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Put together a top-shelf Raymond Carver story and the last two reels of 2001 and you have a dim idea of the unique genius of Altman's 1977 masterpiece, probably the most original movie ever made within the studio system. Shelley Duvall is a practiced flirt and would-be social butterfly, oblivious to the total failure of her Donna Reed mystique, and Sissy Spacek is the childlike tag-along who idolizes her. That's all I'll say about the story, which makes turns you couldn't have guessed at in ways that can't be summarized. Humane, funny, staggeringly strange and deeply creepy, THREE WOMEN defines certain social strata and modes of interaction that you've never seen in a movie before or since--and then goes out on a mystical limb that makes the last third of APOCALYPSE NOW look prosaic. With all due respect to NASHVILLE, MCCABE and many others, Altman never made a better film.
Altman made a lot of films that are obscure and deserve to remain so
("Quintet"), but he also made a lot of films that are obscure but
deserve to be seen, and "3 Women" is one of those. It's one of the most
fascinating films Altman created, and that's really saying something
from a director who was able to make even his bad films fascinating.
Altman claimed that "3 Women" was inspired by a dream he had while his wife was lying ill in a hospital, and the film does indeed work on its audience the way a dream does. It resists literal interpretation, and will probably frustrate any viewer who insists upon tidiness in their movies. It communicates its messages instead through pervasive imagery and tone -- it's not "about" something as much as it's about making you FEEL something, and it does that expertly. This movie will stick in your mind and haunt you long after you've seen it.
If I were forced to explain the film's plot, it would go something like this: Shelley Duvall plays Millie, a rather foolish woman who works in a geriatric physical therapy center, and whose roommate has just moved out to live with her boyfriend. Sissy Spacek plays Pinkie, newly hired at the center and put under Millie's direction. Millie is a pathetic character -- she yammers on endlessly about ridiculously trivial things (like how to make tuna melts) and doesn't realize that everyone around her either ignores her or makes fun of her. But Pinkie nevertheless becomes enamored of her and moves in with her. The third woman of the title is Willie, a reclusive artist who owns both the apartment complex in which Millie and Pinkie live, and a saloon that resembles something from a ghost town. She paints murals of strange-looking mythological creatures engaged in violent and sexual acts. These images recur throughout the film, as do images of water. Everything up to this point in the movie is dealt with in a fairly straightforward manner. But then Pinkie has an accident, and when she wakes up, she's become a different person, causing Millie's hold on reality, already tenuous, to unravel. At this point, the film becomes reminiscent of films like "Persona" and "Mulholland Drive," in which seemingly separate female characters merge into different facets of one female personality.
The ending is creepy and chilling in ways that are hard to define. The whole film has violent undertones -- the lone male character in the film is a lout and vaguely predatory; all of the women at various moments seem to be holding back a barely suppressed rage. Altman uses his camera in his characteristically expert manner to shape our perceptions about what we are seeing, and he uses other parts of his mise-en-scene, like color (Millie's favorite colors are yellow and purple, and look for them in the art direction), to bring a slightly surreal quality to even the most mundane of locations.
I've always thought that Shelley Duvall was an underrated actress, and she gives one of her best performances as Millie (and almost looks pretty for a change). Sissy Spacek is tremendous as well, and shows a remarkable range as Pinkie. Both of these actresses do wonderful things with tough roles, and even if we sometimes feel like we're on uneven footing because of the movie's enigmatic nature, the actresses are so assured in their parts that we can rely on them to guide us through it.
Altman directed a quartet of "dream" films that all revolve around the psychological and emotional crises of women: "That Cold Day in the Park" (1969); "Images" (1972); "Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" (1982); and "3 Women." I've not seen "That Cold Day..", but of the other three, though all of them have qualities to recommend them, "3 Women" is easily the best.
