Negotiating “Empty Space”: Robert Altman’s Adaptation of Nine Stories and One Poem by Raymond Carver

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Engelska institutionen

Author: Christoffer Ångmark; []

Keywords: ;

Abstract: Abstract This essay looks at Robert Altman’s film Short Cuts and Raymond Carver’s short stories and poem on which the film is based. The stories are not connected to one another in their original form of publication. In the film, Altman has linked and connected them through various devices. It is argued that he has transferred to film his own individualised interpretation of Carver’s stories, where the “empty space” is filled and the stories connected. Thus Altman’s contribution comprises not simply the transposition of Carver’s stories to an audiovisual medium, but rather his visualization of those stories and what lies beyond the text. Robert Altman compresses as well as expands the stories and alters them to fit in with one another. Several strategies are used for linking the stories. In the film, he lets characters cross over between storylines and transposes them to suburban Los Angeles to create a common space. He also uses places taken from the short stories as intersections where the paths of characters from different stories cross. Carver’s characters are altered both in order to link the stories but also to foreground the medium in which they are now presented. The changes undertaken for linking purposes are the creation of family ties between characters from different stories and changing the occupations of several characters. The latter also serves the function of foregrounding visual and auditory media. Apart from this linking, several themes are prominent in the adapted Carver stories and seem to be what makes the connections between them possible. The thematic links between the stories connect or contrast them and are generally transferred to the adaptation. It is concluded that this essay tries to demonstrate that Short Cuts departs considerably from the adapted texts while at the same time staying fairly close to their themes. However, further analysis of the film in conjunction with a more substantial analysis of Altman’s other works is required to make conclusions as to the exact extent of Altman’s “authorship.”

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