265 Short Cuts

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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Mr Sausage
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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#76 Post by Mr Sausage » Sun Mar 16, 2014 2:17 pm

Alternatively, for about 27 dollars you can get all of his stories in one hard-bound volume from the Library of America.

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hearthesilence
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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#77 Post by hearthesilence » Sun Mar 16, 2014 2:26 pm

Mr Sausage wrote:Alternatively, for about 27 dollars you can get all of his stories in one hard-bound volume from the Library of America.
YES, do this.

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#78 Post by hearthesilence » Wed Jan 07, 2015 12:16 am

I've been hoping for a Blu-Ray reissue especially since this film was shot in 2.35:1 and would presumably benefit greatly from an HD presentation, but I actually saw this at MoMA via an excellent 35mm print, and I can tell you right now that if and when this film gets released on Blu-Ray, reviewers are going to voice their disappointment. It's simply not a "great" looking film. Again, given the nature of his filmmaking, this is totally understandable. The film is never particularly sharp, often looking a touch hazy. The film grain didn't even look particularly good. A lot of these drawbacks can be seen to a greater extent in Gosford Park.

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#79 Post by oh yeah » Wed Jan 07, 2015 2:37 am

Thanks for the post, that's interesting. I wonder how many of Altman's films are like that? The only one I've seen in 35mm is Nashville, which didn't look amazing, I suppose, and possessed a fairly hazy look -- but still had vibrantly popping colors and a general depth and richness to the image which made it a fantastic experience much superior to seeing the film on home video. I can't imagine this aspect of visual mediocrity being attributable to McCabe & Mrs. Miller or The Long Goodbye, for instance; it seems Zsigmond gave Altman a big boost in the visual department whenever he stepped on board. The little-seen Images also is visually interesting, and 3 Women (my favorite, just edging out Short Cuts) is certainly visually striking. I guess, though, that even the more appealing of these titles does have that hazy, non-sharp look to it; after all, that's kind of what the (in)famous "flashing" done on McCabe and Long Goodbye ensured those pictures would look like.

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#80 Post by feihong » Wed Jan 07, 2015 3:09 am

Well I think that on the whole Altman films are not meant to look too exceptional, in a certain sense. Rather, the images are meant to look earthy and ordinary in a lot of cases. Nashville certainly has that look, and I think California Split and Brewster McCloud does, too. I have seen McCabe theatrically, and I thought it looked beautiful. But I think M*A*S*H and Brewster McCloud look beautiful, too, with so much outdoor, neutral, midday lighting. Altman usually seems more interested in a densely populated framing of a commonplace activity or gathering than he does in angle or shadow detail, anyway.

For the most part, I think the 90s Altman films seemed to go for a high-key lighting scheme and a neutral, pastel color palette, which I found visually pretty uninteresting, so I can relate to hearthesilence's comment. Short Cuts never seemed too visually interesting to me, and seeing it on cable earlier last year didn't improve that assessment. The 70s films, almost without exception, have a lot more shadow and darker tones inherent in their production design. Many of the buildings in 3 Women, for instance, look naturally rather surreal, and are painted with striking flat colors, like strong yellows or luminous peachlike oranges, so that even when the photography is meant to be rather neutral, the uncanny sense of the atmosphere persists. I think those elements, often naturally occurring for one reason or another, helped create Altman's signature 70s look--which I think came off as more challenging and absorbing for the viewer than what was in the 90s pictures. What's more, Short Cuts is often focused on one or two people in a frame, and that looks so much more common and unrewarding than the larger group shots of Nashville, where the image in front of you is always being altered as people walk in and out of the action.

I guess there are some exceptions. Quintet looks very arty and deliberately pretified, and there is a Grisham legal thriller called The Gingerbread Man, which Altman directed in the 90s, and which was shot by Changwei Gu. I remember that picture as having a very succulent noirish look to it and way heavier atmosphere than it had any right to possess. And the look of many shots from Kansas City still linger in my mind. I didn't like the movie much at the time I saw it, but I can remember certain shots and they make me wonder if the picture isn't all-around better than I remember.

