Daily Archives: April 11, 2018

Doing the CALIFORNIA SPLIT

From Stop Smiling No. 35 (its gambling issue, guest edited by Annie Nocenti), June 2008.  — J.R.

“Trusting to luck means listening to voices,” Jean-Luc Godard reportedly said at some point in the mid-1960s. This has always struck me as being one of his more obscure aphorisms, and one that even seems to border on the mystical. Yet the minute one starts to apply it to Robert Altman’s California Split, released in 1974 —- a free-form comedy about the friendship that develops and then plays itself out between two compulsive gamblers, Charlie (Elliott Gould) and Bill (George Segal), and the first movie ever to use an eight-track mixer — it starts to make some weird kind of sense.

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What’s an eight-track mixer? According to the maestro of overlapping dialogue himself, speaking in David Thompson’s Altman on Altman (Faber and Faber, 2006), this is a system known as Lion’s Gate 8-Tracks developed by Jim Webb, and it grew directly out of Altman’s ongoing efforts to make on-screen dialogue sound more real. Sound mixers would frequently complain that some actors wouldn’t speak loudly enough and Altman would counter that this was a recording problem, not a performance problem involving the actors’ deliveries.… Read more »

In a World of His Own [on RUSHMORE]

This appeared in the February 12, 1999 issue of the Chicago Reader. –J.R.

Rushmore

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Wes Anderson

Written by Anderson and Owen Wilson

With Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams, Seymour Cassel, Brian Cox, Mason Gamble, Sara Tanaka, Stephen McCole, Connie Nielsen, and Luke Wilson.

Rushmore has a good deal of content and human qualities to spare, but what makes it such a charming and satisfying experience is its style. Its segments are introduced by parting curtains, each labeled with the name of the appropriate month, which serves as a chapter heading — a neat way of calling attention to the broad and attractively composed ‘Scope frames and of parceling out the story in bite-size seasonal units. Less obvious and functional but unmistakably style-driven is the fact that the curtains come in different colors, giving another kind of lift to the proceedings. All the scenes are short (at least until the film moves into its homestretch), and director Wes Anderson also films these scenes in long and medium shots; in general he indulges in long scenes and close-ups only after he’s earned them. Because this is a studio effort that knows what it’s doing — a rare breed these days — it makes you wonder how many close-ups and long scenes are squandered in other studio releases.… Read more »

Pale Noir [TRIXIE]

From the Chicago Reader (July 14, 2000). — J.R.

Trixie

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed and written by Alan Rudolph

With Emily Watson, Dermot Mulroney, Nick Nolte, Nathan Lane, Brittany Murphy, Lesley Ann Warren, Will Patton, and Stephen Lang.

[Trixie] is propelled by this need in her own personality to accomplish something and find the truth. But of course, the truth doesn’t exist anymore. The truth now seems to be whatever gets the most applause. — Alan Rudolph in an interview

Alan Rudolph’s previous feature, Breakfast of Champions (1999), probably his best since Choose Me (1984), is an abrasive, angry, formally imaginative, and generally faithful adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s book of the same name. It has a lot going for it, including Bruce Willis, who helped finance it, as a blustering car dealer, one of his best performances to date; Barbara Hershey as his pill-popping wife; Nick Nolte as his sales manager and best friend, who guiltily harbors a fetish for lingerie; and Albert Finney as Vonnegut’s dark doppelganger, itinerant hack SF writer Kilgore Trout. It was easily last year’s most corrosive Hollywood movie about the American way of life, and it was especially good at showing the claustrophobic desperation of living in a small midwestern town and slowly going insane — a potent literary theme at least since Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.… Read more »