February 23, 2006
Starring: Starring: Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Janice Rule, Robert Fortier, Ruth Nelson, John Cromwell, Sierra Pecheur, Craig Richard Nelson, Maysie Hoy, Belita Moreno, Leslie Ann Hudson, Patricia Ann Hudson, Beverly Ross, John Davey, ,
During the ’70s, Robert Altman made a series of films that pushed the boundaries of traditional genres into new and exciting areas. M*A*S*H (1970) dared to criticize and parody the Vietnam War under the auspices of the Korean War, while McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) was a gritty and realistic western. With 3 Women (1977), Altman applied his trademark techniques of overlapping dialogue and an emphasis on human behaviour and character instead of linear traditional storytelling, and applied it to the horror genre. The result: a mesmerizing look at the peculiar relationship between three women.
Pinky Rose (Spacek) starts work at a nursing home in California and is shown how thing are run by Millie (Duvall). Both women, in their own ways, are naïve outsiders shunned by those who work with them. It is obvious that Pinky idolizes Millie. She delights in watching Millie live her life. So much so, that she becomes Millie’s roommate. It is almost as if Pinky wants to become Millie. Finally, there is Willie (Rule), a near mute artist who runs a bar and paints epic murals in the bottom of swimming pools. As the film progresses, the relationship between these women transforms ever so subtly from a simple character study to an unsettling tale of obsession.
Altman peels back the film’s layers to reveal this rarified atmosphere’s particular social strata. Pinky, who has no life experience, sees Millie as the epitome of glamour and worldliness. What Pinky is unable to see is that compared her co-workers, Millie is actually quite naïve. For example, Millie believes that she can’t get pregnant if she starts taking The Pill a couple days before having sex. Millie is a very verbal person and talks constantly, even when those around her aren’t paying attention-which is often. However, to her co-workers, Millie is a social outcast that they don’t want around. And to Millie, Pinky is a social outcast with her clingy, needy attitude.
Pinky is like a child in a woman’s body. She blows bubbles in her soda and mindlessly plays around in a wheelchair. In many respects, she is like a blank slate, waiting for someone to imprint on her and that person she picks is Millie. She constantly watches Millie and absorbs everything that she does and says. There is something not quite right about Pinky-one of the first indicators is when her eyes take on a spacey glaze in the presence of Millie.
There is an excellent audio commentary by the film’s producer, writer and director, Robert Altman. He explains that the genesis of 3 Women came from a dream. He dreamt the title, the setting and that it would star Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall. Altman doesn’t like to analyze his films and prefers the audience to develop their own theories and opinions. Despite this statement, he does go into great detail about the themes of the movie and tells some interesting anecdotes, in particular how he first met Duvall. Altman usually doesn’t deliver strong commentaries but this one is first rate and a must-listen for any fan of the man and his movies.
“Still Gallery” is an extensive collection of publicity and behind-the-scenes photographs taken from Altman’s own collection.
Finally, there are two theatrical trailers and two TV spots which are fascinating time capsules of how 20th Century Fox tried to market such an off-beat movie.
3 Women is a movie about human behaviour. Where most genre films place an emphasis on style and flashy visuals, Altman understands that what fascinates people is interesting characters. This is not to say that the veteran director doesn’t create a rich, atmospheric setting but it never overwhelms the characters. Criterion has done a fantastic job restoring this underrated classic-the print looks perfect with nary a blemish or an artifact. While the extras may not be extensive they are substantial, enhancing the experience of watching 3 Women.