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#81 Post by oh yeah » Wed Jan 07, 2015 5:54 am

I would say that Short Cuts is an excellent example of unobtrusive yet very intelligent visual storytelling. Besides the excellent Altman slow zooms there really isn't much seeming visual "style" to latch onto, yet nearly every scene is shot and edited perfectly to fit the emotional tenor of what's happening. I suppose it's more the editing in the film that impresses, but still. The visual style would be wrong if it were too gaudy; as is, the relative plainness of it works well because it reinforces the sense that we really are voyeurs watching these average people live out their daily lives.

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#82 Post by hearthesilence » Wed Jan 07, 2015 10:06 am

Just to be clear, I'm not criticizing the aesthetic. Altman's films almost never look "great," they're not meant to be pretty postcards or technically immaculate. I thought I'd post about it just as a warning, because Blu-Ray reviewers typically consider those standards because people with high definition home systems notice that. It's not a judgment on the film's quality or choices, it's purely technical.

So none of this is a criticism of the the mise-en-scène: the compositions, camera movements, etc. Remember, Altman chose to go with a less-experienced DP on California Split because he didn't want a professional who would bog him down trying to make everything look pretty. He wanted to concentrate his energies on other aspects of shooting. i mentioned this before, but if he wanted to use multiple cameras, it's great for covering every angle of a performance, but on a technical perspective, the more cameras you use, the harder it is to light, especially if they're all wide shots, which will limit the light you can add. So most likely, one would go with faster film stocks, or open up the aperture, etc., etc. All of these things usually lead to a grainier and less than razor sharp image for various reasons, but again, that's totally fine if you're trying to capture these free-flowing scenes in their totality.

Having said that, these are NOT shoddy, careless looking films either. To return to Short Cuts, it does look a bit grainy, hazy, soft, etc. for a film shot in 35mm in 1992/1993, but it's Los Angeles, and the look actually fits. You associate smog with L.A., the city itself typically has a hazy look. Some people in Chicago tell me that you actually have to be mindful of the light and shadows when you mix footage from both cities and try to pass them off as the same location because in Chicago they're much crisper. It still would've been possible to have sharper, cleaner looking footage, but the extra 'degraded' look actually accentuates visual qualities you'd associate with Los Angeles any way.

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#83 Post by Ribs » Fri Jul 15, 2016 5:09 pm

Upgrade coming October 18, presumably there was some kind of fire sale for Altman upgrades

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#84 Post by FrauBlucher » Fri Jul 15, 2016 5:16 pm

Ribs wrote:Upgrade coming October 18, presumably there was some kind of fire sale for Altman upgrades
A new 4k digital transfer.

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#85 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Fri Jul 15, 2016 5:23 pm

I wonder if the 5.1 track will be lossy

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#86 Post by cdnchris » Fri Jul 15, 2016 6:00 pm

I just noticed they have the Blu listed as 2-discs with the same $39.95 price, which is nice to see. There was a lot of material so it seems better to spread it out since the film is over 3-hours.

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#87 Post by swo17 » Fri Jul 15, 2016 7:12 pm

Here's a guy on eBay selling the original Criterion release (including the book of Carver stories) that has an even more compelling reason why you should buy his copy.

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#88 Post by colinr0380 » Fri Jul 15, 2016 7:14 pm

Which becomes even more disturbing with the "Slight stain on artwork" comment.

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#89 Post by Rayon Vert » Fri Jul 15, 2016 7:19 pm

swo17 wrote:Here's a guy on eBay selling the original Criterion release (including the book of Carver stories) that has an even more compelling reason why you should buy his copy.
This reminds me I just saw Knocked Up again last week.

Seriously, this makes my month at least. My favorite Criterion-issued film.

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#90 Post by oh yeah » Sat Jul 16, 2016 2:38 am

Yes, fantastic news. It really is a great year for Altman fans! That said, I do wish Altman had recorded a commentary for this film back in the day -- he seemed to do one for practically every movie of his -- but then, this release already has enough quality extras that it's not too much of a problem. Another commentary I'd love to hear, though, is the one with Paulie Kael (and perhaps some other critic?), recorded for the laserdisc back in the 90s. Kael apparently had a lot of problems with the film, and God knows I often have problems with her criticism, but I'd be very, very interested to hear that.

I suspect blu-ray.com and the like might give this a relatively low PQ score just because it's not going to pop out at you like the latest blockbuster transfer. But, as we were discussing upthread, almost ALL of Altman's films have that kind of hazy, faded look to them. Short Cuts is actually easily one of his more "crisp"-looking pictures, but it's still got that subtly soft quality to the images, as if we're watching a moving painting that's been smeared and smudged just a bit at the edges. I'd have to take another look at them, but I recall even Altman's last two features, which were shot digitally, also still having that hazy visual style.

