By: Denis Blot
Short Cuts is perhaps the riskiest film to have been made in the 1990s, and only the directorial genius of Robert Altman could have made it a success. The film, close to three hours in length, is based on several short stories by Raymond Carver, and is a collage of the lives of twenty-two ordinary people. Altman managed to expose the desires, frustration, fears, and a multitude of other emotional motivations behind characters that one could easily call their neighbor. He then, goes further in having these character’s lives (knowingly and unknowingly) interact with one another, creating a sense of community and the realization that as humans we are all interconnected and that even if we are not aware of it, our actions not only affect our own lives but those around us as well.
Short Cuts is different from your typical film, as it lacks a central character and a central plot. Instead the film is held together by thematic unity, and by the dynamic performances of the actors whose characters the viewer undoubtedly finds something of themselves in. One also becomes interested in how a character will end up interacting with another, and how their individual stories will play out.
Nashville, what many consider to be Altman’s most seminal work, also follows this film structure and length. However, Nashville was made in the 1970s when Hollywood studios, desperate to attract dwindling audiences back to the theatre, would throw ridiculous sums of money into any film project so long as it had a reputable director and/or star actors. Short Cuts was made in the 1990s when Hollywood was concerned with keeping a film short and full of special effects. Even with a brilliant screenplay and famous actors attached to the project, Altman had difficulty in securing financing for the film. He made The Player while still trying to get the financial backing for Short Cuts and it was its success, which allowed for the rest of the production capital to be raised.
One of several items I found interesting on the Criterion DVD extras of Short Cuts was a section on how the film was marketed to audiences (how do you cut a trailer for a film with no central plot?). While lacking in a director’s commentary, there was a feature length documentary on the making of the film with behind the scenes footage and plenty of actor interviews giving an impression of the kind of director Altman is. However, what pleased me most about this DVD set, was the additional information on Raymond Carver and the companion book of the short stories he had written, from which Altman used to create Short Cuts. These extras allows for those unfamiliar with Carver’s works to partake of some excellent reading. It will also, demonstrate Altman’s genius, as you compare the written work to the film adaptation.
If you are a Raymond Carver or Robert Altman fan, or even someone who enjoys studying exceptional films, I recommend this DVD set for purchase. However, because of its length, complexity, and lack of central character and plot, Short Cuts is not the type of film most would pop into their DVD player on a rainy day or when stuck at home sick, for this reason I suggest that you rent it.