USA / English
--a 1970 comedy-drama set among surgeons drafted into the Korean war--was a breakthrough not just for director Robert Altman but for movie-making in general. Although set in the 50s, there are few who did not realise that the film's anti-war messages were directed at the US involvement in Vietnam. Indeed, the Pentagon banned US servicemen from seeing the film.
Starring Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye Pierce and Elliot Gould as Trapper John McIntyre, two hip young surgeons drafted against their will. Their general attitude--while never corroding either their humanity or their professionalism as surgeons--is one of insolence towards military authority and the arbitrary structures and regulations continually droning from the tannoy system. The film, too, thrives on a lack of attention to conventional order, with its cross-dialogue and random, episodic style reflecting the vivacious and unbuttoned feel of the content.
However, MASH has dated and much of what seemed like "liberating" high jinks, today smacks of sexist, frathouse boorishness and harassment, especially at the expense of Major "Hotlips" Hoolihan (Sally Kellerman), while the episode in which "Painless" plans a suicide out of a fear of being gay reflects the persistence of homophobia even in 60s counterculture. Despite this MASH feels ahead of its time and certainly sharper and blacker than the too-cute sitcom it spawned.
On the DVD: this is an excellent restoration, overseen by Altman himself, in which any obfuscation from the original have been cleaned up, especially the sound quality. As well as a commentary from Altman, there are three separate documentaries, featuring interviews with Altman, the cast and screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr, who had been blacklisted during the anti-Communist witch-hunt which swept through Hollywood in the 1950s. We learn he was initially appalled at how little of his script Altman actually used but was mollified by the Academy Award he received. Altman is candid about the making of the movie ("It wasn't released by Fox, it escaped from Fox"). There's an abundance of similarly rich, anecdotal material here. --David Stubbs
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