Yesterday

A busy day at Il Cinema Ritrovato online:

LIEBLING DER GOTTER, Emil Jannings in an early German talkie. Surprisingly sophisticated — I guess Europe had a couple of years to absorb the early mistakes and discoveries of American sound film, so there’s immediately an understanding that UNsynchronised sound — separating sound from image — offscreen voices and noises overlaid on top of contrasting images — is one of the most powerful and absorbing techniques, at least as valuable as lip-synched dialogue.

CALIFORNIA SPLIT — I’d seen this years ago and knew it was good — Fiona hadn’t. More sound innovation, as Altman mixes untold layers of overlapping gab, sometimes allowing a clear conversation to emerge from the wordstream, sometimes smothering bits of it in crosstalk, sometimes submerging everying in burbling accretions of babel.

The film itself is terrific. I recall Elliott Gould talking about it in Edinburgh. He was a producer on it and said that the ending was originally supposed to show him and George Segal exiting the casino, filmed from outside: they’re friendship is over.

Altman approached Gould and suggested, it being very late/early and everyone tired, that they could end the film indoors and save themselves relocating and setting up a new shot. Gould agreed, and has wondered ever since if he made a mistake, and if the film underperformed because of it.

Maybe the very end is a tiny bit lacking — but not in a way that hurts your memory of the experience. A good illustration of Kurosawa’s point that, when you’re tired, your body and brain tell you that you have enough footage when you really don’t. The only solution, AK counsels, is to go ahead and shoot twice as much as you think you need.

A hard lesson!

The movie is wonderful — I miss the pre-McKee era when films could shamble along loosely, apparently neglecting all rules of structure, until at the end you realised that everything was there for a reason and an artful design had been functioning all along, UNDETECTED.

We also watched TAP ROOTS (George Marshall, 1948), beautiful Technicolor but by God it was dull.

Apart from Boris Karloff as a Native American with an English accent, and a fairly well-written part for Van Heflin, and the odd political interest of this GONE WITH THE WIND knock-off (Susan Hayward being flame-haired at the top of her voice) in which the South wins the Civil War against itself (a valley of abolitionist Southerners is invaded by the Confederates), the most striking moment was a surely unplanned incident in a river battle where one horse, improvising wildly, mounted another, trapping the hapless actor on Horse (2)’s saddle in a kind of Confederate sandwich with horses instead of bread. Looked painful. I have never weighed a horse but I believe they’re not featherweights.

7 Responses to “Yesterday”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    I think Elliot Gould (who I worship for innumerable reasons) is wrong. The film ends perfectly in a manner recalling the ending of its cinematic twin “Bay of the Angels”

  2. Thanks!

    Gould didn’t express certitude… it’s just one of those what ifs that are likely to vex anyone in the creative media involved in a thousand little choices…

  3. Mark Fuller Says:

    I agree that Tap Roots wasn’t a great film, but I did think it was interesting politically, that in the wake of GWTW someone sought to make what could be seen as a riposte to it; a film where slavery is abhorred, where the Confederate Union could be seen as riding roughshod over the views of chunks of its population and aggressive to thd point of war to those, even of its own people, supposedly, that didn’t agree with it. Its refreshing to see a Golden Age Hollywood film where The Confederacy are without question the bad guys. Yes, we do have the problem of Boris as The Noble Native American, the voice of reason throughout, incidentally but overall, the film had its heart in the right place, I believe.

  4. The screenwriter Joseph Walsh was also angry about that ending, I think in Altman: An Oral Biography he’s still fuming about it. He based the film on his own experiences with his friend Elliot Gould (IIRC in real life, he was more Gould’s character and Gould was more Segal)

    I think one influence on his feelings is that he developed the film for so long with his friend Steven Spielberg. Spielberg almost never criticises other’s films but he has gone on record as saying he would’ve taken Walsh’s script and done in totally different. It would’ve been all about the tension of gambling & would’ve built and built the tension “I would have built it up to the greatest orgasm in town” (Spielberg’s gross words not mine)

    Anyway I think they’re both full of hooey. California Split is a great movie because it’s about character not tension. Every time I see it, beautiful little details you don’t get in other films.

    Gould & Altman also thought “Long Goodbye” would be a big hit, and they’d do a Marlowe film every few years in between other personal projects. Gould was still carting the Marlowe sequel around for decades afterwards, first with Alan Rudolph, now with Soderbergh.

    drifting around with a vague sequel feels very Marlowe

  5. David Ehrenstein Says:

    I often run into Elliot Gould on the street here in L.A. and we sing “The Long Goodbye” to each other. If ever there was a film that was “Too Hip For The House.” “Three Women” is my favorite Altman with “The Long Goodbye” running a very close second. Sterling Hayden’ suicide is more heart-wrenching than its model (James Mason in “A Star is Born.”) The salute to “The Third Man” at the end is also perfect. A fortiori it’s one of the great .A. movies, right along with “Chinatown,” “Laurel Canyon,” “Model Shop,” “Zabriskie Point,” and “Lion’s Love

  6. Spielberg also criticised Rain Man and said he would have made it far more emotional and warm, which I’m sure is true and wouldn’t have helped. According to Levinson that script was a mess when he took over.

    A shame Walsh never wrote anything else that got made. Reading his credits I suddenly flashed on where I’d seen him before: Poltergeist, as the obnoxious neighbour. Spielberg again.

    I guess if you’ve planned something with Spielberg, anything Altman does with it is liable to seem rambling, inefficient. Of course, Altman isn’t doing Spielberg badly, he’s doing Altman brilliantly.

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