostly seem to be moving in their own barely connecting worlds) and of Dick Cavett, very convincingly playing himself, trying in vain to squeeze some meaningful television out of all this, before settling down alone each night to watch Johnny Carson.
One of Altman's biggest flops and rarest films, I believe it was the final theatrical feature of his I'd yet to see. Well, its flop status is certainly deserved. It's easily one of his worst (I'd rate it second worst, after Beyond Therapy). It's a pretty typical Altman film, with lots of characters and overlapping dialogue. It takes place at a health convention, and it's supposed to humorously mirror American politics, but nothing gels and the humor is terribly lame. It also gathers several actors whom I don't like very much (and I'm probably going to get kicked for listing them, especially since two of them just died): Carol Burnett, Glenda Jackson, James Garner and Lauren Bacall. Even usually reliable Altman regulars Henry Gibson and Paul Dooley aren't very good. Still, I'm glad I can check this one off the list. This is on Youtube now in its entirety (who knows for how long).
I've wanted to see this lost Robert Altman film for years and finally found it serialized on YouTube (widescreen, even). It started off pretty well. During the setup scenes, about the first half hour, t was similar to "A Wedding," (a film which I enjoy very much). HealtH had one main location, one big event, lots of characters interacting, the naturalistic conversations, no real "plot" to speak of, etc. But about halfway through the movie just falls apart. And the funny thing is that it doesn't fall apart in the usual Altman-y way! It doesn't get shaggier and weirder as it goes along--it actually gets more linear and "normal." And Robert Altman trying to be "normal" is twice as crappy as a regular Altman failure (of which there are as many as there are successes). The dialog is forced, scenes are shot in very conventional ways, there is an uncharacteristic concentration on the supposed political "story," which is pretty stupid, but could have been funny if kept at a subtext level (like in "Nashville"). It is almost as though Altman started the film and someone else finished it. I've read that this film only had a couple of individual theatrical showings, and I know it's never been released on home video in any way. And now, after years of trying to dig it up--I know why it was buried.