Robert Altman’s disgruntled comedy California Split, aside from its typically busy soundtrack (it was the first movie Altman used eight-channel audio to capture all the dialogue), seems a relatively straightforward buddy film. To wit, two friends meet by chance and, naturally, transmute their good fortune into a series of gambling excursions, leading up to a trip to Reno that might as well be a saloon shoot-out. But it’s also an anti-buddy parable in which George Segal and Elliott Gould’s homosocial behavior is equated unflatteringly against their obsessive gambling addictions. The two, like Christina Crawford, must turn everything into a contest (in one extended sequence, Gould unites the two concerns by betting $50 he can out one-on-one a bunch of B-balling teenagers), and they find they’re on a roll when they’re in each other’s company (or, at least, in each others’ thoughts). Adding emphasis on the homo-ness of their lucrative bond are the repeated instances where the interference of women breaks both their concentration and their hot streaks. (At the climax of the film, a naïve PYT cuts $82,000 worth of momentum by placing a single chip on a game of craps, giggling, “It’s my birthday.”) At the film’s open, Segal’s character is separated from his wife and, thus, finds himself wandering amid the dozens of unattractive, pasty women who populate the low-stakes, rec center poker tables. It’s almost as though he’s predetermined to make another go at his marriage by surrounding himself by two types he’s not attracted to: on one hand, chain-smoking, fat-jiggling, muumuu-wearing, cranky old housewives, and on the other, men. But Gould’s rapacious mockery of the first category seems, at times, to give Segal pause over testing the viability of the second. Not necessarily because Gould rubs shaving cream into the bar-fight wounds all over their torsos, or because he’s at least a more reasonable fuck buddy than Bert Remsen in drag. There’s something in Gould, among the few scattered catcalls of “fag” from various bottomless dancers in various seedy floating casinos, that Segal gets. What exactly it is he gets is as mysterious to me as many of the half-caught conversations in Altman’s films, but, then again, I am an actual fag with a predictable lack of interest in that definingly macho sport of throwing away my earnings on rounds of wallet-wrestling. People like me, I guess, are too busy spending their copious disposable income on end tables and as many subscriptions to Genre, Vice, and maybe Adbusters as it takes to cover them. Oh, and reading gay subtext into movies like California Split.
- Columbia Pictures
- 108 min
- Robert Altman
- Joseph Walsh
- George Segal, Elliott Gould, Ann Prentiss, Gwen Welles, Edward Walsh, Joseph Walsh, Bert Remsen, Barbara London, Barbara Ruick, Phyllis Shotwell
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