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Revisiting Robert Altman's 3 Women a quarter-century after its release is
more than an exercise in nostalgia. The movie's worst faults -- its oneiric
aimlessness, its pretensions toward some sort of feminist metaphysics --
seem really not to matter that much. And its best parts -- Shelly Duvall
and Sissy Spacek and the interplay between them -- have stayed fresh as new
paint. Has either of these actresses ever surpassed the natural, intuitive
work Altman here inspired them to produce? These two-girls-sharing cook up
a relationship as messy and powerful as lovers.
Duvall, the clueless airhead who nonetheless gives herself airs, discovers an almost aching pathos when she finds Spacek slipping away from her. The ingrown, dependent Spacek seems to have been raised in a colony of sponges; when she starts reddening her lips and nails, and returning Duvall's haughty contempt, she's frightening and feral. Sharp as the comedy in 3 Women is, it bespeaks an almost insupportable sadness, so when Altman shifts into the minor mode and commences playing fortissimo, it's redundant, and a miscalculation. He's already shown us all there is to see. The rest is just obscurantist mood-spinning.
Note to film buffs: the actor playing Spacek's elderly dad is John Cromwell (also the bishop in Altman's A Wedding), the director of Dead Reckoning, Caged, and The Racket.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
3 women is about identity theft. For example, one young girl arrives at
the job on her first day, and meets a self-confident worker, who ends
up having a room to rent in her apartment. The new employee is
marvelled by the other and after she tries to commit suicide and
recovers - inherently takes over the personality of the self-confident
worker. It is done in such a crafty way, that the viewer has no real
idea that it happened. Hence making this moving one of the best movies
I really like the character of the self-confident worker, because she was so strong that the indifference from the actual circumstances did not even put a dent in her self-confidence. She was so sure of herself, and at the same time it was so utter misplaced. For example, she would go to the doctors lounge on her lunch break, and sit next to doctors and keep on talking and none of the doctors would respond to her. She just sat there talking and talking away. They took no notice of her. When she got up, she would say, it was great talking to you, I've gotten go now, see you all tomorrow. And there would be little or no reaction from the doctors, still she would get up and walk towards the exit, being in seventh heaven.
(It was a Criterion movie).
I feel a bit stupid on this one. Lionized by most critics as a
neglected masterpiece, I certainly liked it, and respected it's lofty
aims, but didn't flat out love it. The two lead performances by Sissy
Spacek and Shelly Duvall are wonderful, and the film has more than its
share of powerful and creepy moments.
But the film based on a dream Altman had, and not trying to make any literal sense feels overly self-conscious and arty at times. I found the music intrusive, almost shouting 'see how weird this is?' And a lot of the symbolism, like the paintings that run through the film, feels a bit heavy handed and obvious. Alternately some of the plot twists feel flat out arbitrary.
This is often compared to David Lynch's dream films Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway. But I found both of those films a little more fun, and they felt more cohesive in their dream worlds, even if I didn't always know what was going on.
Now, having said all that, I do look forward to seeing it again. I've often found some of my very favorite films are complex and challenging works that don't quite jell for me on 1st viewings, only to have those petty annoyances fall away on a second look.
In any case, if you're up for something challenging, this is a terrifically acted, unique and brave film, and certainly worth a look, whatever your personal reaction. And - since it's a film that plays on subconscious more than literal levels - I suspect no two people will react to this exactly the same way.
Altman's excursion into Bergman territory is a symbol-laden exploration of personality, highly reminiscent of the Swedish master's "Persona." But Altman's version is memorable in its own right, especially for the stunning performance of Shelly Duvall as Millie, a dippy working girl who takes her style cues from McCall's magazine. I haven't been able to get this performance out of my head in the 22 years since I first saw it. The scene where she plans a dinner party for friends is one the most poignant I've ever seen. And who will ever forget the way her yellow skirt always gets caught in her car door (I'd love to know who came up with that touch -- Altman, Duvall, or serendipity?) For that matter, I can't even forget her mustard-yellow car ("French mustard, not American.") Sissy Spacek is nearly as memorable in her supporting performance as Pinky (or is it Mildred?), Millie's childlike roommate. And Janice Rule, Woman No. 3, is consummately enigmatic. Some of Altman's flourishes seem self-consciously arty, and the plot takes some bizarre turns, but this movie is never less than fascinating. I was ecstatic to find it on PBS last night after trying in vain to track it down for many years (needless to say, I taped it). The only major flaw in this movie is the music soundtrack, one of the most irritating and pseudo-portentous scores ever composed.
