Robert Altman, easily one of the greatest American directors in film history, and the undisputed master of overlapping dialogue, is no stranger to sprawling dramas full of fascinating characters and sub-plots. Among Altman’s many renowned forays into ensemble dramas, such as “Nashville,” “A Wedding,” and “Gosford Park,” his 1993 masterpiece “Short Cuts” has a special place in the hearts of Altman fans, as much as it apparently had in Altman’s.
During one of the many interviews he gave for “Luck, Trust and Ketchup,” the incredibly informative and insightful 90-minute documentary on the making of “Short Cuts,” he describes his approach to the film as if he randomly shot a bunch of BBs into the air and decided to tell the story of whatever happened wher the pellets landed.
As fans will know, “Short Cuts” consists of a bunch of intercut short films based on Raymond Carver’s writings, which Altman prefers to call “occurrences” instead of “stories,” due to the natural way they describe the day-to-day lives of their subjects rather than trying to place them into traditional narratives.
The doc seamlessly cuts back and forth between interviews with the cast and crew, and raw footage taken during production. Altman speaks in detail about the process of adapting Carver’s work to his distinct style, while the members of the cast explain why every actor in Hollywood wanted to work with Altman.
His collaborative approach, letting actors improvise and bring new ideas to the table, is evident here as he encourages Jack Lemmon to use a trick he knew from his youth involving an egg and two shot glasses, which resulted in one of the most endearing moments in “Short Cuts.” He even allows other actors to write entirely new scenes in order to add depth to their characters.
When he’s cornered to finally explain a connection between his characters, who seem to be oblivious to one another even though they share many of the same spaces, Altman comes up with a simple answer: “Ketchup.” As to finding out how this particular contiment connects these characters into a whole, you’re going to have to watch the documentary. [Eyes On Cinema]