Short Cuts as Multimedia Experience
It started rather innocently. I wanted some “light” reading to take on vacation. I had this book called Short Cuts, an anthology of nine short stories and one poem written by Raymond Carver, which had been sitting on various bookshelves of mine over the past ten years or so. Earlier in the Summer, I had read his classic short story anthology, Cathedral, and was rather impressed, so I figured I’d finally give Short Cuts a try.
The book starts with an essay by director Robert Altman. As it happens, the stories and poem in Short Cuts were hand-picked by Altman himself, meant to serve as a companion piece to, and inspiration for, his 1993 movie, also called Short Cuts. The stories themselves are exceptional – Carver was a master of his craft, and Altman’s selection does not sell him short. But I was blown away by the film. The manner in which Altman took these individual stories and interwove them, synchronized them, and even involved the same characters in multiple storylines is nothing short of masterful.
I had an added appreciation for the film because I read the stories first. I think this is how the film is truly supposed to be experienced. Harry Potter and Twilight and Hunger Games diehards may have similar sentiments – that you have to have read the series to truly appreciate and understand the films. But Short Cuts is the first film I have ever honestly felt this way about. And that’s saying a lot, because my favorite film is The Graduate, which was based on the novel of the same name by Charles Webb.
That isn’t to say you can’t make it through (and thoroughly enjoy) the 187 minute movie without reading the stories beforehand, or vice versa. I’m making the argument that the multimedia approach to experiencing Short Cuts is far more rewarding than experiencing either the book or the film alone.