Monday, March 5, 2012
Three Women (1977)
After literally YEARS of somehow missing opportunities to see it, I've finally managed to sneak in a viewing of Robert Altman's Three Women and OH. MY. GOODNESS. What I was missing!
The mural on the sides of an empty swimming pool. I mean, what do you have painted on the sides of your swimming pool?
Something about the pacing of Altman movies make them very unfriendly to the casual viewer... I enjoy challenging narrative choices, but the first fifteen minutes or so of Altman movies always puts me into a lethargic mood. From minute sixteen on, I'm totally signed up; however, with distractions, it's easy for me not to make it to that touchstone. In this case, after having checked it out from the library at least three times, I found 3 Women on Netflix and hunkered down for the duration. "Watch! This! Film! Lisa!" I said to myself, and was I glad I did. Beautiful, hypnotic movie. Dealing with the same "what's real, what's imagined" themes that run through another terrifying/captivating selection from the director's catalog, 1972's Images with Susannah York, Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek circle around each other in an Ouroboros identity crisis that reeeeeallllllly doesn't resolve itself, down to the last, supremely off-kilter reel.
The synopsis, from Criterion:
In a dusty, underpopulated California resort town, a naive southern waif, Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek), idolizes and befriends her fellow nurse, the would-be sophisticate and “thoroughly modern” Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall). When Millie takes Pinky in as her roommate, Pinky’s hero worship evolves into something far stranger and more sinister than either could have anticipated. Featuring brilliant performances from Spacek and Duvall, this dreamlike masterpiece from Robert Altman careens from the humorous to the chilling to the surreal, resulting in one of the most unusual and compelling films of the 1970s.
"Careens" is, I think, the perfect verb to describe the motion of the narrative in this movie. The dull, confused, creeping uneasiness of a dream sets the mood for most of the action. Pinky, assigned to Millie as a trainee in the nursing facility at which they both work, begins the first half of the film with a lower-lip trembling, worshipful admiration of her coworker and later roommate. While other screen characters obviously take Millie's trying-too-hard attempts at a cosmopolitan attitude as a weak joke, Pinky, coming from an even smaller town in Texas than Millie, sees Millie's efforts as the height of chic. Pinky breathes and gawks and, more than anything, watches Millie, wondering with total hero worship at the tuna melt recipes and matching middie blouse and slacks that make Millie a pathetic figure to others in her singles' apartment complex. Because it's so easily given, Pinky's adulation is just as easily rejected, though with puppy-like consistency, she's totally oblivious to her hero's lack of interest in her.
That bob, corsage, and halter maxi dress is calling my name.
When a tragic accident takes place in the square center of the run time, things begin to take a very drastic and unforeseen change. And when the ball starts rolling downhill, it really does pick up a nightmarish speed. As much as I was disinterested in the first few minutes of the movie, I was ho-o-o-oked on the last hour.
I go on dates the the shooting range with guys who unironically wear this combination of sideburns, cowboy hat, Elvis sunglasses, and print polyester silk shirts all the time. Don't you?
While Sissy Spacek is quite good as Pinky, demonstrating the same watchful, childlike innocence that won her critical acclaim for movies like Carrie and Coal Miner's Daughter, Shelley Duvall really, really SHINES in this movie. If you haven't seen her in much other than her second fiddle (one fiddle above Scatman Crothers, but one fiddle below "that naked, dead woman in room 237") role to Jack Nicholson's tour-de-force Jack Torrence in Kubrick's The Shining, this is your opportunity to see what she can do with the right direction and part. Her breathy voice, willowy figure, and doe-eyed, expressive, just-missed-being-beautiful face are suited to her deeply empathetic, center stage role in the picture. Something about her abortive, slavishly elaborate attempts at "fitting in" with other people, and her sunny, desperate exterior moved me more than any movie character I've seen in a long time.
But, as they say in Reading Rainbow, don't take my word for it! You can watch it yourself, guiltlessly, on the gorgeous Criterion release of 3 Women, or you can sneakily watch the self same on youtube:
Either way you go, you're in for a treat.
PS: I bought the poster! This poster:
Which is now hanging over my kitchen table in the dining nook to remind me of disassociative identity disorder as I enjoy a morning's waffle. Do you love the hand-tinted look of the stills from the movie or do you LOVE the hand-tinted look of the stills from the movie...?
PPS: Does this guy, who has a role as the physician at the nursing home where the girls work, not look EXACTLY like Matthew? I mean, down to the silver in his hair:
EXCELLENT top 5 list of Shelley Duvall movies (for further viewing)
NY Times review of the movie from 1977
What's on your to-do movie list? Are you a Shelley Duvall fan or one of her detractors? This movie won me over definitively into the "pro" camp, but it takes all kind.
Til next time!