3 Women ★★★½

Social observer
Of a catatonic triptych
Made of shifting panels.
Dozen shades of yellow
But they're all the same color.

Could repeat pretty much verbatim what Mike D’Angelo said about Upstream Color in his first go-around in terms of my reaction to this, which is recognizing the commitment to the idea with a precision to each element of the filmic reality, but the ends totally outside me (of course, Mike's own piece on this says to avoid such foolish interpretation,). But unlike my own ambivalent response to Upstream, the connections and metaphors of the imagery feel organically connected and all expressing toward a larger goal that’s highly complex and original. The hints of sociopath tendencies in both women keep this from a simple reduction to archetypes – Spacek’s doe-eyed clearness has a naivety but always hints of something more menacing happening underneath, while Duvall’s own self-imposed aloofness and schizophrenic behavior makes her just as frightening and imbalanced. These minor oscillations in character, much like the wandering minds in The Long Goodbye, encumber the film from heading toward an easy trajectory, with the unbalanced tone keeps us on our edge while feeling highly hypnotic.

Altman’s choice style has always been the moving zoom and constant dissolving of image, so here each shot change in focus searches out new information in the background of images, forcing it onto us to displace a simple reading of what any scene is “about.” Thus, we’re never quite concrete with what is the structured reality of the drama (as opposed to the literalness I found in Upstream). Plus, the film sets up three very distinct ecosystems: the geriatric center, the bar/OK Corral/dirt bike range, and the apartment complex and pool, which one could make a case for as three stages of life (with Spacek’s emergence from the pool eventually leading to her “birth” into maturity, now sexually alive and a malicious woman). A second viewing is surely required to piece together its various elements (mainly figure out what those paintings are all about) and to see how much the second half’s series of more didactic scenes are cohesive with the film’s more moody and wandering first half (in the same way a very similar film - Mulholland Dr - is able to piece together). I’ll probably do some readings before that –not so I can “explain” the plot, but more get an idea of the thematic ideas being worked out here.

Some reading recommendations on a preliminary find that I’ve skimmed through but haven’t really dived into:

-Krin Gabbard is part of the seminar I help run and we’ve talked movies quite a few times. He wrote a chapter on it with his brother Glen in Psychiatry and the Cinema.

I’ve always considered Robert Koler’s A Cinema of Loneliness (link is to 4th edition, but I prefer the 2nd) pretty much the pinnacle study of 70s Hollywood auteurs, and used his sections on The Long Goodbye quite frequently in my thesis, so I’m sure he has plenty to say on the film.

Speaking of that thesis, my advisor David Sterritt wrote the Criterion essay, which provides a good background. And in that essay recommends both Kolker as well as the chapter in Robert T. Self’s Robert Altman’s Subliminal Reality.