Opening Titles: California Split


I watched Robert Altman’s California Split for the first time ever, and am happy to report that it really does lives up to all the hype. It is definitely a slow burn. Altman masterfully builds up two character sketches at once and the payoff is fantastic. 

He follows a couple of low end Los Angeles based gamblers named Charlie and Bill, played by Eliott Gould and George Segal, as they hustle around around town looking for the next sure thing.

The immediate chemistry between our two lead characters is so contrived it is almost off-putting, but that comes to a simmer as Altman subtly whittles down these men to the essence of their being. As their madcap adventures take them to the fringes of the gambling action, we watch as Gould thrives in the ups and downs of his wayward lifestyle, while the same action simultaneously gnaws on Segal’s conscience. Split in two, much like the red and blue font treatment in the title sequence.

The type itself is a bit muddy, but the sound design can only be described as. “Altmanesque.”  Many of Altman’s audio mixes were notorious for their intentionally layered nature. In his more crowd centric scenes Altman would basically mic the entire room and mix levels in post, often burying his lead actors low in the mix.In this very boisterous opening scene, I love that Altman doubles down on the aural madness by boosting the sound design to the title animations. As the type masks on the sounds of cards being shuffled into place add to the beautiful cacophony.