UPDATE: In an unfortunate turn of events, 3 Women will NOT be screening on June 13. The HFA will instead be holding a screening of Altman’s 1970 film M*A*S*H. Which is a great movie too, but it’s still a bummer. Dan Shea’s original piece from Compass #65 on 3 Women follows. —ed.
A lesser-known film in the Altman canon, 3 Women is perhaps the strangest film that Robert Altman ever made. The legendary director is known for many things, but the making of somewhat hallucinogenic, waking-dream character studies is not one usually mentioned. Despite this, his 3 Women exists, and it is an intoxicating experience to be had.
Here Altman cast two of the most atypically beautiful and just plain amazing actresses of all time opposite each other. That’s Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall (an Altman regular) if you’re new here. Even if this film had been straight and mundane (an impossibility for a ’70s Robert Altman film to be sure), we would have had this legendary female pairing to draw us to the film. Actually, I’m not sure it’s possible for a film with both of these actresses in it to ever be mundane; each woman being capable (at the time, anyway) of projecting their weird inner radiance upon everything around them.
Duvall is Millie. Spacek is Pinky. They work together out in the desert at a rehabilitation center, eventually becoming roommates. And then the women’s personalities begin to wander off into some kind of Lynchian dream reality. The film’s stunning, unsettling, and regularly encountered murals somehow elicit a sense of wonder and of dread all at once. In the film the murals are painted by Willie (the third woman), while in real life an artist named Bodhi Wind brought the costarring murals to life. The film’s score further reinforces the strange vibrations set into motion by Altman, Spacek, and Duvall in this film. And it is these strange vibrations that may take hold of you if you choose to watch Robert Altman’s dream vision play out across the haunted desert.
dir. Robert Altman
Part of the ongoing series: The Complete Robert Altman