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3 Women is one of Robert Altman's best films as well as one of the most interesting buried treasures of the 1970s. Sissy Spacek (in a performance almost as creepy as "Carrie") arrives at work at an old age home and quickly insinuates herself into the life of loser co-worker Shelley Duvall. Duvall, in a performance that justly won her the Best Actress Award at Cannes, is at her quirkiest as a feckless wannabe who has no idea that she has absolutely no life. Her "friends" snicker at her warm greetings and her co-workers avoid her. Why Spacek invades her life is a mystery. That may very well be Altman's point. These pathetic lives are interchangeable. The film reaches an almost surreal level when Duvall and Spacek help pregnant wacko artist Janice Rule (the third woman of the title) give birth...the "3 Women" live happily ever after...What it all means is up to the viewer.
I saw this movie very late at night on a PBS channel some 3-4 years ago and
it's stuck with me ever since. It took me up until 3 or 4 months ago to
figure out the title of this film and who directed it after searching for
plots that had something to do with this film. I managed to narrow it down
after remembering the lead character in the film was played by the same
woman who played Jack's wife in The Shining (Shelley Duvall, of course), but
I still have not been able to find this film on video anywhere.
I have a feeling this is one of those films they only play late at night and it's for a good reason. When I stumbled upon it, I immediately felt like I was dreaming something (then I later learned that the idea for this film came to Altman in a dream). Then when I realized I was awake, I was drawn into the film and mesmerized by it. There is a very, very strange subliminal quality in the way that this movie was filmed that you can never quite put your finger on and the stop-start score is very effective and especially chilling in its effect. I can't imagine what watching this film in a heavily intoxicated state would be like.
I would give anything to see this film again and if any of you ever get the opportunity to view this film on PBS or any late night film channel with the courage to show something interesting and unusual, DO NOT MISS THIS FILM AT ANY COST! I had never seen anything like "3 Women" before or and I have never seen anything like it since.
I just happened upon a PBS showing of this film and decided to watch for a while, knowing only the title and that it starred Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek. I had no idea it was an Altman film, but I was not surprised when I learned that it was. I was totally engrossed by the characters and the seemingly aimless storyline. I think I was most taken by Duvall's performance and her character, Millie. As the film went on, I began to really like the way things unfolded. I looked at this website because I wanted to know more about it. I'm sure I will be thinking about this film for a long while.
I saw this film for the first time on TV. Never heard of it as one of
Altman's films. I gave it a shot for the cast and of course Altman. It has
this 1970's eerie sort of style. Reminds me of a bit of Scorcese's Sisters
with the exception that this one is not as bloody. The haunting music is a
constant reminder of something bazaar is going to happen. The almost silent
appearances of Janice Rule's character is mythical and symbolic.
I think this film is a symbol of a filmmaker who hadn't sold out yet and it shows the experimental and creative quality of what filmmaking is about, which also represents the era. Perhaps now the style of filmmaking is gear toward entertainment in which a film like this with the experimental quality is suppressed. I have to admit, after this film, I am looking at Altman from a different angle. Since I discredited him for making Gingerbread Man, now, he had regain my respect.
I am so glad to see that there are others who are fascinated by this movie. I am only sorry that it is not available on video in any form - I rely on a taped-from-Cinemax version that is getting pretty shabby. We should all contact Robert Altman and ask him why we are being deprived of owning this indescribably delicious movie.
I saw this movie in 1977. Here it is 1999 and I still think about it. I remember Shelly Duvall's dress getting caught in the door of the car. That told us everything about this character. I have revered Robert Altman ever since I saw this movie and am getting ready to go see Cookie's Fortune. Not sure if he can top 3 Women.
What a long, strange trip of a movie...I like everything Altman has done, and although I've been disturbed before by some of his realism, this was by far one of the weirdest films I've ever seen (and I'm a David Lynch fan!). The acting is impeccable. It's the story that is wacked - you have to see it to understand. I still get images of it in my head and I saw it four years ago! Makes "Henry Fool" look like a Disney flick. :)
I have seen 3 Women several times now,and each time i'm drawn into this mesmerizing,complex story. Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacec are both fantastic! And the eerie flute score provides the perfect atmosphere for this brilliant film!*****
3 Women is an acute, interesting portrait of a girl played by Sissy
Spacek who starts work as a nurse and becomes attached at the hip to a
colleague, played by Shelley Duvall, who wears a tight, thick emotional
shell. After an accident, Spacek and Duvall seem to swap personalities,
Spacek because she's absorbed Duvall's pain and feelings so much that
she's begun to be lost during Duvall's accident and projects what she
misses, and Duvall's shell has unwittingly come down, revealing that at
the core, she is that shy, clingy, lonely little girl that Spacek is,
and because they're repelled by the spinach between the teeth that they
can only see in someone else, they once again repress and undercurrents
and aggravating tension ushers in. It's an extremely interesting plunge
into the deep end of sensitivity and loneliness and the impressions on
But, I don't know why the film is called 3 Women. There is another woman, a painter, who lurks around, punctuating the film every here and there with shocking paintings. These paintings have an effect on Spacek and Duvall, but the film focuses brilliantly on the clashing psychological tentacles of those two women. This woman may have an effect on the story and the other two, but to install her as an official part in a trio with them doesn't quite make sense. For instance, Degas, Monet, and Renoir are a trio, because they all took part in the same things and were influenced by each other in an equal amount of ways. The Godfather, GoodFellas, and Taxi Driver are not a trio, because the first two involve the same things and respond to each other while Taxi Driver only shares with them the common trait of an Italian-American director. Perhaps that's a clear enough analogy to the misstep in considering the story a portrait of three women instead of two.
3 Women has an extremely aggravating quality as well as a profound and thought-provoking one. Firstly, the music is repetitive, pretentious minor-key chamber music in the worst possible way. Second, the film has a scene where Duvall is desperately helping an abandoned woman give birth to a child in an apartment, hurrying Spacek along to get help. Spacek simply stands outside the apartment and watches in at the agony. This part of the scene is about five minutes long, or seems like it. However, I must give credit to Altman, because it was certainly intentional.
Altman is pure genius. I cannot think of a film that creates poetry
from the sprawling conversations, languid mise-en-scene and chilling
performances as well as this film.
While other films achieve brilliance with more didactic approaches (agnes varda's le bonheur) poetic strangeness (immamura's the eel) social satire (ang lee's the ice storm) or dream like frenzy (fellini's Casanova) this film achieves with wandering observations, unpointed scenes and internal conflicts that are both funny and dramatic.
His performance style is so uniquely wonderful.. and recent work such as Gosford Park confirms this...but I think he had his most idiosyncratic performance style happening here...and of course in "A wedding" and "Quintet".
There is also something camp about this film -- that conjures the recent work of Todd Haynes.
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