I should probably watch this again, since so many consider it a
masterpiece. Maybe I was over-prepared (Hey, it took me a second
viewing of 'Citizen Kane' to get my past pre-set expectations!). But while
I could see why M*A*S*H was groundbreaking and important for a
Hollywood film of it's day (lack of the usual clear narrative line, anti-war
stance, overlapping, improvised dialogue, sexuality, bloody operating room scenes
serving as ironic counterpart, etc), it felt pretty dated and
unfocused. There are some very funny moments, but a lot of the ironies
seem easy, and there's a lack of a true darker underpinnings and ideas,
unlike, say, 'Dr. Strangelove'.
A lot of the humor is juvenile, cruel and silly. And while I get that's
the point - nothing can be more deeply juvenile, cruel and silly than
war, it got repetitive and heavy handed after a while. The performances
are good, but beyond Robert Duvall, none of the characters have much in
the way of dimensions. People stay exactly what we think they are from the
moment we meet them.
Walter Chow makes a good argument on the web site 'Film Freak Central',
that the sexism, homophobia, etc are the whole point. Altman is saying
we're ALL beasts at heart, even if we act like we're bucking the
system. It's an interesting idea, but I'm not sure I buy it's what
Altman was intending.