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Robert Altman

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Reply #225 on: May 12, 2020, 08:33:11 PM
“California Split” is now streaming on Amazon Prime in the US

California Split’: Robert Altman’s Slippery Gem Is Restored To Its Original Form On Amazon Prime

The relatively low placement of “California Split” in the common consideration of Robert Altman’s masterpieces is, if we’re being honest, less about the quality of the picture (more on that presently) than on its general availability. Unlike his smash “M*A*S*H” or critical successes like “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” and “Nashville,” this 1974 comedy/drama never had an ‘80s-era domestic VHS release to affirm its reputation; like a fair number of pre-home video titles, it was snagged by music rights, which the original deals only licensed for theatrical exhibition and television airings. Those songs would have to be cleared (and paid for) again for home video use, and according to Altman, “The cost of the music track on ‘California Split’ was so high that Columbia just couldn’t put it into video or DVD. That kept it out of circulation for years.”

When it finally hit DVD in 2004, the director had to compromise, supervising a new cut that changed some music cues, deleted others, and excised music-related sections of scenes altogether. It ran nearly three minutes shorter (the cuts are detailed here), it’s something of a travesty, and that disc has long gone out of print anyway. Those hoping to see Altman’s original version had to either see it at a revival screening (unlikely for those not living in major markets), catch a rare television screening (where it’s frequently cropped to 16:9 from its original 2.35:1 presentation), or wait for it to pop on the streaming services (also, usually cropped). So the film’s recent, unexpected appearance on Amazon Prime Video, with all the music intact and in its original aspect ratio, feels like a welcome quarantine treat.

It’s somewhat ironic that music has made “California Split” so hard to see because so little of the film’s musicality is about copyrighted songs. It’s about the melodiousness of the places its compulsive gambler characters dwell: the busy buzz of the casinos and poker clubs, the little hum of chatter in the private high-stakes games, the murmur of shop talk, the clicking of chips. Gambling dramas have always battled the problem of letting the outsider in, as a not-inconsiderable portion of the audience may not know the rules and rituals of these games. As if predicting that concern, Altman opens his film with one of his characters watching a “HOW TO PLAY POKER” video tutorial while waiting for a spot to open up at a poker club. At first, it seems like an explainer, and a clever one at that – a quick way to brief anyone who doesn’t know the rules. But little of that video’s information comes into play because Altman isn’t concerned with the rules of the game; he’s interested in what it’s like to sit in these games and to move between them. Looking back, the device exists not as exposition, but as character introduction, since we learn a fair amount about Charlie (Elliot Gould), the career gambler watching it, from his laconic commentary [...]

California Split ruuuuuuuuuuuuuulez
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