Thursday, July 31, 2008

Elliott Gould

Dennis Lim has a brief profile of actor Elliott Gould in the new york times on occasion of a short retrospective of his films at the BAM cinemathek.

Jim Hoberman also wrote an excellent essay last year in village voice mainly focusing on his Jewish identity. An amusing detail from his life - he got a chance to work with Bergman in 1971 when he got the leading role in The Touch but the experience proved to be so intense for him that he went into a virtual hibernation for a couple of years and almost wrecked his fledgling career. Surprisingly the film has been unavailable on dvd or general distribution. The retro is screening it but unfortunately it is on a weekday.

I really really love him in The Long Goodbye which I think is one of the most memorable and iconic performances of the 70s Hollywood cinema. I agree with Hoberman's astute observation where he compares him in this film to Jeal-Paul Belmondo in Breathless. The Long Goodbye literally oozes style but it is also totally spontaneous and completely devoid of any arty pretentiousness. It also has what must surely be the greatest performance by a cat in the movies. The opening scene in which he tries to feed the cat is a small masterpiece on its own.

3 comments:

puccinio said...

Elliot Gould was one of the great actors of the 70's, someone who was a "star" because of his obvious charisma and talent but also an actor who the audience idenitified with because with his curly hair and odd features he didn't have the usual bland glamour most matinee stars had. This ironically made him closer to stars like Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and Henry Fonda who were stars but weren't conventionally attractive.

Robert Altman gave him his best roles in ''California Split''(one of the greatest and most underrated 70's films, which is also ABOUT the 70's) and ''The Long Goodbye'' and also a great scene-stealing cameo in ''Nashville''. They actually got off on the wrong foot during ''MASH'' where Gould found Altman frequently talking and directing extras more than the leads(!) which is part of his usual style. Gould and Sutherland actually conspired to get their director fired but obviously failed.

Altman liked Gould enough to ask him to play McCabe in ''McCabe and Mrs. Miller'' but he turned it down. When he saw the film he was so blown away he confessed his sins to Altman and was forgiven and worked with Altman again and the two became friends.

''The Long Goodbye'' is indeed one of the most memorable and iconic performances of 70s Hollywood cinema. The film itself is one of the best films of that decade. While many people saw that film as a parody or a putdown of Howard Hawks' ''The Big Sleep''. The film(which has the same screenwriter as the earlier film, Leigh Brackett) is a gentle homage and Gould's Marlowe has a lot in common with Bogie's Marlowe. And Altman's film is on the whole superior to ''The Big Sleep'' as well, which is the ultimate act of homage.

The opening scene is indeed fantastic. My favourite bit is the famous scene at the end where the gangster played by Mark Rydell(who has the priceless name Marty Augustine) asks everyone to take off their clothes and Elliot Gould has this expression of complete nonchalance. Incidentally, that scene also has Arnold Schwarzennegger's first screen appeareance and he gives his best ever performance as that mustasched thug.

"It's okay with me!" is one of the greatest and most underrated catchphrases in film history.

Alok said...

I need to see California Split and also Images which you had mentioned earlier and which sounds really fascinating. What a great run he had in the early 70s! Thieves Like Us is also a masterpiece, though not very well known.

I remember that strip scene and the sight of Arnold really cracked me up. "It's Ok with me"..indeed!! and his smoking! he lights up a cigarette in every single scene of the film and he is in every one of them. I also loved Sterling Hayden in it. Probably his last great performance, and in fact one of his best.

It is really a strange and subtle film. Very stylist and at the same time also very sincere. I was actually expecting a spoof of 40s Marlowe but was taken by a suprise. that would have been too easy. Instead it goes into newer territories.

Anonymous said...

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I also loved Sterling Hayden in it. Probably his last great performance, and in fact one of his best.
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In fact his best. Sterling Hayden also gave a performance in Bertolucci's ''1900'', a type of film called(not without affection), a "film maudit". For his Marxist pageant, Bertolucci cast Americans like DeNiro, Burt Lancaster and Donald Sutherland(who's Canadian but you get the idea) as the fascists and frenchmen like Depardieu and others as the peasants. The only American playing a peasant is Hayden whose performance in ''The Asphalt Jungle'' made Bertolucci realize that he'd always be a prole.

Sterling Hayden's death scene in ''The Long Goodbye'' is beyond stunning. He was actually a last-minute replacement for a friend of Altman's who was going to play the part but Altman loved Hayden's work. The cast is all superb. Even Nina van Pallandt, a Danish socialite with ties to royalty and also a folk pop singer who got involved with Clifford Irving(of the Howard Hughes hoax fame). She also appeared in other Altman films.

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What a great run he had in the early 70s! Thieves Like Us is also a masterpiece, though not very well known.
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His post-Nashville films are also great, ''Buffallo Bill and the Indians''(although it's slightly flawed), ''3 Women'', ''A Wedding''. In the 70's, Altman was able to function in the mainstream American cinema. His films weren't really big budget box-office hits but they were still part of the general viewing culture. In the 80's he was marginalized and shifted to Paris. Altman is in a sense the American Fassbinder. In terms of his prolific output and also his strong regional identity as an American. His films dealt with American communities and addresses America as a community and that was unique even in that generation of directors like Cassavetes, Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg, DePalma.

Elliot Gould was right when he called Altman, "the last great American director in the tradition of John Ford" on his death. Although Altman may not have liked Ford(because of Ford's reputation as a right-winger and conservative), he has more in common with him than any other director after Ford's death.

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I was actually expecting a spoof of 40s Marlowe but was taken by a suprise. that would have been too easy. Instead it goes into newer territories.
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Exactly. It's like the American ''Shoot the Piano Player'' in a way or the American, ''Bob le Flambeur''. And the ending is gleefully irreverent. It's a parody of ''The Third Man'' with the girl standing on one side of the street with the guy walking away without looking at her.