Short Cuts (1993)

“I hate L.A. All they do is snort coke and talk.”

‘Short Cuts’, directed by Robert Altman in 1993, is a comedy drama formed from nine interlacing short stories. It’s set in modern day Los Angeles and Altman focuses our attention on the grotesque nature of the inhabitants, the tragedies that befall normal people and the occasionally sweet reconciliations that occur. It’s beautifully shot and, typically of Altman, the scenes of conversation are natural, the camera set back and the dialogue overlapping as if we are a voyeur on real life. The way he weaves the stories together, sometimes only just touching, sometimes connected by the coincidences that occur in real life, is both elaborate and masterful. Everything works perfectly together, and this is, in part, because of the editing: Altman cuts scenes together in a way that never jars and always gives you the sense of development. As always (and I’m aware this is becoming an obsession) I was reminded of Fellini in Altman’s storytelling: as with ‘La Dolce Vita’, ‘Short Cuts’ opens with an almost militaristic scene of helicopters (perhaps also reminiscent of ‘Apocalypse Now’) swooping over the city, in this instance spraying chemicals onto the inhabitants. This opening, unifying the characters and providing a birds-eye view of the city is mirrored in the closing scenes when a massive earthquake occurs. You can see in this film the source for Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Magnolia’, but Altman’s method is somehow purer, relying on subtexts and style to connect his stories together rather than musical interludes. The overall sense is one of world-creation and I expected to want more from the film when it had finished, but despite open-ended stories and, in one case an unreconciled mystery, I found the conclusion to be entirely satisfying.

Would I recommend it? Yes – a very long double bill with ‘La Dolce Vita’ would work well – but make sure you have a day free for it…

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