So I watched 1977's dream flick "3 women", by the late great Robert Altman. This movie stars both Shelly Duvall and Sissy Spacek, both who won awards for their acting in this film. So is this movie good, yes if you like the surreal (which I do). Is it a classic, I say yes but of cult status only. This is not a mainstream movie. Even for Altman this movie is out there. This is not one of his typical dialog driven smart comedy. It is a flick about images, ideas, and things that are open for interpretation. Including the end which Altman himself said he was not quite sure he understood. The inspiration for this film was in fact a dream Altman had. This film starts out seemingly normal but slowly morphs into a dream, becoming stranger and stranger with each passing scene. I recommend this movie for indy lovers and art lovers. I am not sure many others would appreciate the rather intellectual high art concept of this film. Watching this movie with friends may be the best way to go, with the right group this film could inspire a deep philosophical and existential debate. if you like concise reviews of interesting films please read my other reviews at http://raouldukeatthemovies.blogspot.com/
A young woman (Spacek) starts work at a health spa for seniors and idolizes a coworker (Duvall). The third woman of the title is a pregnant woman (Rule) who runs a bar and paints murals. The best thing about this bleak Altman film is the brilliant performance of Duvall as an unpopular girl who thinks she is a social butterfly. Altman should have stuck with the directing because his script is unfocused and pretentious, as it veers into the arty world of Bergman's "Persona" with some psycho mumbo-jumbo sprinkled in. Not one of the director's better efforts but a sub-par Altman film is often more interesting than the best work of many other directors.
This great but little seen film can almost be seen as Altman's offbeat SoCal version of "Persona". Whereas Woody Allen embarrassingly apes Bergman this film has a near perfect integration of the Swedes idiom with that of Altman. Limitless symbolism and three great performances make for one of the finest and most unusual pictures to come out of America in the 70's. Highly recommended.
I love this movie. Its plot is impossible to capsulize but it's effen brilliant. Shelley Duvall is amazing. Sissy Spacek too. Wow. Watch this over and over. I'm serious.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I picked up this DVD from the public library, mainly because it is part of the Criterion Collection, which usually represents pretty good films. But egads! I'm sorry, but adding spastic flute music and very, VERY long fades of bad art work do not a good movie make. It just drrrrraaaaaaggggggggggggggggggged, and I felt like Robert Altman was thinking, let's make the worst movie we can, add some unbelievably pretentious and overblown "arty" elements to it, and see how many sheep out there we can get to say "oooooooo, wow, it's AMAZING! So cutting edge. So cryptic." Guys....it's awful! I usually can live without violence in movies, but when Spacek did a header into the pool, I cheered out loud. However, what followed seemed like an hour of hospital room coma scenes and I thought, my GOD, it has to get better. And that's what kept me watching, as I think is the case with many folks out there. We need to just find the ability to chuckle at ourselves a bit and say "ok, Altman got me on this one." Don't watch it again and again, searching for the meaning in it all. In the literature included with the DVD there is a statement, something like, "It was Altman's goal to shoot the entire movie with no screenplay." That explains why we see, literally 45 seconds of footage of a person walking from a car into a bar. Just walking. Nothing's going to fall on his head. Nothing's going to happen. He's just walking. Still walking. Anyway, if you want to watch a good movie about dysfunctional relationships and women, rent "The Hours".
Every scene, every picture, every dialogue has its symbols.
Shelley Duvall is perfect as Millie. In my opinion it is her supreme-performance. Sissy Spacek... I think she was much better in her other roles. It is the third woman Willie, who says almost nothing while the film flows in its brilliant way; she has the last word at the end. Their souls can be identified with the musical score. ...one of the most eccentric, yet (or because of this) most wonderful scores ever composed for a movie! I can't imagine a superior music for this film. In some scenes you hear only three instruments; they "try" to play in a harmony, but they are caught in mistunes.
"Three women" could hold you forever, if you are ready to. Watch it late at night and after watching try to turn in! The "most wonderful dream" will follow you!
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