Thursday, December 28, 2006

"3 Women": Whoa, man

sorry for the lag, but have been winter-breaking in my hometown of Kansas City. indulging in the usual media saturation that occurs whenever i come home. i have a few very close friends here who (like me) enjoy nothing more than to sit around and watch movies and listen to music all day, with breaks for Mexican food.

as discussed below, Altman's death had set off something in me and it had done the same for my pals, so we planned to do some sort of tribute once i got in town. this took the form of a double feature of "3 Women" (1977) and "The Long Goodbye" (1973), two prime '70s specimens.

this was my third time viewing the latter movie, and though i really love it, it was the former one that really freaked me out. and i mean that pretty literally. as one of my friends put it, it's both totally horrifying and totally mesmerizing.

a lot of Altman's movies are artsy, impressionistic, what have you, but this one is really pretty much a full-blown art film. the look and mood are way more important than the story, though there's just enough narrative to keep you intrigued as to what's going to happen. basically it tells the story of how this mysterious youngish woman, Pinky (Sissy Spacek), comes to work at a sort of health club/spa for old people. she befriends Millie (Shelley Duvall), who has worked there for a while, and becomes her roommate. the movie is basically about the weird symbiotic/dysfunctional relationship between them. (yes, there is a third woman, as the title promises, but she's sort of a minor character in a way.)

if you've seen anything from around this time with Spacek and/or Duvall, you know that they share this sort of weird catatonic presexual vibe--very alien- or robot-like. since they're the main characters here, the entire movie has that vibe and it's immensely creepy. both Spacek and Duvall are basically impossible to read; the characters seem to have only a very tenuous grasp on reality.

Pinky is entirely obsessed with Millie, always staring at her adoringly and saying things like, "You're the most perfect person I ever met," and Millie is entirely obsessed with trival McCall's-ish lifestyle stuff, like giving dinner parties and that sort of thing. the sequence where the two painstakingly plan a dinner party--complete with pigs-in-a-blanket--only to be stood up by their guests is almost unwatchably pathetic.

just as important as the characters are a few weird formal elements: the original music and the murals that Altman uses as a motif throughout the film. Gerald Busby's score--this plodding, angular, dissonant modern-classical thing--isn't really all that odd in and of itself. what's really strange is how it clashes with the setting. i doubt i'll ever forget the opening sequence: Altman scans slowly across a pool where these catatonic-looking young women in bathing suits are leading these equally out-of-it old people through a wading pool at the health club. everything is tinged with blue and the music is just sort of creeping along. right from the start, it sets this alien, vaguely menacing mood.

the murals, credited to some person or entity named Bodhi Wind, totally dominate the film's look. basically they're these cave-painting-like scenes of stylized, expressionistic figures in violent and/or sexual poses. you see the murals in the opening credits and in the movie they're painted by the aforementioned "third woman," the wife of Pinky and Millie's lecherous landlord. they don't really serve a narrative function, but Pinky fixates on them whenever she sees them, which creates a weird sort of tension, since Pinky behaves in such a childlike, asexual way. i don't want to give away too much, but Pinky's behavior changes drastically later in the film and you wonder how much she's been influenced by these images.

there's a bunch of other odd formal stuff, like how you occasionally see the action through these sloshing blue waves that are apparently outside the world of the film. it sounds gimmicky--as does the score, the murals, and a lot of what goes on in "3 Women--but for me, it all totally works, maybe because Altman really seems to just be going for a mood-setting effect rather than trying to convey any sort of message.

there is definitely a narrative climax, which i won't give away, and around this time the film threatens to become overly arty, but fortunately sheer what-the-fuck-ness prevails. after you watch the film, it's like you've received all these disjointed subliminal messages; the overall feel of "3 Women" is just really, really potent--almost more like a piece of music than a movie. it's definitely related to all those good-but-dated arty '60s and '70s movies--like "Rosemary's Baby," "Don't Look Now" and that sort of thing--but i think it's held up way better than anything else that i've seen of that general period and vibe.


in other news, i endured "Dreamgirls," which was just excruciatingly, horrifically bad. it's like this ersatz-Motown musical that's plagued by a non-sequitur-filled narrative, totally unmemorable and overblown original songs, and bafflingly wooden acting. (to single out just two culprits, which is very difficult, i simply do not understand what Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx think they're getting across in these performances.) i was just really shocked by how much of a failure this thing was, and i'm even more shocked by the general critical consensus that it's good, even great. has anyone else seen this damn thing? i feel like i'm going crazy.


been also working through the Fahey Takoma discs in a systematic fashion. if you're ready to check out Fahey beyond the Rhino comp, go here. all the CD reissues have Fahey's original versions, plus the ones he re-recorded (something he insisted on doing every couple of years for his first few releases; as far as i can tell, there are even three versions of his debut record). all the records are good, but Volume 2, "Death Chants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes," and Volume 5, "The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death," are especially beautiful and coherent.


ted said...

3 women is great- coincidence: we watched "Images" last night, which is similar, also good. Chamber Altman is where it's at, man.

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