Anyway, a word on the movie itself: I said this recently, but I think it may be the most absorbing 3-hour film of all. After I watched it for the first time, I watched it two or three more times within that week. It's somehow almost addictive, and part of that is down to how Altman only gives us the most tantalizing pieces of each character, never indulging our appetites too much. I'm always left wanting even more, and could easily watch another 3 hours of these people's lives.

The film also showcases Altman's wonderful penchant for understatement and implication:
SpoilerShow
for example, it is very heavily implied that Honey (Lili Taylor) was sexually abused as a child, probably by her stepfather Earl (Tom Waits) -- yet no character ever actually comes out and says this. Rather it is inferred through small bits of dialogue, like Honey and her mother Doreen's brief conversation about Earl and fleeting reference to some horrible past incident which Doreen represses/denies, Honey's strong reaction to jaded Lois (JJL) telling of a phone-sex customer who wanted a pedophilia call with a little girl ("That's fucked up... believe me, I know," she says), or Honey's behavior/body language when she accidentally spots Earl at the same bar.

I really love Taylor's acting and character, and her and Downey Jr. are both just so fun to watch here -- I'd love to watch a full movie of their characters. I could say the same about pretty much all of these characters, though; the only ones I find not that interesting are Tim Robbins' cartoonish asshole cop (he was far better in The Player), and Frances McDormand and Peter Gallagher's squabbling divorcees (though there's some amusing stuff in the way Gallagher's character so gleefully tears apart the house).

And because it wouldn't be a post about this film if I didn't make a Magnolia comparison... although I really do love both films (if PTA's less than Altman's), I prefer the way Altman ends things here. Things feel entirely up in the air and like we're left in the middle of this narrative and these characters lives, whereas Magnolia has more of a traditional closure to it (which is fine). I like how Altman leaves you to fill in the blanks.

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#91 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Jul 16, 2016 3:44 am

It is also interesting to compare the way that the deus ex machina 'act of God' in Short Cuts is an earthquake (relatively common in California, so I hear), rather than the more amusingly biblical rain of frogs! (less common?) Perhaps Dr T & The Women's ending is Altman in Magnolia mode! But I agree that the films compliment each other well, especially in the way that Short Cuts is in the Altman style of longer running individual scenes which maybe capture other characters in the background, whilst Magnolia feels much more about the rhythm of editing, cutting between the disparate characters all reaching their simultaneous crises. The tempo of the cutting sort of captures the ebbs and flows of their anxieties there too while Altman is more in long shot. They are brought together by the editing to show how they are similarly suffering (to the extent that they can share the sentiments of an Aimee Mann song together!), but the cutting is for most of the characters the main thing keeping them separate too. Its as if community is only a concept in Magnolia.

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#92 Post by criterionsnob » Sat Jul 16, 2016 12:13 pm

In comparing the extras, we lose the book of course, but this looks to be new on the blu-ray:
Original demo recordings of the film’s Doc Pomus–Mac Rebennack songs, performed by Dr. John

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265 Short Cuts

#93 Post by 4LOM » Sat Jul 16, 2016 1:04 pm

criterionsnob wrote:In comparing the extras, we lose the book of course, but this looks to be new on the blu-ray:
Original demo recordings of the film’s Doc Pomus–Mac Rebennack songs, performed by Dr. John
The 17 minutes BBC "Moving Pictures" segment from the DVD will not be on the Blu-ray.

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#94 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Sat Jul 16, 2016 5:16 pm

Weren't those demos on the DVD?

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#95 Post by med » Sat Jul 16, 2016 6:21 pm

hearthesilence wrote:
Mr Sausage wrote:Alternatively, for about 27 dollars you can get all of his stories in one hard-bound volume from the Library of America.
YES, do this.
I have this collection and yes, yes, yes, this book is worth the cost.