Indeed, few movies can haunt you 20 years after you've first seen them. Not
only that, even after you've seen them 20 times, still leaving you with a
desire to see them again and again? 3 Women is just such a movie. From
it's haunting Gerald Busby score, to Bodhi Wind's arresting murals, to the
captivating performances by Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek to Robert
Altman's deft writing and direction. This is a movie which will haunt you
and fascinate you.
I knew this movie was no ordinary movie when I seemed to be the only one in that 1977 audience who caught onto Shelley's disobedient skirt. Things began to appear slanted just off center - you just didn't know how off center they were. And that was and is the magic of this film. You never know what utter ridiculous impossibility of life will take hold of you and bring you through such a unusual journey.
Even as the credits start to roll, you begin to wonder: what have I just witnessed? what does this mean? why does it leave me wanting for answers?
Only after you've seen it as many times as I have do you stop asking those questions and accept all of these occurences as another window in the mind of a genius, which is Robert Altman. With all due respect to Nashville, this is his pinnacle of achievement.
I've wanted to see Robert Altman's "3 Women"(1977) for long time and
finally saw it last night. The references to one of my all time
favorites, Ingmar Bergman's "Persona" are obvious: two young women, the
main characters (seemingly meek, childlike Pinky and outgoing and
seemingly popular but in reality a sad loser Millie seem almost to
exchange identities, or to become one in a desperate search for
connection and sense of belonging but "3 Women" is memorable and
haunting on its own terms. It makes you think long time after it's
over. As a matter of fact, I am still thinking about it. I think that
it is an incredible work of an extraordinary master. As always in his
best films, Robert Altman is terrific - innovative, iconoclastic,
free-spirited, unconventional, and truly original. He is a great
humanist who sees through his characters but never makes fun of them
and he understands them. Under his directing, Shelly Duvall and Sissy
Spacec gave two astonishing performances. They were both great but
Duvall was a revelation. She adapted the loquacious Millie's
personality and become the character. Altman had discovered Duvall at
one of the malls in Texas where she was selling cosmetics and given her
roles in his six films. I want also to mention the eerie music, the
dreamy and uneasy atmosphere of something sinister ready to happen, the
scary and mesmerizing murals on the bottom of the pool that the third
woman, silent and mysterious, tired and wise Willie (Janice Rule) was
painting. Altman did not try to trick or confuse me, and the story
seems to be simple one but I am not sure that I understood everything,
especially the enigmatic ending. Altman was aware of the effect of his
movie to the viewers and in his commentary he says that he sees the
film as a painting and that the audience should feel it but not
understand it. In this regard it also reminds of "Un chien andalou"
(1929) which was supposed to be experienced directly and not analyzed
by the viewers.
"3 Women" is another great film by one of the best American film directors. I've never seen a bad film from Robert Altman.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Three Women is an utterly fascinating film, and, by my calculations, is
Altman's second best after Nashville, which few films can beat.
However, whereas I am so familiar with Nashville that I am actually
arrogant enough to believe I can understand it, Three Women does not
inspire that sort of confidence in me. I have no clue what exactly it
Basically, it is one of those movies where a woman, Pinky, admires her roommate Millie so much that she wishes to emulate her in every way, apparently even trying to steal her identity. In doing so, she freaks her roommate out, as can certainly be expected. She also freaks the audience out. It isn't all just a bunch of shivering, though. This movie contains a lot of humor which can only be called 'Altmanesque.' The great irony is that Pinky's object of admire is nothing but a bag of hot air. Millie is such a loser. At the film's opening, she is training Pinky for her new job at the nursing home. To any normal person, two weeks into the job, you'd be amazed at how much a moron the person is who showed you the ropes. She brags about men whom she rejects, but all the hot dates she claims to be going on never come to fruition. Millie also overreacts to Pinky's actions, yelling at her for very petty transgressions. When Millie does something that is grossly irresponsible and morally wrong, she attacks Pinky for judging those actions. Meanwhile, Pinky is creepily reciting passages from Millie's diary with the passion of a high school drama student.
