Here's what the entertainment world will miss about the maverick director

By Paul Haggis
Updated December 22, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST

Paul Haggis remembers Robert Altman

FEB. 20, 1925-NOV. 20, 2006

It’s obvious to anyone who has seen Crash that I owe a huge debt to Robert Altman. There are very few directors who we can say changed the art of making movies — we all know Altman is one of them. He did much more than teach us how to tell a compelling story from multiple perspectives. He embraced chaos like no director before him. He turned anarchy into art and cobbled together contradictions that would have crushed lesser filmmakers. Think of how M*A*S*H oozed cynicism while celebrating life, how McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Gosford Park intermingled evil and innocence, how much love he showed for the disdainful characters in Nashville, The Player, and a half-dozen other films. I had the great honor of meeting Altman last year. After the Oscars there’s a group picture taken, and I got to stand a few shoulder-widths away. It was truly the highlight of a great night. When we were leaving, my friend Bennett Miller invited me to Paul Thomas Anderson’s house for a quiet late-night drink. I’d always wanted to meet Paul, so I naturally went. And there, on the sofa, at 3 a.m., sat Robert Altman, his honorary Academy Award on the coffee table before him. I honestly didn’t know what to say — what do you say to a genius, someone you admire so much? I opted for asking if I could get him a cup of coffee or a drink. He said he was fine and asked where my Oscars were. I said in the car. I admired his — and the thought struck me that his looked taller. He leaned forward and winked: ”Mine is bigger, you know.” I smiled and agreed. His was much, much bigger. That’s just the truth. (Altman died of complications due to cancer in L.A.)