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#96 Post by oh yeah » Sat Jul 16, 2016 7:40 pm

colinr0380 wrote:It is also interesting to compare the way that the deus ex machina 'act of God' in Short Cuts is an earthquake (relatively common in California, so I hear), rather than the more amusingly biblical rain of frogs! (less common?) Perhaps Dr T & The Women's ending is Altman in Magnolia mode! But I agree that the films compliment each other well, especially in the way that Short Cuts is in the Altman style of longer running individual scenes which maybe capture other characters in the background, whilst Magnolia feels much more about the rhythm of editing, cutting between the disparate characters all reaching their simultaneous crises. The tempo of the cutting sort of captures the ebbs and flows of their anxieties there too while Altman is more in long shot. They are brought together by the editing to show how they are similarly suffering (to the extent that they can share the sentiments of an Aimee Mann song together!), but the cutting is for most of the characters the main thing keeping them separate too. Its as if community is only a concept in Magnolia.
That's a good way of putting it. I think I'm more enamored of the way Altman orchestrates his film -- the camera and the cutting feels almost invisible, everything just seamlessly connects together, whereas PTA has that more self-conscious and bombastic stitching-together of each character-thread. I've never seen another multi-character mosaic-film that connects its characters with such an understated ease as Altman's. Short Cuts never feels like it's straining or trying too hard to find the coincidental meetings and connections between its cast, but rather it feels as if Altman's simply stumbled upon this fully-formed world, one much like the real world, where everything really IS connected if you take a microscope and look closely at all the intersecting lines, as if on a map (c.f. the apt closing credits pictures). Pretty incredible direction, unfortunately too often ignored in favor of viewing it as simply an "actor's film" or whatever. And it is superbly-acted, of course, but it's not like, say, California Split where Altman more casually followed his two oft-improvising actors around.

Re: the ending of Dr. T & The Women, it seems like there was an increasing strain of -- for lack of a better term -- magical realism running through Altman's work. Of course, films like Images and 3 Women bend into the surreal, but even A Prairie Home Companion ends with a kind of metaphysical transference of life/death. I haven't seen the much-maligned Quintet, but it seems to be another more surrealistic Altman picture.

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#97 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Jul 16, 2016 8:05 pm

Something that they do seem to have in common though is the slow revealing of the web of character connections as characters casually reveal that they might be friends with other people in the film, or work with them, or so on. That continually keeps the audience's interest up I think, as well as reframes our ideas of them through the company they might keep. Though I think Magnolia is a bit more schematic about doing this in service of its larger theme (appropriately for a biblical-tinged film Magnolia feels about all the characters being given 'revelations' of some sort at the climax).

There are a few 'inciting incident' moments like that in Altman's films (I'm thinking of the 'big staged events' like the freeway accident, each of the concerts or the end of Nashville. Or the murder in Gosford Park) but when they work they feel more like guiding marks around which the film can elaborate on. The scaffolding from which the more important events hang. Perhaps the closest Short Cut comes is the moment with the car accident, but even that becomes less about the tragedy of the event itself but more its arbitrary nature and what happens after such a tragedy of a horrible accident that has to be processed and moved on from. The characters might be connected in Short Cuts but they're not there just to have their big 'narrative' moments, more to jostle around against each other and all with their own lives and preoccupations to motivate them.

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#98 Post by Luke M » Wed Jul 20, 2016 8:13 pm

Just chiming in here, thanks for all those recommending the Library of Congress Carver book. I just ordered it.

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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#99 Post by FrauBlucher » Tue Sep 20, 2016 7:30 pm


oh yeah
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Re: 265 Short Cuts

#100 Post by oh yeah » Tue Sep 20, 2016 9:25 pm

FrauBlucher wrote:Beaver
Wow, that looks beautiful. I've grown accustomed to the more saturated palette of the DVD over the years, but I'd be very surprised if the more subdued, grainy, faded (yet still sharp) look of the blu wasn't very close to how the film looked in cinemas. The blu certainly looks more like Altman's other films than the DVD. It has a very "filmic" look to it, the DVD seems more artificially boosted.

Still, it's stupid but I'll kind of miss the gaudier color tones and eye-popping neons of the old disc. I feel like, even if not intended, that look is somehow perfect for the hyper-real, superficial Los Angeles that Altman is depicting. I had a similar feeling with another Julianne Moore 90s flick, Safe, which I felt somehow looked more apt on the Sony disc with its weird, (again) very saturated color than the more subdued Criterion. I've come to not really care anymore, though. Ultimately the Criterion is the superior, more accurate transfer like 98 percent of the time.

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