Taking Ingmar Bergman's Persona as its major inspiration, around halfway through the film, after Pinky has an accident and goes into a coma, the two women begin to switch roles. Millie becomes the passive and protective roommate while Pinky becomes the aggressive vixen. Actually, Pinky becomes the mythic version of Millie.
But I have purposely left out the third woman of the title. I really am not sure about her, or the climax and the ending, in which she plays a major part. Her name is Willie, a pregnant woman married to a man named Edgar (who will, through the course of the film, also sleep with both Millie and Pinky). They run a bar where Millie likes to hang out, and they also live in the same apartment complex as Millie and Pinky. Edgar is an outgoing joker, and has no problem sleeping around on his wife. Willie is mostly silent, which is why she is easy to forget in the proceedings. She paints in a Native American style all over the bar and the apartment complex. She does so seemingly because she is compelled to. She despises complements about them. Throughout the film, her paintings comment on the situation between Millie and Pinky (they're used in a masterful fashion, but the pan-and-scan version that I saw on TV (it was also edited for time and content, dag nabbit) screws this up a bit). I don't know if she serves much more of a purpose than that for most of the film.
It is the ending which is especially peculiar, and it also most effectively channels Persona. Pinky has convinced Millie that she ought to have their apartment's master bedroom to herself (and Millie ought to sleep in the living room). Pinky has a surreal dream, which is punctuated by the camera's filming through a fish tank whose blue waters are undulating like a snake, in which she goes through the events of the past few months. She becomes frightened, and, much as Elisabeth Volger does in Persona, she wanders into Millie's bedroom. Here, though, she wakes Millie up, asking if she would mind sharing a bed tonight. As they try to sleep, Edgar wanders into their apartment, drunk off his rocker and spouting that Willie is giving birth all alone. Millie and Pinky race to her side. Millie tells Pinky to drive away and fetch a doctor, while she herself helps Willie deliver the child. Pinky, fascinated or frightened (she had earlier expressed fear about being pregnant herself), just stands there and stares. When the child is born, it is still. Willie cries in her bed, and Millie smacks Pinky for not getting a doctor.
The next scene takes place at a restaurant where Pinky is apparently a waitress. She bizarrely refers to Millie as her mother. We find out that Edgar accidentally killed himself with his gun, but the audience suspects differently (all three women had individual scenes where they shot at targets at the bar; they also all have reason to despise him). Millie and Pinky then leave the restaurant and walk back to their house, where Willie sits on a porch swing. Pinky talks to her as if they were sisters. They appear to be living together as a family.
Who else could end a film like that besides Altman? I've only lately come to notice this, but his endings are always enormously original. I just lately saw his latest film, Dr. T and the Women, which many people hated because of the ending. I cringe imagining what they would do with this one. If anyone has any ideas, please contact me. I will have to watch it again. Perhaps soon they will release it on DVD where I can watch it in its true form. 10/10.
We are all on the brink. Many of us have endearing qualities that are
lacking in others and vice versa. Do we question ourselves or do we
change drastically? Can we become better people or are we doomed with
our very own dismal personality traits? These are the questions that
the film, 3 Women, examines.
I saw this film as a 14 year old boy with no preconceptions. It made me feel like there were imposter's as well as identity thieves among us all. I even became suspicious of people who I considered to be my allies! A truly, classic piece of cinema paranoia (in the tradition of Polanski's The Tenant). Except in this case, there is no illusion. Just one ,blatant, slap in the face after another. When you watch this film, it will literally shed it's skin and reveal something that is spookily real and very threatening, without all the supernatural riff-raff and far-fetched plot. This is a film about REAL characters and REAL development. The ending can be summed up by the scene which precedes it, in which the three women are brought together by a rather tragic incident, as this breathes new "life" into their bleak, sometimes dusty environments. "One woman became two..Two became three...3 Women became One."
