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Robert Altman's "3 Women"
May 20, 2012 7:04 PM   Subscribe

And so I descend once more into the mysterious depths of 3 Women, a film that was imagined in a dream. Robert Altman's 1977 masterpiece tells the story of three women whose identities blur, shift and merge until finally, in an enigmatic last scene, they have formed a family, or perhaps have become one person. I have seen it many times, been through it twice in shot-by-shot analysis, and yet it always seems to be happening as I watch it. - Roger Ebert

In the end, 3 Women emerged as such a seamless weave of image, sound, story, and character that no plot summary can do it justice. Ideally, it should be watched and pondered more than once, since many moviegoers find the film so utterly outside the cinematic frameworks they’re familiar with that they wonder if its tenuous narrative (especially the deliberately indefinite ending) has passed them by, or isn’t really there in the first place.
posted by Trurl (21 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

The 1970s were such a golden age for experimental moviemaking, and also for actors and actresses outside of the norm. Shelly Duvall is such an incredible actress who basically dropped off the public's radar after that decade (though her children's series was terrific), and Spacek, while holding on, should be in as many films as the great actresses of our age.
posted by xingcat at 7:28 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've always been haunted by the artwork, the paintings in the pool.
posted by uraniumwilly at 7:37 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wow, Duvall has really dropped out of site; according to IMDB, she hasn't worked in ten years now.
posted by octothorpe at 7:42 PM on May 20, 2012

I wanted to like that one, but it came across as a made-for-TV 1970's style attempted mindfuck with psychedelic-ish imagery that nowadays looks fantastically dated.
posted by Dmenet at 7:54 PM on May 20, 2012

The 1970s were such a golden age for experimental moviemaking, and also for actors and actresses outside of the norm

Movies in the 70s had "grit". Take a look at something like the lighthearted move The Goodbye Girl. A movie about two broke people who fall in love in which the apartment they live in actually looks like a shithole. Dirt on the doorframes as if the place hadn't been painted in 10 years. Broke people seemed broke in 70s movies.

I've never seen 3 Women, I've never been a huge Altman fan. He used Duvall in Nashville as well. Maybe I should dig in to his films a bit more .
posted by Ad hominem at 7:59 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Any cinephile worth his or her salt knows that 70s cinema was, in many ways, the high water mark for films, and while individual films these days may capture that kind of experimental, earnest, and largely irony-free dramas, they are few and far between. Back in, say, 1975, great films--or at least very good ones--were put out every week. This was when the artistic types moved into positions of power in the studios and would allow movies like 3 Women to be made.
posted by zardoz at 8:26 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Any cinephile worth his or her salt knows that 70s cinema was, in many ways, the high water mark for films

although I believe this, a quick survey of movies I feel are great only one was from the 70s, Klute. Most like Days of Wine and Roses were from the 60s. I'm sure a more expansive search would yield more from the 70s though.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:32 PM on May 20, 2012

This was when the artistic types moved into positions of power in the studios and would allow movies like 3 Women to be made.

No, the same business-minded people were in power in the 70s, it was just a period of time-- due in large part to the counterculture and the popularity of European films, as well as the relatively recent dropping of the Hayes code and the dominance of the Actors' Studio-- that 'name' directors were seen as very marketable, and studio executives considered it a good investment to leave creative decisions largely in the hands of hotshot directors.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:34 PM on May 20, 2012

Robert Altman had a believer in the head of production at 20th Century Fox, Alan Ladd Jr.. He felt that he could indulge Altman's offbeat projects, while the studio's more commercial films like Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope would make up for any financial loss. Peter Biskind, author of "Easy Riders," reports in his book that Altman and Tommy Thompson were driving to the airport, when Altman said, "Let's stop at 20th. I had a dream last night, I want to sell it to Laddie. Keep the engine running, it'll only take a minute." Altman darted into Ladd's office, made a deal for "3 Women," and was back in the car in time to make his flight.
posted by Trurl at 8:40 PM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Paramount also had a hell of a run in the 70s under Bob Evans.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:46 PM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Any cinephile worth his or her salt knows that 70s cinema was, in many ways, the high water mark for films.

To which I must respond with a quote from this post on HTML GIANT:
I once had a conversation with a professional film critic who told me he’d seen every new Hollywood release in the theater in the 1970s. And, at the time, he and his friends thought ’70s cinema horrible; they complained endlessly about how the films weren’t as good as the ones in the ’30s and ’40s.

