Like a lot of directors, Robert Altman flew too close to the sun. Went too long without a failure, without critics turning against him. It was bound to happen. He could get cantankerous when criticized and had built himself a company of collaborators who he turned to and increasingly turned away from reality. As the projects got more and more stylized and representative of his anti-capitalist worldview, the easier it was for studios to stop handing him money and for audiences to turn away from him.
“Quintet” may not have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, but it didn’t help matters. This anti-social gambler’s reverie was too bizarre for many. Shot through an edge-blurring filter (an early version of the Deaconizer which would later help shape “The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford,” which takes after “Quintet” in more ways than one) and stacked with some of the most famous actors in the world dressed to the hilt in ragged medieval costumes, “Quintet” seems like an elaborate dare at first. But the more it transpires the sadder it seems and the more plainly Altman was attempting to boil his obsessions down to a kind of reduction. Gamblers, murder, pockets of drunken humanity … even at the end of the world, as an ice age wipes out all life, there’s the makings of an Altman movie doggedly going through the motions. It’s bleak, certainly, but bizarrely hopeful that even in the most remote circumstances in a story that spurns humanity, Altman could situate himself, could tell one of his stories. Quintet flopped and people hated it, but as with everything he did, there’s more to the story.