June 20, 2005
Starring: Andie MacDowell, Bruce Davison, Julianne Moore, Matthew Modine, Anne Archer, Fred Ward, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Penn, Lili Taylor, Robert Downey Jr., Tim Robbins, Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits, Frances McDormand, Peter Gallagher, Jack Lemmon, Madeline Stowe, ,
After the critical and commercial success of The Player (1992) put Robert Altman back on the map—within the Hollywood industry—he wisely used his new found (and fleeting) cache to get a personal project of his green-lighted. With Short Cuts (1993), he took several of Raymond Carver’s acclaimed short stories and weaved an intricate tapestry of the lives of 22 different characters living in Los Angeles. Having languished on VHS for far too long, Criterion has acquired the DVD rights and assembled another definitive edition of this important movie.
The stories that comprise Short Cuts span a variety of genres. There tragedy in the form a story about Howard Finnigan (Davison), a local newscaster whose wife, Ann (MacDowell), is planning their son’s birthday. The child is accidentally hit by a car and gravely injured. A more whimsical storyline involves Doreen Piggot (Tomlin), the woman driving the car that hit the little boy. She works as a waitress at a diner and is married to Earl (Waits), a limousine driver tired of seeing his wife ogled by her customers. One of the funnier stories involves Gene Shepard (Robbins), a self-absorbed motorcycle cop who is cheating on his wife (Stowe) with Betty Weathers (McDormand), a housewife unhappily married to helicopter pilot, Stormy Weathers (Gallagher).
Altman not only juggles these stories (and more) but also various tones—from the trivial to the serious—as well. Short Cuts is a rare American film that also addresses the wide cultural and economical divide that exists. Trailer park couple Doreen and Earl are given as much exposure as the affluent Finnigan family. Altman doesn’t judge his characters; he just presents their lives, warts and all. The film also realistically portrays people’s human frailties: petty jealousies, life and death decisions, and, most importantly, how they do not communicate with each other. These characters are flawed. They make mistakes—some small and some large—and the film shows how they impact others.
As always, Altman has assembled an impressive cast. He pairs actors who have a great chemistry together: Lily Tomlin and Tom Waits, Lili Taylor and Robert Downey, Jr. The dynamic between these couples is very believable. Altman has picked actors who are skilled enough to be able to improvise and make it all look so natural. This is due to his deft touch and his knack for creating observational cinema that is concerned with human behaviour and simple day-to-day existence.
Altman cleverly connects all of these characters in ways that doesn’t seem too clever or contrived. Some stories, like Stuart (Ward) and his fishing buddies finding a dead body, don’t resolve themselves, while others, like the Finnigan family, end on a touching, poignant moment.
Criterion has assembled an excellent package of supplemental material that is divided between the film and its inspiration, Carver’s stories. In a nice touch, a book with nine of Carver’s short stories and one poem is included with the DVDs.
Included on the first disc is an isolated music track that allows one to appreciate the music created for the film.
The second disc starts off with two deleted scenes and an alternate take. This includes Gene chastising his wife for smoking and Anne Archer’s clown performing at a pool party.
Also included are three rough music demos of songs written by Dr. John (who also performs them) and Doc Pomus that were eventually used in the movie.
The centerpiece of this disc is the excellent feature-length documentary on the making of the movie, entitled Luck, Trust and Ketchup. Altman worked with Carver’s widow, Tess Gallagher, in bringing his stories to the big screen and doing them justice by preserving their spirit. There is a lot of excellent on-the-set footage of Altman working with his cast. This is a solid, in-depth look at the creative process.
“BBC: Moving Pictures” is a BBC TV look at the development of Carver’s short story, “Jerry and Molly and Sam” for the movie. Tim Robbins and Frances McDormand read from the actual story and talk about the movie.
“Marketing” includes a gallery of various posters, ad campaigns, two trailers and six TV spots that show how the studio struggled with how to market this challenging movie.
“To Write and Keep Kind” is a PBS documentary on the life and work of Raymond Carver. Friends, family and contemporaries talk about the man and his work.
“Carver Audio Interview” is one of the few existing interviews with the man that was conducted in 1983. He talks about his life and writing.
Finally, one of the most enjoyable extras is “Reflections on Short Cuts,” a conversation between Altman and Tim Robbins done in June 2004 especially for the DVD. Altman talks about the creative freedom he had in the ‘70s. He also tells some great anecdotes in this engaging discussion. Robbins talks about specific scenes and how he improvised in one.
Short Cuts was a critical darling and would later inspire Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnum opus, Magnolia (1999), a love letter to Altman’s movie. The veteran director has created several memorable films since then but nothing on the ambitious scale or that resonates quite like Short Cuts does. Criterion has assembled a fantastic 2-DVD set that is up to their usual high standards.