3 Women is a seriously strange mood study that plays like a languid
nightmare. It is an abstract and unusual film, loaded with symbolism.
The logic, if there is any, is dream logic. Everything is open to
interpretation. There is no sense to be made of it so don't even try.
The first half of the film is slow and aimless but things get very interesting once Pinky (brilliantly acted by Sissy Spacek) hits her head. Pinky sort of becomes Millie (Shelley Duvall) and Millie sort of becomes Pinky and they both sort of become the dream of Willie (Janice Rule) or maybe they don't. Listening to director Robert Altman's commentary on the DVD is revealing. He says that he sees the film as a painting and that the audience should feel it but not understand it.
The references to Persona are obvious but while watching 3 Women I was reminded of another haunting and puzzling film- Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Mysterious and deeply Freudian, 3 Women is one truly unique work so sit back and marvel at the inexplicable.
Playing would-be social butterfly Millie in Robert Altman's often-inscrutable "3 Women", Shelley Duvall creates an amazing, amusing, totally original character. Millie fancies herself a great caregiver at a job where others regard her as nothing; she talks about her neighbors and activities as if she's Sally Bowles, when actually nobody notices her. She's pathetic, but Duvall makes her funny and quirky (and Altman is careful not to make too much fun of her). Sissy Spacek as roommate Pinky is also fine in a less-showy, less-complex role, but her transformation in the second-half shows off her range. The film is slow but not dull, confusing but not off-putting (despite fuzzy cinematography). The one thing I really objected to was the ending, which plays like Greek tragedy mixed with Tennessee Williams. Nobody has dared to make another film like "3 Women". Altman-protégé Alan Rudolph captured some of its eccentric quality in "Welcome to L.A.", but his script wasn't clever enough. The writing here may seem simple, but this turns out to be deceptive: the dialogue is pungent with the ring of absurd truth. It took me a while to reconcile my feelings for this film. As soon as I decided how I felt about it, I couldn't wait to see it again. *** from ****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
. . . which is a really good thing in this case.
If you've seen other Altman films, you know that he uses a very spontaneous, documentary style that glances here and there, picking up little bits of dialog and character. He lets the story, whatever it is, evolve naturally and doesn't force it.
In this film, things work a little differently. There is a fairly tight, classical story, sort of, even though a couple of big pieces are missing. Moreover, there is a very strong sense of symbolism in almost every shot, from Shelley Duval's first appearance, where she is pictured as a "new woman" displacing an older generation, to the scene where Sissy Spacek playfully puts a noose around her neck, foreshadowing her suicide attempt.
But here's the miracle: even though there's a lot of symbolism, the style still feels very loose and spontaneous and open, just like other Altman films. How this is possible, I don't know, but it's quite an accomplishment--almost unique in cinema, I think, in the way that each frame is simultaneously closed & symbolic but also open & realistic. Really, you have to see it to believe it.
Best of all, the story, which concerns three very different women, is perfectly suited to the style. This is a fable about the way women's identities are changing (or not) and it asks the right questions without giving clear answers.
Actingwise, the real treat here is Shelley Duval as the "new woman," the Cosmo girl, plastic and fake and shallow and miserable and somehow, at the same time, horribly and hilariously alive. You will not forget her, or the double-sided, real/symbolic world she moves in.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I haven't seen all of Robert Altman's films, but I can easily say that he
one of the greatest innovators when it comes to character-driven films, as
seen in his large ensemble pieces from "Nashville" to "Short Cuts."
the reason why so many actors like to work with Altman is because he gives
them free-rein in the composition of their characters. Altman's ability to
capture the actor's talent of creating a character from the inside out is
less present in his 1977 drama "3 Women", a buried treasure of a film
starring Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek. "3 Women" is definitely a
character-driven film, as there is virtually no plot to speak of. To enjoy
this film is to be enamoured of Duvall and Spacek's performances, as well
Altman's daring and uncompromised vision.
