December 17, 2007

Just Be Glad You Don't Live in L.A.

There aren't a lot of movies that Cinecultist has walked out of, but Robert Altman's Short Cuts is one of them. Our Dad took us, and our sister, to see it when it came out in the theaters in 1993 because it was playing at the local art house theater and M.A.S.H. was one of his favorites. But Short Cuts's a meandering 189 minute movie about a bunch of vaguely interconnected, dysfunctional people in Los Angeles, and understandably we were all bored. But as CC learned more about cinema, we'd always felt bad that we never appreciated this supposedly great Altman flick, so we put the Criterion version in the Netflix queue and finally watched it this weekend.

Fourteen years later, and with an arguably more worldly perspective, CC can see both sides of the story. Granted, it's still a long, convoluted movie. Plus with a 13-year-old and a 16-year-old in tow, it was pretty racy material for our movie going group. CC even remembers being shocked then by Jennifer Jason Leigh's bored housewife/phone sex operator dialog. No wonder our Dad was willing to leave. Then as the movie grinds on, you begin to wonder if any of these sad souls captured on screen are redeeming. They all seem so lost, depressed and mere moments from doing something immoral or illegal.

But then again, CC can see why it garnered Altman his fourth Oscar nomination for best director and won the cast a special ensemble award at that year's Golden Globes. To have that many distinct characters running around and for them all to seem like real people, not mere sketches, is quite a feat. It takes a real master like Altman was to orchestrate that much modern day malaise on screen, and you can understand why later directors like Paul Thomas Anderson so blatantly stole from his model. (Though PTA's raining Biblical frogs are obviously not as cool as RA's med flies and 7.4 earthquake.)

Maybe you have to be a certain age before "bleak" is an adjective that you can enjoy in a movie watching experience. Certainly some of our favorites from this year's roster, like No Country For Old Men, The Savages and There Will Be Blood, are decidedly unhappy films filled with unhappy characters. Or maybe CC just has more patience now at 30 for a 3 hour movie to unfold slowly and with little obvious purpose, than we had at 16. At 16 it's tough to understand why you'd want to spend 3 hours watching sad people live sad little lives in Los Angeles. At 30, it starts to look a little more like art.

Posted by karen at December 17, 2007 9:00 AM
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