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Lance

Welcome to the discussion, folks. Who's here? Where do you want to start?

Lance

Ok, let's forget how ugly the 70s were for the moment. Let's concentrate on what's pretty in the film. Gwen Welles.

William Rennie

Here's a thought.

I had a design teacher that told me that what defined a palette was not the colors that are present, but the color that is missing.

California Split is a gambling film, but something major is missing. What is it?

Lance

She never was much of an actress but she was a powerfully affecting screen presence. She was so fragile it was painful to watch her. Like watching fine crystal in the hands of a buttefingered juggler.

Lance

Bill, red and black?

William Rennie

Think "Cincinnati Kid". Altman even mentions it in the film to reinforce the absence.

Lance

Ok, I'm thinking. Been a long time. Btw, screenwriter for California Split hated the Cincinnati Kid.

Lance

Also, at one point Steve McQueen was up for the Elliott Gould part.

William Rennie

Doen't surprise me. I love Cincinnati kid but it takes place in Oz.

Lance

Screenwriter, Joey Walsh, thought it took place in Dodge City. Too much like a western.

William Rennie

By the way, in the color palette, its Altman's usual lack of saturated color. As usual, he breaks the rules.

Lance

Ok, I'm drawing a blank.

William Rennie

No big tense confrontation. No satisfying mano a mano win.

He even hints its going to happen when Slim show up with the wad of cash tall enough to sit on. There is also the scene where he and Gould size up the players. Slim was a real gambler. Some of the audience would have known him. Huge setup, then nothing.

Ties to Segal's "no special feeling" line at the end.

Altman's films were often about the emptiness of american life, and the desparate measures people would go to to fill them. In this film, the hole is still there at the end.

Still can't spell.

Lance

Ah yes. That doesn't help the 70s look better.

Lance

That's the Dodge City showdown Walsh wanted to avoid. Which Steven Spielberg wanted to put in. Spielberg was set to direct at one point.

Lance

Hole's there at the end of most of his movies, isn't it?

William Rennie

He even foreshadows a false ending, so Segal's line hits us hard in the back of the neck.

Twice in the film, when they get a big payoff, they are rob. It sets up an expectation for a nice dark noir twist at the end. Instead we get.
"No special feeling"
"Yeah, everybody knows that"
He caps the two main characters, and cuts to music.

I love his work.

The 70's at least had guys looking for something else. We're all Elliot Gould's character now. We look away from the hole and pretend its not there.

Lance

How many of those films ended with a shot of characters staring into nothingness? Thinking specifically of McCabe dying in the snow and Mrs Miller blissed out in the opium den.

William Rennie

Altman had a bitter view of life. He knew that most people lived those lives of "quiet desperation" but he had no solution to recommend. This particular film is one of his bleakest. In others, there is at least more humor.

Lance


Yep. Speilberg. Hard to remember he and Altman were hot at the same moment. But this would have been made by the Speilberg who'd just directed Duel.

Lance

I think of A Wedding as his darkest and most bitter film. But then I'm a romantic.

William Rennie

Actually, the McCabe and Miller ending conforms very closely to this one. Whats the sequence of production?

Ah Duel. Speilberg before he discovered money.

William Rennie

Never seen "A Wedding". Have to look for it.

Anyone else on here?

Lance

Speaking of humor though. There are several scenes in California Split that ought to have been funny or funnier. The orange throwing scene at the track. The second robbery...

Lance

The scene in which Bill and Charlie pretend to be vice cops and bust up Susan and Barbara's night out with "Helen."

William Rennie

Ok, some humor -- but nothing to compare with the shower scene in MASH.

Lance

I'm pretty sure we have lurkers. Hello out there!

Lance

Can't decide if those scenes are failures or if Altman deliberately undercut the humor.

William Rennie

I wonder why the orange lady never showed up again. A third scene that put some kind of button on the sequence would have been interesting.

A lot of the film is in two's. Two scene's with the first robbery thug. Two robberies. The book says things come in three's. I wonder if he did it to increase tension, or create a sense of unease.

Lance

I vote with the sense of unease.

Lance

Fits with the idea that the characters are addicted to expectation. Altman makes us expect but doesn't deliver.

