Short Cuts

Movie Information

The Asheville Film Society will screen Short Cuts Tuesday Aug. 10 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of the Carolina Asheville. The showing will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
Genre: Drama Comedy
Director: Robert Altman
Starring: Andie McDowell, Bruce Davison, Jack Lemmon, Julianne Moore, Matthew Modine, Lily Tomlin
Rated: R

Fresh from the success of his “comeback” film The Player (1992), Robert Altman tackled what is perhaps the most ambitious film of his career (at 189 minutes, it’s his longest), Short Cuts (1993). Working with sometime collaborator Frank Barhydt (Health), Altman created a sprawling tapestry of a film from the writings of Raymond Carver. The multiple stories overlap, reveal things about the other stories and occasionally interconnect. The easiest way to think about the film is, I suppose, to consider it the Los Angeles version of Nashville (1975), but that doesn’t do full justice to Altman’s film. It’s more than that.

Assembling a huge cast of names that most filmmakers could only dream about, Altman put together an intricate series of dramas that finally play like one gigantic drama. It is perhaps the most seamless fragmented film ever made. The unifying factor lies in part in the film being about the connectedness of things and people — even when they don’t know it or the connection is tenuous. But the film goes way beyond this. It speaks of and to something deeper in its picture of how disconnected these connections are. It’s not just that the random events are related to each other, it’s that the people experiencing them are unaware of the connections. Since Altman takes an omniscient view only the film sees the connections. The characters themselves don’t have this luxury.

Not only do the characters not see the connections, they’re oblivious — as we all are — to anyone’s dramas and motivations but their own. This is really the theme that runs through the film, though it’s specifically brought home dramatically in the scenes with Bruce Davison, Andie MacDowell and Lyle Lovett, and comedically in the photo booth mix-up. But it’s there throughout the whole film.

Stylistically, Short Cuts is pure Altman. It has that trademark offhand feel to the proceedings. That’s partly due to the way in which he shoots the film, but it’s also in the atmosphere he creates for his performers. They’re given room to breathe and to craft their characters from the ground up. Nothing feels calculated. It just seems to be happening. Of course, it isn’t “just happening,” but creating that illusion is the mark of Altman at his best.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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7 thoughts on “Short Cuts

  1. Best review I read was from Jonathan Demme, “it could have been longer.”

    Will the Carolina stay open past midnight?

  2. Ken Hanke

    Will the Carolina stay open past midnight?

    We oughta be done by 11:30 at the latest.

  3. Ken Hanke

    In other words, it’s a longer version of Slacker.

    It may be many things — and I’d love to interrupt next week’s podcast while you froth at the mouth about Altman — but I would never equate it with (good Clapton) Slacker. There must be some significant difference, since I like Short Cuts.

  4. Dionysis

    I need to give this movie another shot. When I saw it upon its release, it left me kind of cold. The only parts I recall were the Tim Robbins/bad cop role and Madeline Stowe sitting around naked. Oh, and Julianne Moore showing, er, more. The rest is foggy.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Funny thing is when I rewatched it for the review the only thing I could remember clearly was the scene with Andie MacDowell, Bruce Davison and Lyle Lovett.

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