Here's today's depressing fact.
Robert Altman's satirical anti-war movie MASH is now 42 years old. Yeah, I know. It made me feel old too. If it's any consolation its star, Elliott Gould, is probably older. He's 70 now and looking good on it. Busy too. He's in Edinburgh for the Film Festival with a new film, Fred, and a personal appearance at the Traverse Theatre tonight, where he'll talk about a career that's taken in everything from making films with Ingmar Bergman and the Muppets, to guest roles in Friends and the Oceans movies. Since his 1970s heyday – and MASH made Gould A-list Hollywood – he has carved out a long and varied career as a character actor. The question is if he'd been born 20 years later would he ever have been allowed to be anything more?
Looking back from now, Hollywood in the early 1970s seems such a strange, alien place, notable for its creative ambition, its dislike for escapism, its seriousness. That made for as many good films as bad, but at least they wanted to do more than sell you McDonald's tie-ins. Gould's subsequent films with Altman – The Long Goodbye, California Split – are raggedy, cluttered, dark and sometimes painful examples of that.
And Gould was a vulnerable, rather ordinary-looking film star. That was allowed for a while back then. It helped that he was good. Indeed, according to David Thomson, Gould's take on Philip Marlow in The Long Goodbye "was quite simply one of the hippest pieces of acting in the annals of film".
Thomson also said that few actors have had their talents more steadily wasted than Gould. Perhaps. At least Gould came along at a time when Hollywood – for a short moment – was ready for him. Some actors don't even have that.
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