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HTF REVIEW: 3 Women



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#1 of 17 Herb Kane

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Posted April 14 2004 - 10:10 AM

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3 Women
The Criterion Collection





Studio: Criterion
Year: 1977
Rated: PG
Film Length: 124 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Enhanced Widescreen
Audio: DD Mono
Color/B&W: Color
Languages: English
Subtitles: English
MSRP: $39.95
Package: Keep Case





The Feature:
3 Women is just one of a number of feature films on record as having taken form in a dream. The dreamer was Robert Altman. Responsible for such films as M*A*S*H, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nashville and Gosford Park including a number of other unique motion pictures, the film was actually inspired by a dream the director had. It is a rather unique and sometimes bizarre look at three women which has many similarities to the Bergman film (at least pertaining to switched personalities) a la Persona. 3 Women stars Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek and the late Janice Rule.

Although Robert Altman was nominated for the Golden Palm Award at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival he was not successful, however, Shelley Duvall did win the Best Actress award for her performance. The film is another 20th Century Fox title that has been licensed to Criterion and similar to the recent release of Pickup On South Street, we can expect several other Criterion releases of Fox titles to surface later in the year.

Millie Lammoreaux (played by Shelley Duvall), the most unorthodox of Altman characters, sets the tone with her eerie portrayal of a young Texan scarlet whose nonstop prattle turns life into a trance even as most of the people in her vicinity assiduously ignore her. This girl (as my grandfather would say), “could talk all four legs off an elephant”. She goes on and on, never really having anything of interest to say and those who come face to face with her by chance encounters don’t make eye contact for fear of being lassoed into a conversation of nothing. Through delusions of grandeur, all Millie seems to want to talk about is how exciting her life is, in a fantasy world full of socialites, dinner parties, and gentleman callers. None of which truly exist. Millie is a likeable but socially inept misfit. Whenever she invites anyone over for dinner or drinks, they cancel. Even the way she always slams the car door of her Ford Pinto (which by the way is "French mustard, not American mustard” in color), on the hem of her skirt says so much about her character.

While Millie is required to train a young nursing home assistant where she works, she quickly finds herself idolized by the young childlike trainee. Her personality is worshiped, and then emulated by a strange, certifiably dysfunctional woman named Pinky Rose (played by Sissy Spacek). Eventually, a friendship forms and Millie invites Pinky to move in with her to share the apartment.

The third woman, Willie (played by the late Janice Rule), is a pregnant artist who paints archetypal mythical figure murals on the floors and walls of swimming pools who doesn’t say a word throughout the film (although she offers up some great facial expressions). Willie's husband, Edgar (played by Robert Fortier), a strutting cowboy type who once had a bit part on TV's Wyatt Earp, is just about the only male character of consequence in the film and brings with him a somewhat celebrity status to his placement at the apartment complex where they all reside. The weirdness commences when Millie invites Edgar up for an adulterous fling, causing a dejected Pinky to jump into the motel's swimming pool from a second storey balcony, which leaves her comatose after the accident. After Pinky regains consciousness, we see her eventually take over the character of the woman she idolizes and becomes the dominant of the two. In fact, even her physical appearance begins to transform.

While the film is basically devoid of any traditional narrative devices or major plot setting, it is indeed a wonderful character study focusing on three women who are the epitome of pathetic. The film plunges you into a world of mesmerizing dreamlike symbolisms different from anything you may have seen before. Probably due to the score, the film even has a sinister, almost provocative feel to it. It’s one of those films that’s sure to stay with you long after you initially view it.

It’s also interesting to note that the cinematographer who worked on this film, Charles Rosher Jr. is the son of Chuck Rosher Sr. who shot F.W. Murnau's Sunrise as well as dozens of other popular titles from the 1920’s through to the 1950’s. Also, the actor playing Spacek's elderly dad is John Cromwell (father of James), who was the director responsible for several of the great Film Noir titles such as Dead Reckoning, Caged, The Scavengers, and The Racket.



Video:
Absolutely gorgeous! I’ve said many times, that film from the 70’s seems to be the most difficult in terms of inconsistencies. Criterion has done a great job with 3 Women.

Filmed mostly in Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs, California (in the middle of the desert), many of these outdoor shots look breathtaking. There is a definite sense of dimensionality to a number of these shots which look very film-like.

Colors are vibrant and nicely saturated and skin tones always looked natural and real. Blacks were as dark as imaginable and contrasted nicely were whites, always looking stark and clean. Many of scenes had a somewhat yellowish tint to them, no doubt extending the symbolism (a preference of Millie’s) by the director. Some of the indoor shots are on the dark side, but undoubtedly has nothing to do with the transfer process.

The majority of the film had a slightly soft look to it with many instances of a very sharp and defined image. There was only a hint of very fine film grain which was appropriate. The print looked absolutely spotless of any debris, dust or dirt and not a scratch could be found. There were no instances of light shimmer and the image always looked stable. There was no indication of any compression errors or artifacting.

I don’t know what, if any, work was done with the included trailers, but if the original elements are similar to what was presented with the trailers is any indication of what restoration work was done, the difference is revelatory. Such restoration work might account for the higher price point of the MSRP.

