The Heart of American Darkness

Robert Altman's panoramic Short Cuts is a richly pulsating human comedy

Robert Altman's Short Cuts -- one of the season's most widely anticipated films -- opens with shots of helicopters, photographed so they look like giant bugs as they roar across the night skies, doing battle with a little bug, the Medfly, terror of the California fruit industry. This periodic chemical warfare, in which insecticides are noisily laid down across entire neighborhoods, is one of the minor, faintly comic annoyances of Los Angeles life. All that technology; such a humble and primitive foe.

The film ends with an earthquake rumbling across L.A. Such periodic seismic uproars are, of course, something more than...

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