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July 16, 1975 - Image 5

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1975-07-16

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Wednesday, July 16, 1975


Page Five

Wednesday, July 16, 1975 THE MICHIGAN DAILY Page Five

'California Split:' Altman looks
at the middle class gambling set

In the opening scenes of
R o b e r t Altman's California
Split, it almost seems as if we
are faced with a world which is
virtually devoid of common so-
cial norms. A dinner table is
filled with poker players; little
old ladies shoot craps instead
of playing bingo; and one al-
ways approaches strangers with
a bet.
It soon becomes apparent,
however, that the lifestyle Alt-
man is dealing with is in fact
based on the very values we
associate. with American middle
class culture..
THE VERY structure of Alt-
man's film plays on our expec-
tations. Although the initial im-
presesion is one of fast-paced
excitement, you eventually real-
ize that the characters are
leisurely rambling through the
Picking up conversations from
every corner of the room, the
soundtrack is occasionally gar-
bled and chaotic, but at all
times realistic. The scenes deal
with a montage of images
rather than plot.
The two leading characters,
played -by Elliot Gould and
George Segal, never really pro-
gress. They seem the same at
the end of the film as they were
when we first met them. Like
the physical reality that sur-
rounds them, Charlie (Gould)
and Bill (Segal) have never de-
veloped beyond the point that
serves their immediate needs.

Throughout the film, Altman
continues to twist our concents
of normality. Charlie and his
gambling buddie to be (Bill)
stay with two prostitutes who
say they are friends, behave like
children, and relate to each
other as mother and daughter.
When t h e y aren't entertain-
ing transvestites, they eat Fruit
Loops, read the T.V. Guide, and
hang Christmas lights.'
THE ONLY real family we
are ever shown consists of a
mother watching cartoons in the
bedroom over a strip joint with
her two children, while daddy,
runs an all night poker game in
the next room. In all other ways,
Altman's characters lead a sub-
urban life which typtfies and
yet remains estranged from our
concept of a middle class exist-
The sight of a wad rf bills in
this movie soon becomes ordi-
nary and commonplace. Every-
one is out for money. They
either borrow it, steal t, bet it,
or win it back-but they get it.
The relationship between Char-
lie and Bill began at the poker
table. Their friendship thrives
on gambling and the ability to
work as a team.
Charlie's entire existence is
calculated in terms of tin or
lose. This is his world. He moves
within it easily. One night he
dreams he is in Tiajauna win-
ning at the dog tracks, and the
next morning he heads off for
Mexico. He gambles for - the
thrill, not the profits.

CHARLIE is both the prodluct
and the cause of his environ-
ment. He perpetuates its values,
bit is in turn a victim of them.
Bill, on the -other hand, seems
from the first out of place. He
has a job, a home, a wife some-
where, and looks like the kind
of guy that you always wanted
to go steady with in seventh
grade. Halfway through the
film, however, he is already
sucked back into the mold.
Following Charlie's lead, he
manages to lose everything and
in the process come to the point
where his obsession with gam-
bling is no longer just a game.
all the trappings of a commer-
cial film, yet denies its conven-
tions. Instead of casino mob-
steers, we have two not very
polished businessmen. The clubs
and streets do not show a world
of dazzling sophistication, but
rather a view of middle class
America. We see the film exalt
a lifestyle that nobody seems to
Once again, Altman has turn-
ed a genre against his audience.
All of the ingredients are tnere:
gambling men, prostitutes, loan
sharks, even a piano player.
Yet the end product does not
relieve one's standard expecta-
tions. By the end we have an
antithesis to Cagney, Bogart,
and The Sting. For here there
is no love, friendship, or fortune
-even the winners ultimately

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