Ironically, this quirky yarn about the final broadcast of a long-running US radio show would also be the swansong of director Robert Altman. Meryl Streep, Lindsay Lohan and Kevin Kline are among the ensemble who take to the stage for comedy sketches, songs and surreal reveries. It "entertains in spades" and put a good many bums on seats in the US, where the show is an institution.
The Road Home
Kline gets Altman talking about his distinctive, free-flowing style in a commentary for the film. He talks about wanting to be "one step behind" the action and avoiding close-ups at all costs because that's too presumptuous. "I'm not forcing you to see anything," says the director, "but I am suggesting what you should see." In typically sardonic style, he adds that, "I try to get hidden right away so I can get my 40 winks in." Altman talks more in a 50 minute documentary called Come And Play, which is exactly how he pitched the film to actress Virginia Madsen. He explains that his wife was an avid fan of the Prairie Home radio show and had long been musing on a way to bring it to the big screen.
Kline, Streep, Lohan and the rest of the cast share their memories of the radio show, while its creator Garrison Keillor reflects on the hard work of adaptation. He admits that his first few drafts of the screenplay were patchy - Altman's only notes being 'you're getting closer' - and the director himself says that it was never really finished. Writing the story was an organic process, with Keillor getting inspired on set to re-write scenes and generally experiment. It was an exciting period for Lohan as well who, surrounded by revered thespians, says, "I want to take this opportunity to learn as much as possible." (Note: a ten-minute 'Making Of' featurette is basically a condensed version of this documentary.)
Death And Dessert
Snippets of press interviews with the cast fill out this two-disc package. Streep says she accepted the film in a heartbeat because, "It's been a lifetime ambition to work with Robert Altman." Don't expect too many probing insights though. This section of the disc is mostly a chance for the actors to feed the hype machine. Having said that, Kline appears to be clutching at straws when he boasts that, "There are some good death jokes..."
Onstage At The Fitzgerald showcases full versions of the songs performed by the sassy double-act of Meryl Streep and Lilly Tomlin, plus Woody Harrelson and John C Reilly (playing the Bad Joke cowboys). A batch of sixteen deleted scenes are also made up of musical highlights, featuring Richard A Dworksy and The Guys All-Star Shoe Band. Among the footage, Garrison Keillor also reminisces on 'the good old days,' filled with the 'sweet and sour' aroma of rhubarb pie. He dutifully informs us that rhubarb was discovered by two Norwegians, Rudy and Barb Gustavson; "They poured sugar on it and baked it in a pie," he says, "and it tasted great with sugar but allowing enough of the sourness to come through for flavour. And isn't it the same with you and me...?"
Like sour rhubarb this DVD is an acquired taste, but the languid country rhythms and sly wit ensures that Altman devotees will feel right at home.
A Prairie Home Companion DVD is released on Monday 25th June 2007.