Duvall plays Millie Lammoreaux, a young woman living in a barren California desert town whose delusions of grandeur place her in a fantasy world full of social gatherings, dinner parties, and gentleman callers. Whether she is at the nursing homes where she works or the residential motel where she lives, she carries on as if she were the cat's meow, oblivious to the fact that her incessant ramblings about everything from her favorite food recipes to hula dancing lessons are falling on deaf, in not unkind, ears. Because of her endearing qualities however, Millie is a loveable misfit. The way she always slams her car door on the hem of her skirt says so much about her character.
Spacek plays Pinky Rose, a new employee at the nursing home who takes an immediate liking to Millie and soon becomes her roommate. A childlike waif, Pinky emulates Millie in the same way a 6-year-old girl looks up to her big sister. While she completely feeds Millie's self-absorption, she also turns Millie's life upside down when she takes on her identity, borrowing her clothes and copying down her social security number.
The third woman in "3 Women" is Willie Hart (played by Janice Rule), a sullen, pregnant woman who spends her time painting disturbing murals inside empty swimming pools. She is also married to Edgar (played by Robert Fortier), a drunken lout whose claim to fame as a former stunt double in famous Wyatt Earp westerns makes him a figure of admiration at the motel. The weirdness sets in when Millie invites Edgar over for an adulterous fling, causing a dejected Pinky to jump into the motel's swimming pool from a second story landing, putting her in a coma. This event is the first major plot point in "3 Women". as it spins the storyline in a completely new direction. Pinky wakes up from the coma, rejects her parents who have traveled all the way from Texas to see her, and turns into a surly beer-swilling, gum-chewing tramp. Overcome with guilt, Millie also changes into a different person. Her inflated ego disappears, she becomes more passive, and she caters to Pinky even while Pinky bullies her and treats her with complete disrespect.
"3 Women" has undoubtedly inspired wonder in whoever has seen it. The tone of the film is extremely strange and dreamlike and is filled with many symbols that defy the viewer who tries to make heads or tails of them. There are also many archetypal, mythical figures in "3 Women" that seem to come right out of a Jungian dream analysis book. For instance, Pinky's fixation with Polly and Peggy, two twins who work at the nursing home with her and Millie, figures prominently in the film right down to its climactic dream sequence. At one point in the movie, Pinky muses, "Do you think they know which one they are?...Maybe they switch back and forth. One day Peggy's Polly, and another day Polly's Peggy." Janice Rule's Willie also seems to be an archetype, the mother figure.
Altman doesn't attempt to explain any of the weird connections in "3 Women." Every time I watch this film, I find myself confounded by the same questions: why are the twins so aloof? why is Millie and Pinky's supervisor so unrelentingly bitchy? why is Pinky twice shown taking off her underwear from underneath her skirt? The list goes on. Altman does provide a few rhyming scenes in the film as well. One such scene is one in which nice Pinky is sitting in a deserted bar and is spat upon by a hideous wall ornament in the figure of a wizened old woman, named "Dirty Gertie", whose mechanical laugh accompanies Willie's entrance into the scene. This scene prefigures a later scene in which bad Pinky mischievously spits beer at Edgar and then proceeds to cackle in an exaggerated fashion.
It is a shame that "3 Women" is not available on home video or DVD. I happened to catch it on the cable network known as WE (Women's Entertainment) and was so intrigued by it that I looked up the next time it was playing so that I could record it. It is a wonderfully unusual film and Duvall and Spacek are up to task. The role of Millie Lammoreaux is a career best for Duvall. She has never played such a rich character before or after "3 Women." This is also my personal favorite Spacek performance. The spookiness of her performance here rivals her performance in "Carrie." She deftly portrays both Pinkys with equally terrific conviction. And Altman is to be commended (even 24 years after the fact) for bringing such a refreshingly unconventional story to the screen. "3 Women" is arguably the best and most mystifying film that I don't think I will ever understand.
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