Please stop comparing Robert Altman's Short Cuts to Nashville.

Deleted scenes, commentary, and more.
Jan. 27 2009 10:55 AM

Robert Altman's Short Cuts

Stop comparing it to Nashville.

(Continued from Page 1)

In Nashville, Altman's camerawork is fluid and impatient; in Short Cuts he lingers on a single dramatic encounter, often for an uncomfortable amount of time. An astonishing example of this technique comes when Marian (Julianne Moore) tells her husband (Matthew Modine), in meticulous detail, the story of how she committed adultery—an upsetting scene made perverse by the fact that she is not wearing any pants. The voyeuristic shock of her red pubic hair makes the viewer uneasily complicit in her sexual transgression.

A subtler, but equally excruciating scene takes place in a hospital waiting room where Howard (Bruce Davison) is attending to his son, who lies in a coma. To his alarm, Howard's own estranged father (Jack Lemmon) shows up. In a monologue that lasts nearly six minutes, Lemmon describes how he ended up sleeping with his sister-in-law (Howard's aunt)—an act that would ruin his relationship with his wife and son.

Advertisement

It's a remarkably nuanced episode, for while Lemmon is a sympathetic, defeated figure, he is also unreliable. He wants to earn his son's forgiveness, yet he defiantly insists, against reason, upon his own innocence. In Davison's face we can see that he has heard another version of the story—his mother's—that contradicts what his father is saying. He may be desperate to avoid revisiting this sordid episode, but he can't help but listen to his father's story.

The main subject of Short Cuts is not, ultimately, Los Angeles. If anything, Nashville, with its show-biz hucksters, gray eminences, wannabes, and divas, is a better portrait of L.A.; in an interview Altman once described the country music capital as "a microcosm of the Hollywood syndrome." Short Cuts is a more personal film. It cuts deeper, exposing the secret motives that make us hurt the people we love.

Nathaniel Rich is the author ofThe Mayor's Tongue, a novel, and San Francisco Noir, a book of film criticism.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 2:05 PM Paul Farmer Says Up to Ninety Percent of Those Infected Should Survive Ebola. Is He Right?
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 22 2014 2:27 PM Facebook Made $595 Million in the U.K. Last Year. It Paid $0 in Taxes
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 22 2014 1:01 PM The Surprisingly Xenophobic Origins of Wonder Bread
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 10:00 AM On the Internet, Men Are Called Names. Women Are Stalked and Sexually Harassed.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 10:39 PM Avengers: Age of Ultron Looks Like a Fun, Sprawling, and Extremely Satisfying Sequel
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 2:59 PM Netizen Report: Twitter Users Under Fire in Mexico, Venezuela, Turkey
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.