Thursday, February 14, 2013

Short Cuts (1993)

I watched Short Cuts because of Raymond Carver featuring as a basic ingredient in the film. Robert Altman is an equally good reason to watch  a film, but my mood was  not compatible with his take on life and human relationships that day; it was Carver's point of view on the everyday as a constant melancholic dead-end that I was looking for.

The topic of film adaptations has always been a cumbersome one; not everyone agrees on their merit, neither on the way they should represent a book on screen. Should they stay true to the ambience, the occurrences, the characters, true to the author in a certain sense? Or are they allowed to take liberties, to invent new scenes that serve the cinematic medium, and twist the ending to please the audience of the multiplexes? In theory, a film director can do whatever he wants with a text, as long as he references the author in the right way. If the film cites "inspired by", it's always a better solution; "based on" goes a bit too far and creates foul expectations.

Now, where does the film by Robert Altman fits to the picture of literary adaptations? Would it be a rather successful one or a disillusioned attempt to re-create the atmosphere of  blue-collar life, assisted by heavy drinking and love-turned-sour themes?

In fact, I would like to argue that the film doesn't do justice to Carver, even if my statement sounds provocative. I know very well that Short Cuts probably did a favour to the famed short story writer and poet: he granted him a much bigger audience, among the ones that have heard the names of Andie McDowell, Jack Lemon, Tom Waits, Lily Tomlin (and probably not yet the names of Julianne Moore, Lily Taylor, Robert Downey Jr, Frances McDormand, but, yes, it was a very hot ensemble cast indeed -it got credited for that with a special award at the Golden Globes). This new-found Carver readers went home feeling excited about what they have just seen, probably feeling curious and wanting more. Let's face it, Short Cuts is a good film, sizzling with tragi-comic situations, a superb rhythm, excellent acting, more than excellent direction and a smart way to stitch the stories together. Late Mr Altman knew his job only too well - he even made the characters relocate, and chose the rough voice by Annie Ross to don the right tone to his film. The film has a lovely album indeed, full-hearted like to the song To Hell with Love.

For the new-found readers, things were, consequently, only too easy: a new collection of 9 Carver short stories has come out to accompany the film, with an introduction of the director himself, a book bearing the film's title and offering the compilation of the stories the director included in his screenplay; probably the best marketing plan for the a-tad-too-dark Carver to make his way in a happier crowd. As a matter of fact, his stories were lightened up quite a lot, first of all by all this blinding light in many of the shots and secondly by Altman's choice to strip down the stories to the essential  -much like Carver's editor Gordon Lish (or the butcher) had done from the very beginning- and favor the comedic elements of the short stories in detriment of a certain sadness and nihilism.

To cut a long story short, everybody did his job all right, the director, the actors and all, but the ones from the audience that went on to buy the book after leaving the cinema they found a different Carver in the pages. (If they read the reconstructed version of the stories, they found an even more different one.) The adaptation is entertaining after all, and nobody can blame it for that, but I would not call Carver's writing entertaining. He is moodier and deeper. Not that the fact that the film and the original material differentiate from each other makes either less enjoyable on their own value; but there is no real connection between these two and any attempt to comparison would not be valid. It's a strange thing to say, but my inner instinct reassures me that the author would agree with me on this.

* Should I not thank Dimitris Tanoudis here, for introducing me to Carver in the first place?

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