As great moviemakers go, Robert Altman was a late bloomer, making his name with his fifth feature film, M*A*S*H, when he was in his mid-forties. But he didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere. Before making his first low-budget movie The Delinquents in 1957 and settling in for years of journeyman work in television, Altman churned out several short industrial films starting in 1949. Most of this stuff is lost to history, but now Altman completists can check out one of his earliest works below, the 1951 Modern Football, an educational sports documentary co-sponsored by Wheaties and Wilson Sporting Goods.
Filmmaker and archivist Gary Huggins—a director with his own Kickstarter-funded feature in the works—impulsively bought his discovery along with a bunch of similar instructional films at a flea market in Altman’s hometown of Kansas City. Huggins didn’t know what he had until he finally got around to looking at the movie and recognized the director’s face in a shot. The seeds of Altman’s later greatness may not be readily apparent in Modern Football, but it’s a well-made, fascinating curio—and with its stiff line readings and period haircuts and fashions, ripe material for some Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffing. [via SF Weekly]