Blu-Ray Review – 3 Women (1977)

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Director Robert Altman was older than many of his “New Hollywood” contemporaries in that by the time he had his first mainstream success he was 45 with M*A*S*H. However, through a series of films in the 1970s, including McCabe and Mrs Miller, The Long Goodbye and Nashville, we cemented his place as possibly the most innovative director of that time.

3 Women, like many of his films, was largely based on improvisation, with actors Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Janice Rule developing their own dialogue. The idea emerged from a dream that Altman had, which is reflected in the dreamy nature of the film. It also marks the start of Altman’s move into the independent film world—although it was funded by 20th Century Fox, they gave him a hands off indie-style deal that ended with the never-quite-released Health.

One can easily spot the influence of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, and it can also be seen as bridging the gap between that film and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.All three films concern how personalities can merge and change and re-emerge transformed. Spacek’s character, Pinky Rose, is deliberately childlike at times. She claims to be from Texas but her background is unclear and she has an almost alien-like presence. It would actually make an interesting double bill with The Man Who Fell To Earth, as the films share themes of consumerism and alienation. Mille, played by Duvall, is someone formed by the media’s vision of how she should be. While she outwardly thinks she’s living a fantastic life, through observing her interactions with others it is obvious that her existence is actually quite hollow. This is a theme that runs throughout Altman’s films, particularly Nashville and Short Cuts. As it turns out, Pinky and Millie both share the first name Mildred, and their personalities begin to merge in the course of the film.

Quite a bit of the film is shot through water, giving it a very dreamlike quality. This is similar to McCabe and Mrs Miller and Quintet, where Altman uses a technique that makes events appear as if they are happening inside a snow globe. This hallucinatory approach is important in the plot, because the film is actually about two women—the third of the title is Willie, a woman who lives in a strange run-down theme park in the desert where she draws murals.

When the film came out, many critics loved the first half, but it takes a very surreal turn in its second act due to interactions between these women and Willie’s husband Edgar. 3 Women certainly marks the end of Altman’s extraordinary run as a top director of the 1970s, and remains on of his most challenging and intriguing films of that time. It also presents a rare entry into surrealism for a director who generally strived for realism, as in his famous use of overlapping dialogue. While its success at the box office to jinxed due to the overwhelming impact of Star Wars, released the same summer, but it gained audience appreciation later due to TV showings and later DVD releases.

This version includes an interview with David Thompson, editor of Altman on Altman, who goes into a deep analysis of the film and its role in Altman’s career. Other bonuses include an archive interview with Shelly Duvall from Cannes, where she shared a Best Actress award with an actress from another film; galleries; archive images; trailer; and an archive booklet with a new essay from the critic David Jenkins and quotes from Altman on Altman.

Ian Schultz

Drama, Arthouse |USA, 1977 | dir.Robert Altman | Arrow Video | Rating: PG | Release Date: 13th July 2015 (UK) | Cast: Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Janice Rule | Buy:3 Women [Blu-ray]