William Rennie

Actually, I loved the "whorehouse scenes". Writer in a brothel is a common movie cliche. Always a little decadent, a little edgy. What does Altman give us. Fruit Loops, middle aged crossdressers and a constant search for TV guide.

Lance

McCabe came first. It was his recovery movie. Brewster McCloud bombed. McCabe made people forget it. Altman was the director of MASH, McCabe, and The Long Goodbye when he made California Split.

William Rennie

Addicted to expectation is a concise way of putting it. The only two characters that have the appearance of being happy are the ones that expect nothing. Charlie takes what he gets. He doesn't even have the gambler's drive for more. He's ready to quit at 11k.

Lance

He'd also done Thieves Like Us and Images by then. And he did Nashville right after. Man, he worked like a maniac during 70s.

Lance

Speaking of the TV Guide, do we ever see Barbara actually watching television?

William Rennie

Altman did crank out a body of work. The word driven comes to mind. Wonder what was going on in his life.

William Rennie

Never see here. Never see a TV in the house. Now I've got to figure that out.

Speaking of enigma's. Why does the on break go go dancer have no pants, and why is that somehow not erotic.

Lance

Well, according to the book, mostly work, a lot of parties, Faye Dunaway, for a short time. Mainly work, though. Remember he was 45 when he did MASH. Awful late in the day for a Hollywood success. He probably wanted to make the most of the chance. But then he'd also been a TV director for most of the time till then. He was used to working a lot and working fast.

Lance

Bunches of people have checked in from Facebook. Any of you want to chime in?

William Rennie

45 interesting. I wonder if, having spent his life dreaming about directing features, when he finally did, there was a "special feeling" lacking.


Going to have to leave soon. Sorry, but I have an early curtain. I teach Wednesdays.

This interface is driving me crazy. We need to find an empty chatroom somewhere.

Lance

The sign outside the club says that the dancers are "semi-nude." But I doubt she dances with that sweater on. The scene isn't erotic because context is all. The dancer's having an argument with her mother who is trying to borrow money so she can go back next door and play more poker. We're not looking at a semi-nude dancer, we're looking at a poor working stiff who has to take care of an irresponsible parent.

Lance

I understand, Bill. Morning comes early. I'll stick around for a bit, see if any of my West Coast readers show up. Thanks for joining in.

William Rennie

Leave it to Altman to put a complex story in the middle of a mostly expository scene. The level of detail in his work is amazing. Its like reading a russian novel.

Thanks for the invite. See you next week.

Lance

There are several short-short stories packed into the movie. My favorite's the scene in the bar where Jack Riley (Mr Carlson from The Bob Newhart Show) is the bartender. John Considine plays a would-be lothario who wants to put the moves on a woman sitting there talking about her divorce. But every time he swoops in to make his move she says something outrageous that causes him to back right off. He has no lines and she never shuts up.

There's another at the police station involving a group of middle-aged suburbanites in their pajamas all of whom are under arrest and all of whom are stoned out of their minds.

Sarah

I lurked, but I haven't seen the movie since it came out, so I just listened to you guys. I love the essay, and your Altman insights. I will try to see "Thieves Like Us" before next week.

A couple of months ago, I moved into a new place (after twenty years in one house. I invited my next door neighbor over for a glass of wine. We kept bumping into each other in our mutual driveway, walking our dogs, etc. So the evening she is to come over, I get some snacks, hummus, cheese and crackers, a bottle of wine. We meet out front, walking our dogs, and she begs off. I swear, I felt like Shelley Duvall in Three Women. I don't know why that is the first thing that came to mind; must have been the care I took in buying, and then laying things out, like a good little hostess. I just kept thinking of the elaborate concoctions (cheeze-wiz?)Duvall reads about in her Women's Magazines, and the lengths she goes to in preparing for guests, and how NOBODY EVER COMES! That's what it felt like. The image of this lonely oddball resonated all these years later. What's happened to Shelley Duvall?

Lance

Sarah, lots of love for lurkers here at LanceMannion.com. Also affection for alliteration. Glad to hear you'll be back next week. I probably should have included Three Women, but Duvall is so heartbreaking in that one I can hardly bear to watch it. But with Thieves Like Us, Buffalo Bill, and Popeye we'll have time for plenty of Shelley love.

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