All dames are alike: they reach down your throat and they can grab your heart, pull it out and they throw it on the floor, step on it with their high heels, spit on it, shove it in the oven and cook the shit out of it. Then they slice it into little pieces, slam it on a hunk of toast, and serve it to you and then expect you to say, “Thanks, honey, it was delicious.”

~ Steve Martin, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid 

Lost Film ~ Cutters Way

cutters way

Cutter’s Way emerged at the wrong time, a 70s film in 1981, after Heaven’s Gate, during the death rattle of the ‘Hollywood brats’ era. We were now in Reagan’s America, where odd, ambiguous little films that suggested dark truths about the US of A would become increasingly unwelcome. Its titular character was the wrong kind of Vietnam veteran, a painful reminder of the actual war, alcoholic and bitter and missing a couple of limbs, just before Stallone told us that Vietnam was a brutal wonderland where men went to gain magic powers. In the year beforeRaiders of the Lost Ark, here was a film suggesting that heroism is a murky business where ordinary people end up paying the highest price. Like I said, the wrong time.


Cutter’s Way is a kind of sunset noir, a dark tale bathed in a golden West Coast glow. Santa Barbara is a weathered, frazzled, beautiful town of marinas, polo matches and shabby tourist tat. Cutter, Bone and Mo are clearly at the shabbier end of the social scale, but are able to mingle with the smart set and play with their toys through business and family connections. Jeff Bridges plays ‘golden boy’ Bone, a half-arsed gigolo and yacht salesman hired to look good on deck. John Heard is his friend, the caustic, broken Cutter. Lisa Eichhorn plays Mo, Cutter’s long-suffering lady, fending off Bone’s attentions while Cutter’s out causing trouble.


One rainy night during fiesta Bone sees, and interrupts, what turns out to be the dumping of a body, but does not realise it at the time. He tells the police what he’s witnessed when his car puts him at the scene, after a 17-year-old girl has been found in the trash, and her sister Valerie (Anne Dusenberry) has turned up seeking justice. Typically, Bone just wants to walk away, but Cutter won’t let him, especially after Bone fingers tycoon and Time magazine cover star JJ Cord as the man responsible. Cutter sees personified in Cord all the rich bastards who start the wars poor men fight, whose ‘ass is never on the line’, the kind that lost him an arm, a leg and an eye, and he seizes upon the chance to finally make one of them pay like a man possessed, and with Valerie and the reluctant Bone alongside, a plan is put into action… A plan that just a few notes of Jack Nitzsche’s plaintive, wobbling score will suggest is not going to go well…


Cutter, Bone and Mo are three people who have been together too long and know each other too well. Heard, Bridges and Eichhorn work beautifully together creating an instantly credible chemistry, a three-way relationship that’s tender and complex and disastrous, delivered through Jeffrey Allen Fiskin’s cutting dialogue, dripping with irony and bar room wit. ‘I remember food, people had to eat it during Prohibition,’ Cutter says when Mo brings home groceries instead of booze in another doomed attempt to turn their life around. Heard gets the flashy part, and the lion’s share of great lines, in a dream role, an erudite, charming and abrasive man in a wreck of a body, who still somehow, under all the crap, believes in bravery and heroism and, possibly, America. Quoting Shakespeare and Melville, self-righteously castigating the morality of those around him, but not above leching after Valerie, or using his war wounds to escape arrest after drunkenly trashing a neighbour’s car. Bridges has harder work as a man uncomfortably aware of his many moral failings, but incapable of making the tough decisions that might destroy his easy world. And Lisa Eichhorn as Mo delivers an absolute heartbreaker of a performance as a smart woman who clearly deserves better than this, but is wedded to a train wreck and just can’t go.


