Tuesday, June 03, 2008

California Split

Robert Altman had one of the most amazing runs of feature films of any mainstream American director working in the 70's. From 1970's utterly wacky and lovable Brewster McCloud through to 1980's Popeye, are all very good, with a few, such as McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye, Thieves Like Us and Nashville being stone cold masterpieces, as much a product of their times as they are somehow ravishingly timeless. It's not surprising that many consider this his "golden period."

1974's California Split, starring Elliot Gould and George Segal as a couple compulsive gamblers in search of their next big score is one of the very good ones. Altman's love of overlapping dialogue (most of it written just prior to the shooting by screenwriter Bill Walsh) and documentary like ambiance are in full effect throughout the film, allowing the viewer to eavesdrop on conversations in the peripheral of the main dialogue track. And Elliot Gould continues to be a revelation. Was he ever better then in the films he made during the 70's with Altman? For somebody like me whose impressions of Gould were formed by his avuncular character acting work of the 90's and 00's (on Friends and the Oceans films), seeing him in Altman's The Long Goodbye was a completely unexpected surprise. There was a time there when Gould blew everybody out of the water, creating characters that were scruffy, moody, cynical and suave. They took hits and they hurt but they always prevailed. In California Split, Gould's Charlie chews up every scene he's in, often leaving George Segal's Bill to churn somewhat helplessly in his wake.

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