story writer and poet Raymond Carver was known for pithy, honest tales of the
human condition in modern settings, the literary equivalent of cinematic
“neo-realism.” His critically-acclaimed work was published mostly in the
seventies and eighties, and he died of lung cancer in 1988 at the age of fifty.
Since Carver was known for his brevity of prose, it might seem curious that a
three-hour film would be adapted from his material.
a director like Robert Altman could make it work.
(and co-writer Frank Barhydt) took nine of Carver’s stories and one poem,
mashed them together, re-located the settings to Los Angeles, and freely
intersected them in order to create an ensemble piece that reflected “Carver
Country” with a Southern California sensibility. While the stories in the movie
might not be entirely faithful to the original tales, they capture Carver’s
spirit. Nevertheless, make no mistake—Short
Cuts is a Robert Altman film, and one of his very best.
terms of his trademark “collage” storytelling that focuses on multiple
principal characters, it’s as if the filmmaker wanted to out-do Nashville by broadening the canvas and
extending the randomness of dramatic encounters. Short Cuts is certainly a movie about chance, if anything, although
on the surface the picture follows the messy relationships between husbands and
wives and various extramarital lovers, mothers and daughters, and fathers and
sons. The way Altman moves smoothly from one set of characters to another is
masterful—his direction received an Oscar nomination (but Steven Spielberg won
that year for Schindler’s List).
cast is simply amazing—the likes of Tim Robbins, Jack Lemmon, Andie MacDowell,
Bruce Davison, Julianne Moore, Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits, Madeleine Stowe, Matthew
Modine, Robert Downey, Jr., Anne Archer, Fred Ward, Frances McDormand, Jennifer
Jason Leigh, Chris Penn, Lili Taylor, Peter Gallagher, Lori Singer, Annie Ross,
Lyle Lovett, Buck Henry—and more—populate this ambitious, sprawling, and
extraordinary accomplishment. The other star is Los Angeles itself—in many
ways, Short Cuts is the ultimate L.A.
Criterion Collection had previously issued the film on DVD in 2004 but now
presents a new, restored 4K digital transfer on Blu-ray, approved by
cinematographer Walt Lloyd, with a 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.
Alternatively, viewers can choose a 5.1 soundtrack mix presented in DTS-HD
Master Audio. If that isn’t enough, one can watch with an isolated music
track—and there’s plenty of great music by Mark Isham, and songs by Doc Pomus
and Mac Rebennack (AKA Dr. John).
second disk contains a wealth of supplements, all of which appeared on the
original 2004 release (the only extra not ported over is a segment from BBC
television’s Moving Pictures tracing
the development of the screenplay). Otherwise, you get a video conversation
from 2004 between Altman and Tim Robbins; a terrific 1993 feature-length
documentary on the making of the film which includes plenty of footage showing
Altman at work on the set; a 1992 PBS documentary on Raymond Carver; a rare
1983 one-hour audio interview with Carver (who rarely spoke about his work);
original demo recordings of the songs, performed by Dr. John himself; a few
deleted scenes; and a study of the difficulty in marketing such an unusual
motion picture using examples of numerous poster and art designs and concepts,
trailers, and teasers. The essay in the booklet is by film critic Michael
Short Cuts is one of the
masterpieces of the 1990s and belongs on the shelf of any Robert Altman fan.