Sardashti presents a combination political essay, shot-by-shot analysis and love letter to Robert Altman’s 1993 film Short Cuts.
It’s clear that Short Cuts is important to Sardashti; she has analyzed it, internalized it and feels it has a historical and political resonance. It played a part in her leaving her medical studies for film school, where she says she wrote her dissertation on the film—and this book reads like that dissertation repurposed. She addresses the film in five sections plus a conclusion, discussing the political context of the ’90s, the making of the film, “The Beginning, The End, and The role of Audience,” “The ‘Post’ Classical Hollywood Cinema” and “Robert Altman’s Life and Cinema.” Some material is related, and Sardashti repeats herself in some sections, making the same points from different angles. She returns often, for example, to the idea that Altman shared a sense of storytelling with Raymond Carver, upon whose short stories Altman based Short Cuts. In her conclusion, Sardashti writes, “Short Cuts is about inside and not outside, Short Cuts is like life and can go for ever...and that is why after almost twenty years we still connect with the film and can not get that out of our minds.” Sardashti presents related philosophies from critics (see Julian B. Rotter’s “locus of control” early on in the book) about this concept of “inside” versus “outside,” but the supporting evidence often seems random, and the argument never fully coalesces. And while the film is still on Sardashti’s mind, she doesn’t show how the film has endured or stayed relevant to current culture. Her prose is much clearer when she presents biographical information on Altman and Carver in early sections. But the biographical section called “Robert Altman’s Life and Cinema” feels tacked on, coming as it does just before the conclusion. The overall point may have been better served with a more natural progression of ideas, starting with Altman himself, and then moving into the more political and theoretical aspects later in the text.
Sardashti’s love for her subject matter is clear, but her thesis is cloudy.