Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: George Segal, Elliott Gould, Ann Prentiss, Gwen Welles, Edward Walsh
Director: Robert Altman
Genres: Comedy, Drama
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My favorite film finally shows up on DVD
Clare Quilty | a little pad in hawaii | 08/27/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"OK, so it's coming out as what appears to be a bare-bones disk instead of a juiced-up Criterion collection title (doubly sad since other Altman classics like "Secret Honor," "Tanner 88" and "Short Cuts" are getting the CC treatment the same month) but that doesn't matter.
What does matter is that I'm finally going to get to see my favorite film in widescreen.
I taped "Split" off cable years and years ago. I remember setting up the recording at some ungodly hour (3:25 a.m. or something) because I didn't want to miss it and I ended up watching the movie in its entirity.
Elliott Gould gives an amazing, lived-in performance as a lucky card player who takes a liking to a less fortunate gambler and, through a series of episodes, we watch them pass a few weeks hitting the track, going to boxing matches, playing poker, drinking, getting beat up and using a neat home remedy on their bruises over Fruit Loops. Their friendship is one of the best I've seen on-screen. Screenwriter Joseph Walsh appears briefly as Sparkie the shylock and it's a perfect cameo, a pre-"Sopranos" portrait of a crook haggard by the life ("Didn't I tell you that I've got busts happening all over the city, that my parents are in town, and you come in here and you don't have dollar one?")
This is a woefully underseen Altman classic, mostly because it's not available on tape or DVD, it's pretty rare. But it's a great movie -- I even have the one-sheet for "Split" hanging over my computer -- and I'm very, very pleased that I'll finally be able to see something *besides* the opening and closing credits in letterbox (it always seemed to underline the cruelty of pan-and-scan when, after the credit "Directed by Robert Altman" my beloved black bars disappeared).
Character & Behaviour Over Plot & Story
Cubist | United States | 12/07/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In the 1970s, Elliott Gould and Robert Altman were an unbeatable team. They first worked together on M*A*S*H, a savage satire of the military, then again on a radical, contemporary reworking of Raymond Chandler's novel, The Long Goodbye, and finally completed the hat trick with California Split, an ode to obsessive gamblers. For years, this film has been relegated to obscurity, showing up occasionally on TV and tied up in legal issues over the music which delayed its release on DVD. Finally, all of these entanglements have been resolved and the movie is presented the way it was meant to be seen.
California Split is one of Altman's trademark character-driven films. It is less concerned with plot than behaviour as we watch the friendship between Bill and Charlie develop over a mutual love of gambling. As the film progresses and the two men hang out more, Bill starts to become more addicted to the gambling lifestyle. He blows off work early to meet Charlie at the track and sells his possessions for money. Bill and Charlie are gambling addicts who ride the high arcs and the low valleys, never passing up a bet. At a boxing match they put money on the outcome of the fight with a fellow spectator.
Those who know Elliott Gould and George Segal only from their contemporary sitcom appearances (Friends and Just Shoot Me, respectively), should see California Split if only to see these guys in their prime and working with a master filmmaker at the top of his game. Gould and Segal have never been better and play well of each other. There is good chemistry between them as Gould plays the more experienced gambler in contrast to Segal's more naïve one.
Altman fans will enjoy the audio commentary included on this DVD. It features the director, the film's screenwriter Joseph Walsh, Gould and Segal. They point out that all the extras in the opening sequence were ex-drug addicts. Altman and Walsh talk in detail about the filmmaking process with the latter pointing out the authenticity of the gambling lifestyle as depicted in the movie. Everyone recounts amusing anecdotes on this relaxed, informative track.
California Split is not afraid to show the ugly side of gambling. Bill sells his car and his possessions for a big poker game in Reno. Charlie exacts a rough, bloody revenge on the guy who mugged him at the beginning of the movie. These are not always likeable guys and to Altman's credit he doesn't try to romanticize or judge them, leaving that up to the audience. California Split is arguably Altman's loosest film in terms of plot and one of the richest in terms of character and observing their behaviour."