“But didn’t you see The Conversation?” I asked him. “Little Murders? Two-Lane Blacktop? McCabe & Mrs. Miller? California Split? The Godfather movies? Barry Lyndon? Night Moves? Taxi Driver? Annie Hall? Days of Heaven?”

“Sure,” he answered. “And we thought they were great. And they were surrounded by hundreds of other movies that no one remembers now…”
There are great directors making great movies today (e.g., Fincher, Anderson, Anderson, Cuarón, Coen bros, Tarantino, Haneke, Lynch, Almodóvar, &c.), some of whom make experimental films. Conflating the ideas of great cinema and more experimental, 3-Women-like cinema makes for an improper diagnosis of today's movies' quality, I think. I mean, certainly there are way more sequels and trilogies being made today, and I think a lot of that stuff sucks, but I think our opinions that today's movies don't hold candles to '60s or '70s films just has a lot to do with all the crap that's being released around the good stuff, as the quote says.
posted by skilar at 9:08 PM on May 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Beautiful, powerful, haunting film. I've seen it several times, including once on the big screen (an unfortunately very scratched print). uraniumwilly, I too have been haunted by the pool artwork. It feels like it holds the key to some forgotten archetype or myth animating the events in the film.
posted by treepour at 10:14 PM on May 20, 2012

they complained endlessly about how the films weren’t as good as the ones in the ’30s and ’40s.

I bought into The fact that the high point of American movies was in the 40s for a long time.
Wyler and Ford are undoubtedly geniuses.

Once I started watching stuff like Little Murders, Last Picture Show, Hud, and a million others I realized there are always great movies.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:25 PM on May 20, 2012

What is this, my movie decade can beat up your movie decade?

Really, it's not that the 70s were a high water mark full stop for American film, it's that they were an era of inventiveness and independence, with the decline of the studio system and the end of most self-censorship. There's a gritty reality and humanity in a lot of great 70s movies that isn't present in earlier eras. A lot of new visual ideas, a lot of exploration of mental states, a lot of things getting made and sent to theaters that you can't imagine doing before or since. I don't think it makes the 70s automatically greater than other eras, but it has its own qualities that I appreciate and worry have been lost.

One of my favorite exercises is watching movies that break through an era's limitations. The Misfits, for example, is a arguably fascinating failure of a film, but great because of its cast and how it presents, to my mind, the final crumbling of the illusions of the 1950s. Bonnie and Clyde is a terrific movie, great then and now (although in some quarters it took time to be appreciated) that absolutely puts paid to the conventional American movie. Blade Runner signaled an era of sci-fi-influenced parable-telling with a visual style it created and owned, not to mention a shocking (at the time) dystopian futurism. The thing about the 70s is that there isn't one iconic game-changer like this -- there are many. I could point to They Shoot Horses, Don't They, or The Conversation, or The Godfather, or The French Connection, or even for pity's sake Star Wars, and I'd only have gotten started. I don't think that invalidates the greatness of other movies in any way, but these are movies you'll never forget because they change the way you look at the world. I think there was so much of that in the 70s, and that's what's fantastic about those films.
posted by dhartung at 11:03 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've never been a huge Altman fan.

Ahem ... McCabe & Mrs. Miller
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:42 PM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I keep meaning to watch this movie as an adult. I caught it on late night TV as a teenager and was entranced by the story, but wasn't experienced enough as a movie viewer or thinker (heck,I was a dumb teenager after all!) to full appreciate or understand it.
posted by Calzephyr at 6:30 AM on May 21, 2012

Such a good movie---Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek, two women who can look otherworldly beautiful or incredibly freaky depending on a slight angle shift, arguing about who's the weird one. Also a delightful turn by the washed-up cowboy star. Anyone who loved this movie and hasn't seen Bergman's Persona is highly recommended to check it out---it's similarly trippy yet ambiguous.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:22 AM on May 21, 2012

Available on Netflix streaming. (I know what my evening's entertainment will be.)
posted by Work to Live at 1:11 PM on May 21, 2012

I don't advise watching it through youtube -- the last two parts (13 and 14) are blocked.
posted by JanetLand at 1:47 PM on May 21, 2012

The YouTube version is a Criterion DVDrip, which seems kinda shitty.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:54 PM on May 21, 2012

Yep, got it in my Netflix instant queue. Thanks for cluing Me in about this film.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:32 PM on May 22, 2012

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