Sunday, 26 July 2015

Blu-ray Review: 3 Women (Arrow Academy)

The film industry is all about dreams, and Robert Altman's "3 Women" has its roots in a dream experienced by the director while his wife lay ill in hospital.
Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall) works as a therapist at the Desert Springs senior care centre, helping the aged during their final years. Millie is a word-aholic, endlessly talking to colleagues and neighbours who largely ignore her endless patter.
Enter Pinkie Rose (Sissy Spacek) who starts work at the centre, and is immediately taken with Millie's personality, telling her she's the most perfect person she's ever met.
While Millie spins tales of her male conquests and tries so hard to make them a reality, Pinkie stays in the background, causing Millie to react in an increasingly harsh manner.
The 3rd woman in this triangle is Willie (Janice Rule); the pregnant spouse of Edgar Hart (Robert Fortier) who claims he used to be a stunt double, and who divides most of his time between drinking and cheating on his wife. Willie reveals a talent for painting and it's her work that creates a series of striking murals depicting strange creatures. While she has little dialogue to deliver, Willie cuts an imposing presence whenever she's on screen, and has a major part to play before the credits roll.

Pinkie's character is another interesting one to follow, and undergoes a real sea-change following a fateful incident which also has a profound effect on Millie. Shelley Duvall actually wrote a lot of the dialogue for her character which was basically a magazine creation, following advice and trends in an attempt to become the type of person she'd read about. Her relationship with Pinkie establishes her as the dominant one, barely tolerating the new kid in town who possibly reminds her of the person she used to be before fake trappings took over.

Those of you yet to see this film, and who number Bergman's "Persona" and Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" as firm favourites will find much to stimulate and intrigue with "3 Women". The relationships, the transformations, the use of water and mirrors, even the dream sequence combine to make this an essential film in Robert Altman's illustrious career.
It's also a film that's difficult to get a handle on, though there's a conversation on twins (inspired by sisters who also work at the centre) that's says a lot about the central theme here, and its development en route to the haunting finale.

The Blu-ray presentation emphasises the overexposed, desaturated colours, with stable images and delicately handled grain.
The soundtrack is clear as a bell, with dialogue easy to follow (optional English SDH subtitles are available, but as someone who has hearing problems I didn't need them) and Gerald Busby's eerie atonal score is clear and crisp, greatly adding to the overwhelming sense of foreboding.

The supplementary features begin with a Shelley Duvall interview (5m 45s) in Cannes where she won Best Actress (Spacek won in New York for her performance as Pinkie). She recalls how her acting career began in a most unusal manner, and goes on to discuss her role in "3 Women". She explains how Altman shot in sequence as much as possible and why he got to really know his cast prior to commencing shooting.

'David Thompson On 3 Women' is a 37m 7s video essay by David Thompson, editor of "Altman On Altman" and was recorded in May 2015.
David talks about the director's early industrial films and his television work, prior to gracing the big screen.
We hear about Altman's interest in personality exchange; the dream that inspired "3 Women"; how he saw Spacek as "a lost soul looking for a body to inhabit" and how he saw her in "Welcome To L.A. and decided to cast her.
We also learn why Willie's dialogue was stripped down. It's a bonus feature to savour before settlign down to watch the film again as "3 Women" will richly reward multiple viewings.
A gallery and theatrical trailer draw the curtain on the disc itself, although there is another extra in the form of a booklet containing essays, stills and notes on the transfer.
"Women In The Dunes" by David Jenkins provides background on the film, and explores each of the leading 3 female characters.
There's also an extract from David Thompson's "Altman On Altman", where the director talks about the dream sequence (which he didn't particularly care for); a painting he did that was the genesis of his film; Gerald Busby's score and his admiration for the performances.

"3 Women" is available to buy now. it's locked to Region B, and is highly recommended.

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