• Robert Altman’s California Split (1974) often gets unfairly lost in the shuffle with all the magnificent films he made in the early 1970s.
  • It is an all-time great gambling film and one of the era’s better two-handers (George Segal and Elliott Gould here are sublime). I’d listen to an argument that it is superior to George Roy Hill’s The Sting from 1973
  • Pay attention to the opening credits, the Lions Gate 8-track sound system- Altman’s genius with audio is on full display. This was the first non-Cinerama film to capture the 8-channel recording while shooting. This is the year of The Conversation and Coppola’s work and Walter Murch so there was a creativity in the area from an audio artistry standpoint. Here in California Split, there are as many as ten people with sound credits on IMDB for the film- a sound mixer, a dubbing mixer. The film starts, showing this audio skill off, by including the rules of poker video playing, the rumblings of the gamblers, Gould muttering to himself- bouncing all around this great, open room.
  • Phyllis Shotwell’s distinctive voice does the music.

After the gambling hall scene, back at a bar, Altman’s audio slides from the couple at the bar on the right of the screen to Segal’s character on the left (Bill Denny) then reverse zooms (Altman’s trademark move with the camera) to the back left of the bar to the girl not wearing pants.

  • Gould and Segal have great chemistry. There’s a phenomenal scene of them singing and dancing together in the parking lot, and the “$20 says you can’t name the seven dwarfs” as they drink the night away (“Snoopy!- haha).

Gould’s Charlie Waters drinking a Budweiser can, eating fruit loops in his bath robe. Maybe he is an important The Big Lebowski precursor. Charlie is a talker, he knows everyone. They play poker, bet on horses and boxing. We even see Gould hustle on the basketball court (really convincingly I might add!).

  • This doesn’t have the floating poetics of Nashville (1975) or McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) but Altman is in no hurry- he’s content to soak up the atmosphere at the bar and racetrack as his camera eavesdrops over the crowd.
  • Another great scene is of Gould handicapping the poker players one by one in Reno. I don’t know how much of it was improvised, but it feels improvised and has that impressive energy.
  • This isn’t the identity study that Images (1972) or Three Women (1977) but there are three Barbara’s in the film : the prostitute that Gould lives with, the secretary of Segal’s, and the dealer. The film is dedicated to a Barbara that died while filming.
  • Jeff Goldblum makes his first archiveable films in 1974 with this and Death Wish. He plays Segal’s character’s boss here in his one scene.

Altman ends in total disillusionment as he always does– and he does not abandon his aesthetics with shot distance or sound design

  • One of five films that Gould made with Altman. Gould is an essential part of the artistic success of this, MASH and The Long Goodbye. He also has tiny little cameos in The Player and Nashville (where Gould plays himself).
  • In California Split Altman makes the shrewd move to only hint at Bill Denny’s (the Segal character- the previously “normal” one) private life. He’s separated, and at the end, even when they win – he says “I have to go home.”
  • It is enigmatic in structure- Altman is very elliptical here- the story skips from the highs and lows (they get robbed) on day one, and day two, and then there is an indeterminable amount of time that goes by with no montage or chapter title signifier… is it 6 months? 12?
  • Highly Recommend- top 10 of the year quality film