November 21, 2017

Posted April 1, 2012 by D. K. Holm

“Sometimes when logging, you have to jump out of the way,” says a friend of mine who was a logger briefly at the coast in the ’70s. “Sometimes the tree doesn’t fall the way you want, and you have to run like hell to get out of its way. When that happened to me was the day I walked off the job.”

Out of control timber isn’t the only hazard in a job that requires the efficient and fast use of blades and saws. Old pix of lumbermen show them often missing a digit or two. Charles Gustafson’s Cuts is about that very subject – specifically the working conditions in a Washington shingle factory, where the men perform robotic actions shearing shingles off log stumps with speed and accuracy.  Among the men interviewed in this 38-minute documentary few of them have all of their 10 fingers, and many of them are missing a whole handful. Copyright 1979, and apparently shot in 16 mm (though thanks to its age it looks a lot like Super8 mm), Cuts is an oblique, sometimes poignant, and at other times incoherent account of the working and relaxation life of this men.

Lacking narration, and until the end credits even the names of those who speak on camera or in sound bites over the images, Cuts isn’t entirely clear about the position it wants the viewer to take on the lumber industry. It gives voice to many views, the men who are stoic, the men who are firm supporters of the union, the wives who see through – in song – the wiley ways of management, and visually the film gives the eye to the repetition of the job itself, and to the devastation of the land after a timber crew has passed through an area like locusts. A final helicopter shot of a lone tree in the mountains, surrounded by clearcut, has a resonance possibly not intended at the time, when the finitude of trees may have seemed less likely. Cuts is an interesting bit of Northwestiana, but like many documentaries then and now, the film doesn’t balance directorial guidance with strict reporting in a way that would render it ageless.

Cuts is playing at the NWFC at 7 PM, Monday, April 2, followed in the same program by Natural Timber Country, wth that film’s director, Ron Finne, in attendance.