Friday, 1 June 2012

Quintet — A film by Robert Altman / Montréal's 1967 International and Universal Exposition or Expo 67



Much discussed, yet rarely seen, Quintet is indeed a strange addition to Robert Altman's canon, not to mention Paul Newman's. Many will tell you that the film is a failure, on almost every level. This is not so. As an idea, it's simply not fleshed out to a standard that we would consider it a finished film. This is frustrating, I'll concede, but this is it's only fault.

Inconclusive as it may be, each player (in every sense) is clearly absorbed in both their individual characters and the reality in which their characters exist. The vision may be blurred (in every sense), but the vision is holistic. In many ways Quintet plays more like the pilot episode of a TV show, that never got picked up, than a motion picture. Ultimately, this is no bad thing; Images and ideas, like the snow, drift in and stretch out, to, and beyond the horizon.



The story takes place during a new ice age. The camera tracks a blank, frozen, seemingly deserted tundra- until two blurry distant figures can just be made out...

They are the seal hunter Essex and his pregnant companion, Vivia, the daughter of one of Essex's late hunting partners. They are travelling North, where Essex hopes to reunite with his brother, Francha.

Essex and Vivia eventually find Francha's apartment, but the reunion is short-lived. While Essex is out buying firewood, a gambler named Redstone throws a bomb into Francha's apartment, killing everyone inside, including Vivia. Essex sees Redstone fleeing the scene and chases him to the sector's "Information Room"; Essex witnesses the murder of Redstone by a Latin gambler named St. Christopher. When St. Christopher leaves, Essex searches Redstone's pockets and finds a piece of paper with a list of names: Francha, Redstone, Goldstar, Deuca, St. Christopher, and Ambrosia.

Puzzled by the mystery, Essex discovers that Redstone had previously checked into the Hotel Electra, a gambling resort in another sector. He visits the hotel and assumes Redstone's identity. Immediately after checking in, Essex is given an unexpected welcome by Grigor, who is the dealer in the casino. Insisting that he means no harm, Grigor invites Essex (as "Redstone") to the casino, where gamblers are now heavily involved in a "Quintet" tournament. While there he meets Ambrosia, who always plays the "sixth man" in the game.

St. Christopher: "You'll never understand the scheme until you're part of the scheme". Essex: "Are you telling me I will be?" St. Christopher: "Yes, at the exact moment where it will be too late"



Essex is unaware that the current Quintet tournament is a fight for the survival of the fittest. Those who are "killed" in game are executed in real life. Grigor and St. Christopher are aware that Essex is not the real Redstone, so they ignore him and focus on the other players.

Goldstar is the first killed, followed by Deuca, until the only two players left are St. Christopher and Ambrosia...

Ambrosia, however, insists that Essex be counted as a player in the game since he has assumed Redstone's identity. Grigor agrees and informs St. Christopher that he has to eliminate Essex before he can face off against Ambrosia.

Essex and St. Christopher have a showdown outside the city, where St. Christopher is killed in an avalanche. Essex returns to Francha's apartment and finds the same list that Redstone had. Ambrosia follows Essex to the apartment. Essex slits her throat just before she is about to stab him with a hidden knife. Returning to the Hotel Electra to cremate Ambrosia's body, Essex confronts Grigor to demand his "prize", since he was the winner of Quintet. But Grigor reveals that the only prize is the thrill of the game itself. Although Grigor insists he stays and participate in future tournaments, a disgusted Essex condemns Quintet and leaves the hotel for good. The film ends with Essex taking a long walk out into the barren Northern distance.



20th Century Fox, 1979. Directed by Robert Altman. Writing credits: Robert Altman (story), Lionel Chetwynd (story) & Patricia Resnick (story). Frank Barhydt (screenplay), Robert Altman (screenplay) & Patricia Resnick (screenplay). Leon Ericksen (Production Design). Wolf Kroeger (Art Direction). Scott Bushnell (Costume Design).

Cast: Paul Newman as Essex. Vittorio Gassman as St. Christopher. Fernando Rey as Grigor. Bibi Andersson as Ambrosia. Brigitte Fossey as Vivia, Essex's Wife. Nina Van Pallandt as Deuca. David Langton as Goldstar. Thomas Hill as Francha. Monique Mercure as Redstone's Mate. Craig Richard Nelson as Redstone. Maruska Stankova as Jaspera. Anne Gerety as Aeon. Michel Maillot as Obelus. Max Fleck as Wood Supplier. Françoise Berd as Charity house woman.


Video content here, here & here. Further information here, here & here.


Quintet was shot on the site of Montreal's Expo 67 world's fair. However, some twelve years later and the many futuristic structures are now abandoned and in a state of disrepair. As sad as this is, it only adds to the films post-apocalyptic atmosphere...


The 1967 International and Universal Exposition or Expo 67, as it was commonly known, was the general exhibition, Category One World's Fair held in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, from April 27 to October 29, 1967.

It is considered to be the most successful World's Fair of the 20th century, with the most attendees to that date and 62 nations participating. It also set the single-day attendance record for a world's fair, with 569,000 visitors on its third day. Expo 67 was Canada's main celebration during its centennial year. The fair was originally intended to be held in Moscow, to help the Soviet Union celebrate the Russian Revolution's 50th anniversary; however, for various reasons, the Soviets decided to cancel, and Canada was awarded it in late 1962.


The project was not originally overwhelmingly supported in Canada. It took the determination of Montreal's mayor, Jean Drapeau, and a new team of managers to guide it past political, physical and temporal hurdles. Defying a computer analysis that said it could not be done, the fair opened on time.

After Expo 67 ended in October 1967, the site and most of the pavilions continued on as an exhibition called Man and His World, open during the summer months from 1968 until 1981. By that time, most of the buildings, which had not been designed to last beyond the original exhibition, had deteriorated and were dismantled. Today, the islands that hosted the world exhibition are mainly used as parkland and for recreational use, with only a few remaining structures from Expo 67 to show that the event was held there. Canadians from that time still regard it as one of the country's finest cultural achievements.

Video content here, here & here. Further information here, here & here.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the tip, sounds interesting (also because I'm planning to visit Montreal and what remains fom Expo 67).

    ReplyDelete