Passer’s film makes the personal political. What kind of world is this where the pursuit of justice is left to a sodden mess like Cutter? What kind of goddamn white knight is this? Everything is blurred, we are never sure what exactly Bone saw that night. We are not sure Cutter’s campaign is righteous, whether Cord is a monster, or that the cost will be worth it. For much of the running time we find ourselves nervously siding with Bone: isn’t it better to drop all this hero crap, pretend it’s none of our business and walk away? Cutter’s Way is not perfect: the ending feels abrupt and too blunt, Valerie’s problematic character simply disappears from the narrative before the last reel. But I don’t care. Watching it for the nth time in a screening room, I found myself laughing and crying all over again. Nittzsche’s music (a cousin to his Cuckoo’s Nest score) is wonderful, a woozy commentary on sadness. The photography is suntanned and hazy. But I mainly love the film because I know and love these people, and don’t want bad things to happen to them though I know it must.


It’s 2011 now, 30 years on. Eichhorn moved into quality TV for both the US and UK, Bridges is, in all senses, the Dude, and John Heard is probably best known as the dad in the Home Alone films. Czech émigré Passer continued his wayward career without ever producing anything quite like Cutter again. It’s a one-off, a largely overlooked shining gem. Do yourself a favour.


Mark Stafford


Robert Mitchum was a poet? The poems of Robert Mitchum













Cabo San Lucas

Rising early to beat the heat
a little dry from last nights booze.
We’re soon out miles from land where
the big fish roam under the sun
and stars, undisturbed by time’s
wave-measured march.

Slicing bonito for bait, the blood is
red against all the blue. Blue above
and below. The hook, hungering for
meat, shines blue in my hand as
I drop its feathered plume into the wake.

We drink beer and wait for the line to sing,
rattling off the reel like a runaway train,
tightening under the drag, burning the leather stop.
The marlin leaps, its bill skewering the sky,
carves and dances in the blue, then twists and dives.

The rod quivers in the belt. Leather biting my back
I reel and pull, the marlin leaps again,
I heave forward and rare back as fire
sweat and salt gather on my skin
A moment’s slack, a shake, the fish is free.

Why aren’t all losses as lovely as this?
Quien sabe?

For Reagan

He’ll go far, of that I’m sure
since grease and a smile
will get you a mile in this town.
People love him, but what do
they know? He’s just another
B-grade star with an A-grade grin
and a glad-hand ready for
any and all.

Fuck them all, I say. Only a few
here are worth their salaries
and the rest are mannequins
dressed for the window show.
Jesus, maybe New York was the
place, but I’d miss the beach and
the sunsets here. I’m damn lucky
even if I can’t have it all.

Out of the Past

These hills, that ocean out there, the sun
heating these roadstered streets at
noon where the young and the beautiful
pass me with their eyes empty of light
but filled with the darkness of longing.
Too often I’ve lost myself in them,
swallowed the dark draught and followed
them west, under the setting moon
to the edge of the world and oblivion
until the sun again ripples the air
above these roadstered streets
and dressed in someone elses clothes
I rise to become whoever I may be today.

The Rain

I hate the rain here. On location we’re
knee deep in fake blood and mud
and the asshole director with no soul
calls for us to make another take.

I’m going leave this all soon,
all the celebrity with its paper-moon
love and bulb popping phoniness.
There’s no space for anything but loneliness.

Sarah Vaughn 

I took the A-train uptown to hear her sing,
she said I’d be safe going in with her
but man, the looks I got. And all around
everyone looking so fine and cool
and eyes flashing out of those dark
spaces, filled with things I’ll never know.

And when she sang, it was like the moon
melting down, white pearls and black satin
and a sudden silence that only she could bring.

And Thunder Road….

Jimmy was slim.
I had a belly.
Lana Turner is dead.
And so’s Grace Kelly.
What does it matter
Fast or slow
Thunder Road
Or Vertigo?

Choose …


Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family.
Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars,
compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good
health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed
interest mortage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your
friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a
three-piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics.
Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning.
Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing
game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose
rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable
home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up
brats you spawned to replace yourself.
Choose your future.
Choose life.

~ John Hodge’s Poem

(Featured in Trainspotting)