From Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1974 (Vol. 41, No. 491).
It’s really a pity that the version of California Split that eventually came out
on DVD, due to musical clearances, had to eliminate some of the play with
Phyllis Shotwell’s songs alluded to here. (For a much later consideration of
this film, including these changes, go here.) — J.R.
U.S.A., 1974Director: Robert Altman
In a poker game at a gambling casino near Los Angeles, Charlie
Waters, a winner, is accused by Lew, a sore loser, of playing in
cahoots with the dealer, Bill Denny. Bill and Charlie become
acquainted afterwards in a nearby bar and get cheerfully drunk
together; outside, they are beaten up by Lew (with the help of
friends), who makes off with their winnings. Charlie invites
Bill to stay over at his house, which he shares with two
prostitutes, Barbara and Susan. In the morning, Bill returns to
his job on a glossy magazine but is persuaded to take off that
afternoon and join Charlie at the racetrack, where they make
a small fortune on one of Charlie’s hunches. Wanting to celebrate
with Barbara and Susan, they pretend to be policemen in order to
intimidate the girls’ transvestite client “Helen” and persuade
him to leave, then go to a prizefight.… Read more »
This appeared in the Chicago Reader’s November 8, 2002 issue. –J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed and written by Brian De Palma
With Antonio Banderas, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Peter Coyote, Gregg Henry, Rie Rasmussen, and Eriq Ebouaney.
By my count, Femme Fatale is Brian De Palma’s 26th feature, and as I watched it the first time two months ago I found myself capitulating to its inspired formalist madness — something I’ve resisted in his films for the past 30-odd years. De Palma’s latest isn’t so much an improvement on his earlier work as a grand synthesis of it — as if he set out to combine every previous thriller he’d made in one hyperbolically frothy cocktail. So we get split-screen framing; bad girls; sweetie-pie male suckers; verbal and physical abuse; lots of blood; a melodramatic story stretched out over many years; slow-motion, lyrically rendered catastrophes; noirish lighting schemes favoring venetian blinds; it-was-all-a-dream plot twists; scrambled and recomposed plot mosaics; obsessional repetitions of sound and image; pastiches of familiar musical pieces (in this case Ravel and Satie); nearly constant camera movements; and ceiling-height camera angles. Best of all, we often get several of these things simultaneously. (One of the few De Palma movies for which he takes sole script credit, Femme Fatale is nothing if not personal.) What I haven’t liked about his work is still there, but I’ve had to readjust how I see it.… Read more »