Short Cuts, directed by the great Robert Altman, was released in 1993. It was released as a Criterion DVD on October 4th, 2008 as spine #265. It has yet to be released on Criterion Blu-Ray. Short Cuts is one of the five films Altman has in the Collection, the others being Nashville (spine #683), 3 Women (spine #230), Secret Honor (spine #257), and Tanner ‘88 (spine #258).
Based on a series of Raymond Carver short stories, Short Cuts tells the sprawling collection tale of the lives of twenty-two people in Los Angeles intersecting over the period of a few days. As each experiences their own crisis, Altman follows how they deal with it and how it affects the people around them.
The opening of Short Cuts echoes the tone of Blade Runner, showing an expansive urban metropolis, filled with neon and thick clouds of discontent. Altman’s camera descends on life below, showing us the inhabitants of the city, full of pain, emotion, and malaise.
The film weaves several short stories by the great Raymond Carver into a full quilt of human emotion. Altman truly “gets” the spirit of Carver here. The drunken and sad characters often meet unfortunate ends. Just regular people with problems that seem too awful for regular people to have. “I’m a prisoner of life!” sings an old night club crooner at one point in the film. She may think she’s just singing a song, but she is vocalizing everyone’s predicament. They are prisoners in the eternal jail cell of life. Whether it be Tim Robbins’ philandering police officer who’s angry at everyone yet does truly care about his family, or Tom Waits’ alcoholic chauffer who’s mean when he drinks but is a genuine, good guy when he puts the bottle down. These people are stuck in a rut of sorts and just want to remember what it once was like to truly feel something other than discontent. They laugh nervously and brush it off, but everyone knows there’s something bad going on underneath. All is not well in suburbia.
In the last shot of the movie, Altman shows us the entirety of Los Angeles from above. The disconnected city in which we just spent three hours living. All the people and stories and pain and love spread out like a child’s toy playset. The fog begins to clear and life continues. Los Angeles pushes on.
Within the extras, there’s a plethora of interviews with many of the people involved with the film. The interview between Robbins and Altman is particularly informative. I would’ve liked to listen to a full length commentary by Altman, but this interview is the closest we’ll get. Watching it really gives one a much richer understanding on not only the film but on the filmmaking techniques behind it and how they were decided. In addition, there are two full length documentaries—one on the making of Short Cuts and one on the life of Raymond Carver, both equally entertaining. The essay by Michael Wilmington is really great, commenting on Altman’s take on Carver’s stories. The supplements as a whole are top notch.
Short Cut‘s epic narrative and excellent performances backed by Robert Altman’s vision create a web of visceral human emotion that is nothing short of beautiful.
Criterion Grade: A-
Film Grade: A