Egyptian Femme! Egyptian Femme!
canuhearmenow? | Virginia | 11/21/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"OK...if you had told me ten years ago this film would be on DVD i would've been shocked...first I would've said 'what's a dvd'? then i would have said 'i can't believe anyone remembers this film besides myself' (i've been trumpeting it for years...if that's a word) It might not look like it, but this film is a true masterpiece, one of Mr. Altmans best films (up there with Nashville, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, etc...) The story is a little ramshackle...but that's part of the charm. You follow two gamblers as they roam around California looking for action, they win...sometimes...and lose...more...get beat up a couple times...and eventually travel to Reno for the grand finale. The acting is perfect, Elliot Gould has never been better and George Segal gives a great haggard performance. The sound is Altman at his most layered. The whole film is rich in detail and heavy on atmosphere and most viewers will need to watch a couple times to really enjoy. If you think 'Rounders' is a great poker film...see this one. And for once he commentary on this DVD is great (too often commentary is boring 'oh yeah, that actor was wonderful, that actress was amazing, etc.. without explaining how the film got made, etc) They don't make 'em like this anymore.
Also: when will Altmans "A Wedding" come out on DVD, a true lost classic (similar to Gosford Park and Nashville in style). It's been out of print for years and needs to be seen!
This lesser known Altman gem should be in your collection.
Christopher J. Jarmick | Seattle, Wa. USA | 05/29/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Altman movies are rarely box-office champs--sometimes they are box-office duds. Most break rules but not necessarily in an audience pleasing way. Altman's priority in making films is not in telling a story or giving the audience a roller coaster ride. He makes films to explore ideas and character or just to try something he hasn't done before.
Sometimes he slips and slides all over the place and will turn you off, at other times he get things as right as any artist working in film past or present. What he is doing interests or intrigues him and/or the actors involved--hopefully the audience will appreciate it--but that is never the most important consideration with Altman.
Altman may have been appreciated by film critics, but he rarely had a hit with general audiences and he has never won an Oscar until he was given his honorary trophy in 2006.
In 1974, the subject of gambling addiction was not in the headlines. It was Watergate front and center and politics. Altman's 1975 breakthrough- Nashville was in production and California Split was released to theaters to critical acclaim but audience indifference.
I was hoping the popularity of poker and celebrity poker programs on television would create a little more buzz around the restoration of California Split and it's DVD release a year and a half ago. It didn't happen. This Altman gem, one of his best films, is still not well known. It is not an easy film to categorize. It's not an action film, despite several funny moments it is not a comedy either. It is not one Altman's large multi-character films (Nashville, Short Cuts, Dr. T and the Women, Player, Gosford Park). It's not a romance, not a western, not a thriller, not a mystery who-done-it, fantasy or science fiction. It's a movie about several weeks in the lives of two gamblers. They meet in a Gardena (Los Angeles) poker parlor, run a little bit of a scam, and become friends shortly after they are mugged in a parking lot.
Charlie Waters (Elliott Gould) is a semi-professional small-time gambling man who likes the seemingly care-free lifestyle even though he exists on the brink of constant and nearly certain financial collapse. He doesn't really have very much to lose however. He lives in the apartment of two part-time escort -would-be-prostitutes Barbara ( Ann Prentiss) and Susan (Gwen Welles). They work just enough to pay the bills and are excited that a couple of Johns want to take them to Hawaii on a trip. It's clear all these people are living temporary lives that don't involve any kind of realistic career ambitions.
And then there is Bill Denny (George Segal) who is the editor of a successful magazine and is destroying his upper middle class lifestyle because of his gambling addiction. He is separated from his wife, he is in debt to his bookie and he's becoming more irresponsible towards the duties of his job. We watch him become so obsessed with gambling after meeting Charlie that he tries to sell everything he has--camera, real estate and car to get the stake he needs to play in the big poker tournament being held in Reno, Nevada.
We spend a lot of time with Charlie and Bill as they go on a gambling spree to poker parlors, race-tracks, casinos and bar-rooms. Most of the places are smoky and run-down seedy, either lit with garishly bright cheap fluorescent lights or poorly lit dingy hole-in-the-walls. These places buzz with the activities of drunks, losers, gamblers, thrill-seekers, hangers on, bored housewives and senior citizens, with background music supplied by the jazz-blues ballads of Phyllis Shotwell piano bar style.
