Closer to Home: Carver versus Altman

By Scofield, Martin | Studies in Short Fiction, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Closer to Home: Carver versus Altman


Scofield, Martin, Studies in Short Fiction


I want to compare Robert Altman's film Short Cuts with some of the stones by Raymond Carver on which the film is based.(1) My purpose is not to test the fidelity of the film to the stories: a film has its own kind of vision, and a director should be free to mold his material in whatever way he thinks fit. Some films of literary works may succeed by virtue of the way they reproduce some of the qualities of those works in another medium: one thinks, for instance, of the Merchant/Ivory films of novels by Henry James and E. M. Forster. But it is just as possible for a director simply to use the literary work as a starting point for his own creation. However, once that has been done, it seems reasonable to ask: how does the vision of the film compare with that of the literary work? Film has immense popular prestige, and it is likely that many more people will see the film than will read the stories. Should this be a matter for complacency or regret?

These questions are complicated in the case of Altman and Carver by the fact that Altman has gone to some lengths to emphasize the closeness of the connection between the film and the stories. Carver's name features prominently in the credits for the film; an edition of the nine stories and the poem has been published by Harvill under the title Short Cuts and with an introduction by Altman; and the screenplay of the film, by Altman and cowriter Frank Barhydt, has been published by Capra Press with an introduction by Carver's widow, the writer Tess Gallagher. Both the introductions, while noting the substantial changes Altman has made to Carver and the subtle weaving of his 10 quite separate pieces into a single whole, stress the inspiration of Carver's work and the indebtedness of the film to the stories. It seems fair then, after giving the film its due as an outstanding piece of filmmaking, to ask what has Altman added and what has he lost? What kind of insight do the two auteurs have into human behavior, what kind of view of life do they embody; and ultimately, what is the relative value for our culture and our ways of thinking of the two works and the two kinds of vision?

1

Altman's is a big film; long, multifarious, fast-moving; visually packed, loud with noises, voices, music. On the big screen, and with the enveloping stereophonic sound, it impacts on the senses. There is a lot of close-up and medium close-up: not only of faces but of bodies and objects (helicopters in the opening sequence, police motorcycle, cars, kitchen-equipment, all the dense materiality of the American big city, here the suburbs of Los Angeles). Noises, large and small, are registered with larger than life sonority. The rhythmic blood-beat of helicopter blades (you almost feel the wind), the deep-throated roar or growl of a motorcycle, the crunch of boots on gravel, a dog barking, the chink of motorcycle keys falling on a table. As in Altman's Nashville (1975), there is a sense of pressure, of turmoil, of many lives and energies pursuing their own paths and then intersecting, or colliding, bumping off each other. This sense of packed action, of material life, is one of the things that gives this film its impact and exhilaration.

The film begins with the helicopter behind the credit tides, which themselves slide onto the screen in vivid reds and blues like sideways floating planes, and then fade like radar images. It's almost an echo, as once reviewer pointed out, of the opening of Apocalypse Now (1979), Coppola's film about Vietnam: and this feeling will persist and be reaffirmed at the end of Altman's film. The echo is also ironic: these choppers are not, ostensibly, hostile but merely spraying the thousands of LA gardens with Medfly insecticide. But the feeling of threat is still there; social, municipal power inflicted for the good of citizens whether they, individually, like it or not.

Structurally, the sequence serves to give a sense of a common context, to unite the multiple threads of the different lives, different situations, different plots, which are going to be loosely bound together in the film. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Closer to Home: Carver versus Altman
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.