Robert Altman’s film Popeye is pretty much a love-it or hate-it proposition. Despite being championed by some critics (notably Andrew Sarris) and admired by Altman fans, the film was not a hit when it first appeared, but its reputation has grown over the years. Part of the problem was that Altman’s idea of Popeye was both in keeping with the old Max Fleischer cartoons and yet was riddled with Altmanesque quirks — like the concept of a Popeye who hates spinach. The casting was also troublesome for some. Robin Williams was probably nobody’s idea of Popeye, but I can think of no one else who could have pulled off those under-his-breath comments. Shelley Duvall, on the other hand, was born to play Olive Oyl. What most detractors failed to take into account was that this deliberately shambling movie with its quirky Harry Nilsson songs was a generally successful attempt at making a live-action cartoon. It’s true that the film tends to wander more than follow a straightforward plot, but that’s part of its charm. (Considering reports that the cast and crew were drugged to the eyeballs during the shoot, it’s remarkable that it’s even coherent.) The film is one of those rare pictures that looks better with each passing year.
The Asheville Film Society will screen Popeye Tuesday, July 30, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.