Although the film has plenty of humorous moments, it depicts a bleak world inhabited by desperate people, who dress at their best like used-car salesman (from the 70s). There is an anarchy at work with their lifestyles where schedules and times are built around an after-hour world of gambling and long poker games. You can almost understand the initial attraction to this rebellious sort of un-disciplined lifestyle, but we discover it's a sad, lonely, repetitious life--even for those who win more than they lose. Most of the time the characters front and center and to the sides are not having fun as they play and gamble.
Everyone lives for the next deal, the next pot, the next roll of the dice, the promise of tomorrow. The gambling fever is insatiable inside Charlie and Bill who create side bets based on naming all seven dwarfs. Their friendship is intense but based only on their gambling exploits and pushing themselves to do more gambling.
This leads to the big stakes poker game in Reno. It is peopled by the kind of traveling professional gambling character types we've seen on television poker shows. However, we aren't sure whether we want Charlie and Bill to win. We know losing will be devastating, but they might be able to recover from it--You aren't quite sure what would happen if they win !!!
The film is full of small details. Elliot Gould and George Segal play well off each other seeming to ad-lib quite naturally all of their dialogue (much of it was actually written by Joseph Walsh). There's a road-trip breeziness to much of the film but at times it conflicts with some of the almost brutal doses of reality that are doled out to the characters at various times. We realize these characters will suffer through nearly any indignity provided that just pass the `hurdle of hurt' is another game, another bet, another hope of a win.
The film does have a truly terrible strained scene, that seems dropped into the film from some other universe. It involves the sudden introduction of a pair of transvestite `dates' of the girls Charlie lives with(for one 5 minute too long scene). Actor Bert Remsen humiliates himself with full commitment playing an old nervous transvestite (he does a great job). It's a mis-fired comedic bit that calls too much attention to itself. It feels completely artificial in a movie that had seemed utterly real previously. Thankfully the scene is not very long and the movie goes right back to being as honest and authentic as it had been before.
What distinguished this film from any other about addiction is that we are not given a morale lecture or morality lesson. There's no heavy message. We can see for ourselves how sometimes the life-style is `fun', how often it is desperate, and how it is not something to aspire to. Win or lose, there's good and bad for these characters. Who can forget Charlie recklessly trying to finagle a few bucks for himself when he is being robbed at gun-point or the look on Bill's face when he realizes he may at least temporarily be on a good luck streak?.
And ignoring the transvestite scene, there's not a Hollywood type of manufactured moment in the entire film. As we get close to a movie moment, something authentic and realistic keeps it from going into the manufactured realm. In fact it turns out the movie is one of Altman's most personal. He had a gambling addiction, he identified completely with these characters which is why he wrestled the project away from up and coming Steven Speilberg (who had t.v.'s Duel and the feature Sugarland Express under his belt at this point). That left Speilberg free to do JAWS!!!
Oh and look fast for Jeff Goldblum.
California Split is presented in an anamorphic transfer with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The film has been digitally restored but film stock imperfections and lens limitations can not be fixed.. One of the important advances Altman played with during production was the 8 track recording of sound on the set. The full 3.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack provides a vast improvement over previous video incarnations. There's a lot of over-lapping background chatter going on and you may have to train yourself to hear it (the subtitle feature does cover some of this ).
The best extra is the feature-length commentary track recorded by Robert Altman, Elliot Gould, George Segal, and writer Joseph Walsh (who we see in the film playing Segal's bookie Sparky). It's not a great commentary session but it is fun listening to the group clearly enjoying watching the film and talking about it together.
Also included are some trailers.
If you are already an Altman fan and somehow are not familiar with this film, buy it and add it to your collection.
Altman's incredible attention to detail is something to go back and savor in this little masterpiece--and I'm talking here about background detail, how everyone in the frame whether at the center or out of focus in the background is part of the scene we are watching; how we hear conversations going on just outside of the one we are supposed to be paying attention to which consists of realistic over-lapping, impossible to edit and manipulate moments that are created by actor, writer and director trusting each other completely. It's a difficult thing to do this on a creative AND technical basis. The Altman mise en scène is what sets him apart from every director working today. The fact that in most of his films several scenes are constructed to play out in real time and are mic'ed and photographed to create the kind of ambience and feeling you would have if you were sitting in the same place the characters are is nothing short of a remarkable almost incomprehensible difficult achievement. It goes beyond even what Scorcese dares to do in his best movie scenes.