Luck, Trust & Ketchup: Robert Altman in Carver Country (1993) Poster

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The geniality behind the "Short Cuts"
Rodrigo_Amaro26 January 2016
Robert Altman's geniality can be easily attested in masterpieces such as "M.A.S.H.", "3 Women", just to mention a few. By the time he was about to release "Short Cuts", he was on a fertile and renewed career moment after a "lost" period in the 1980's (he made great films in the period but they went unnoticed by audiences and critics) and a resurrection with "The Player". "Luck, Trust & Ketchup: Robert Altman in Carver Country" documents not only the filming of "Short Cuts" but also the motivation behind it, the process of filming and key things that makes that movie one of the greatest experiences brought to the screen.

But what is "Short Cuts"? A three-hour epic movie about the (extra)ordinary lives of 22 people living in Los Angeles, with their stories intersecting with each other in tales about love, disillusion, betrayal, matters of life and death, the chaos of apparently simple acts, and the earthquake that unites them all in some way. Sounds a little simplistic to those who haven't seen it but it's a microscopic view of life as it really is. Altman uses of Raymond Carver's short stories written in the 1970's, brings together the characters from all of those writings, and even manages to include characters of his own - the segment featuring the jazz singer and her daughter are Altman's creations. The magnificent ensemble is composed by Tim Robbins, Andie MacDowell, Jack Lemmon, Julianne Moore, Tom Waits, Lily Tomlin, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Archer, Matthew Modine, Huey Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Buck Henry, Bruce Davison, Lili Taylor and many others, delivering some of their most complete, most honest and at times most unusual performances. Again, it's a three-hour movie and Altman never loses momentum, he always finds ways to make you devoted to those characters, and never indulging in answering everything to the audience. He trust us to fill in the blanks of the unexpected tellings he presents. Nothing is left to chance, everything is carefully planned, it's a meticulous, inspired and true to life work written by Altman and Frank Barhydt.

This marked as the first serious attempt of bringing Carver to the big screen (with a blessing from his widow, who appears in the documentary), and lately it seems that the cinema is rediscovering his work, from "Everything Must Go" and the Oscar winning "Birdman". Still haven't read anything from him but from what I can see so far, he appeals to me in many ways. He can talk about complex themes in simple yet useful means; the journeys of any everyday-guy or girl out there who feel lost or on a verge of a breakdown, lost in love or deluded by it, trying to figure out his or her way in life.

Back to the documentary: the common routine of following director instructing actors and their meetings is also present here but it's not like seeing someone making a blockbuster; this is the behind the scenes of an independent project without the spectacular sets and crazy techniques. It's far more interesting seeing how Altman conducts a scene with Tim Robbins and the kids than any mega project done by other director. His perfect direction of actors can be viewed here as proof on why he never directed a bad performance, even if the movie was weak ("Dr. T", I'm looking at you). And there's also the cast talking about the experience of working with this master, how collaborative and insightful he was. One of the best moments here is when it's revealed that Robbins was the one who suggested to Altman that Anne Archer character should work as a clown, which became unique on screen. Throughout the documentary you can view many portraits of the actors as the characters they play, painted by artist Don Bachardy, sublime works capturing the fleeting moment of huge stars playing common characters.

Watch the film and the documentary back-to-back and find why it's one of the most important films ever made and why Altman was a gifted genius. Has to be seen at least once. 9/10
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