8 - The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, October 26,1993
'Cuts' doesn't short change
Sunday in the Park
By SARAH STEWART
On occasion, everybody needs to take a long look at
themselves. And a good place to start is with Robert
Altman'snewestfilm, "Shortcuts." Altman offers atwisted
perspective on the average man and woman that is disturb-
ingly precise, to the extent that the mundane and absurd
points in life become indistinguishable.
Directed by Robert Altman; written by Robert Altman and
Frank Barhydt; with Tim Robbins, Lily Tomlin and Andie
From the beginning, it is obvious that Altman's look at
life depends on his characters; he wastes no time in
revealing the entire, seemingly discombobulated, cast of
22. The unnerving sound and presence of helicopters
overhead serve as a common thread for each character's
introduction and provides an initial stimuli for reactions
which immediately give substance to their appearance.
The film's structure involves nine distinct story lines,
craftily drawn together by an intricate web of characters
whose backgrounds are not so important as are their way
of dealing with the relationships at hand. Although it is
reasonable to second guess a director's ability to manipu-
late so many characters without the help of a single
cohesive story line, Altman stifles any doubts at the onset
of the film and without hesitation, proceeds with the
creation of a complex, yet completely believable band of
In order to provide a complete summary of the plot, it
would be necessary to chronicle the lives of 22 people
over a several day period and provide a character sketch
of each one. Fortunately, the intense thematic explora-
tions throughout the film would make such a summary a
transparent attempt to define its meaning. It says more for
the production to say that "Shortcuts" is a realistic por-
trayal of how people relate to one another as. sisters,
husbands, wives, parents, children or any other imagin-
Although their disinterest in each other may not be as
dramatic as the explosive arguments between Sherri
(Madeleine Stowe) and Gene Shepard (Tim Robbins) o
the undulating passion between Doreen (Lily Tomlin) an
Earl Piggot (Tom Waits), Altman shows that marita
strife, or any troubled relationship, is not defined by wha
is allowed to reach the surface.
Because relationships provide the continuity to "Short
cuts"' meaning, the success of the film can be attributed in
part to its ability to provide a clear picture of how all th
characters are interrelated. At first, it is somewhat diffi
cult to keep track of the characters due to their sheet
number. But as the characters' personalities and problems
are gradually exposed, the complexities evaporate and i
becomes fun to see how many "coincidental" encounters
the cast can handle while still maintaining the separate
ness that provides nine distinct plots. At the end, it i
baffling to imagine the family tree that is "Shortcuts"and
satisfying to have mastered it.
Part of the realization of this accomplishment is due t
the brilliant transitions Altman uses in order to close gaps
between virtually unrelated scenes. In one instance, Sherr
ends a scene concerned about the family dog getting hit by
a car which conveniently leads into the next scene in
which Doreen hits Casey (Zane Cassidy), the son of Ann
(Andie MacDowell) and Howard Finnigan (Bruc
Davison). Not only are such transitions crucial to the
smooth flow of the film, but the harsh irony of a little boy
getting hit instead of a dog is Altman's reminder of th
delicacy of human life.
Amidst this gravity, there is absurd comedic relie
throughout much of the film, provided mainly by Robbins
as the unfaithful husband and macho-man cop, Gene. H
comes out with several one-liners, which combined with
his too-tight uniform and high black boots make it a
wonder that the scenes were delivered with a straight face.
Basically, "Shortcuts" leaves little to complain about,
Each "short" and its respective acting group is as good a
the next and maintains a steady crescendo en route to the
powerful hurricane scene at the end.
It's worth mentioning that the film is three hours and
nine minutes long, but there's never an urgency for it tc
end. It plays itself out perfectly, and maybe that's wha
Altman's saying about life.
SHURECUPS is playing at S hwcase,
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This Thursday you have the opportunity to experience one of the greatest pieces of American musical theater in
existence - "Sunday in the Park with George" at the Michigan Theater.
This ground-breaking modernist musical by the greatest living composer for the American theater, Stephen
Sondheim, and his long-time collaborator James Lapine depicts fictitiously the life and art of the post-Impressionist
George Seurat. It uses as its frame Seurat's pointillist masterpiece, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La
Grande Jatte," which today hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago, famed for its dot-by-dot style and its life-size
In its opening in 1984, the musical was adored by critics and audiences alike, but confusing in many ways. Just as,
Seurat had demanded people look at art in a new way, Sondheim demands that we look at a musical in a different
light, setting the stage for new theatrical innovations. What we have here is not really Seurat's life - it is Sondheim
and Lapine speculating about who the subjects of the painting might be, and how Seurat probably created this
In its original incarnation, the show starred the stunning Mandy Patinkin and the equally amazing Bernadette Peters
It won London's Olivier award for Best Musical, the Grammy for best show cast album and the Pulitzer Prize for
drama. Additionally it was nominated for 10 Tony awards. Here you will find some of Sondheim's best stuff,
including the moving "Finishing the Hat" and "Move On," undeniably the best song Sondheim ever wrote.
"Sunday in the Park with George" will be performed.at the Michigan Theater Thursday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $29.50
and $23.50, and are available at the box office. Call 668-8397 for information.
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