A most impressive job…!



Audio:
The soundtrack is the original DD Monaural track which does an admirable job of getting done what needs to be done.

The track sounded clean and virtually free of any noise or popping – a very slight hiss was noticeable at times but was never bothersome. Everything sounded very natural. No problem here.

The movie is basically dialogue driven and that’s what stuck out during this film. The dialogue was not only clear and always intelligible but was downright bold and forthcoming. There are a number of scenes which take place at a firing range, and the results were rather mediocre as the track is rather thin and limited in terms of dynamics.

I’m sure I’ll be the dissenting voice of opinion, I really didn’t care for the score that was chosen to accompany this film. Not only did I find it incapable of eliciting the appropriate mood of the film, at times I found it to be harsh sounding – to be clear, the chosen music, not the presentation. I would have much preferred something more somber or serene. Oh well… The flute score that was used is delivered capably.

All in all, a very nice job.



Special Features:
There are a few special features included on this disc starting with:
[*] A Commentary which features Robert Altman. This is a solid piece which starts by documenting how the dream concept was incorporated into a film. Mr. Altman describes the film as an “organic film” and spends a great deal of time discussing the thematic and artistic values of this film (and other films) all the while describing how his films differ from those of other filmmakers mostly by way of a visual medium rather than literature. This is a very good commentary that will appeal to those who appreciate discussion on the style of movies rather than the usual emphasis of how movies are made.
[*] Stills Gallery. There are literally dozens of still photographs included, many of which have been supplied by Robert Altman himself, including the one used for the DVD cover art.
[*] The first trailer is a Theatrical Teaser Trailer. Duration: 1:28 minutes
[*] The next is a Theatrical Trailer which clocks in at a very loooong 3:14 minutes.
[*] TV Spot 1 These are TV trailers which show several brief clips of the film. Duration: 32 seconds.
[*] TV Spot 2 which is a slightly different trailer which focuses on the three women. Duration: 32 seconds. Both TV trailers are in decent shape.
[*] Finally there is a 3 page Insert, an essay written by David Sterritt who is a film critic and professor of film at Long Island University who offers some of his own thoughts on the film.



Final Thoughts:
What this film lacks in plot is made up for in spades with a character study that encapsulates the three women in this film. I’m sure there might be some that exist, but I can’t think of a single film that defines pathos and how it relates to the women more than this film. While the movie has many humorous moments, the mood of the film quickly changes to a somewhat somber feeling and one that Carl Jung would have had a field day with had he been alive to see it.

Criterion has done a wonderful job with this disc, offering up a few worthwhile special features and a presentation that’s sure to leave fans of this film extremely pleased. This film might not necessarily appeal to the masses, but I give the disc a solid recommendation for fans who are familiar with it.




Release Date: April 20th, 2004
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 17 Jeff_HR

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Posted April 14 2004 - 10:14 AM

I'll be buying this at some point in time as I'm a Sissy Spacek FANATIC! Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Nice review.
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#3 of 17 Paul_Scott

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Posted April 14 2004 - 10:20 AM

thanks Herb!

i was not even conscious of this film before a few months ago, and only found out about it after hearing Criterion was going to release it.
all the praise from its fans, as well as its supposed 'dream-like' qualities have really piqued my interest though, and i have this pre-ordered.
and i'm always happy to see deeper, more quirky catalog titles from the 70s get a release.


i'm looking forward to seeing this for the first time.

#4 of 17 Justin_S

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Posted April 14 2004 - 12:48 PM

This is an excellent film, and I'm very happy that Criterion is doing the DVD for it. Nice review. Can't wait to pick this up!

#5 of 17 Arnie G

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Posted April 14 2004 - 02:02 PM

This is one of my most favorite movies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can finally retire my vhs taped copy.Posted Image
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#6 of 17 Jon Robertson

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Posted April 14 2004 - 06:11 PM

Nice review, Herb. I'm very keen on this. Are you going to be doing any more Criterion reviews from now on?

#7 of 17 Herb Kane

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Posted April 15 2004 - 07:27 AM

Thanks Jon... Yes, we just made the Criterion list so hopefully this is just the first of many others to come.


Herb.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#8 of 17 Gordon McMurphy

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Posted April 15 2004 - 09:36 AM

Great review, Herb - quality, as ever! Posted Image

I have been an Altman fan for a long time, but I have never seen 3 Women (was it ever released on VHS in the UK? Not in letterbox anyway) so I am greatly looking forward to finally seeing - and it's a Criterion edition! I would never have thought that would have happened. Sounds like a great package.

Thanks, Herb, much appreciated! Posted Image


#9 of 17 Scott Calvert

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Posted April 15 2004 - 12:22 PM

This is the first home video release of this film on any format. Saw it a few years ago on TMC, I think. Great film.

Just preordered this along with Floating Weeds.

#10 of 17 Claude North

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Posted April 15 2004 - 05:07 PM

Great review of a great film.

I cannot wait to get my copy. This has been my personal "most wanted" DVD release ever since I bought my player. Naturally, I am thrilled that Criterion is releasing it.

#11 of 17 Brian PB

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Posted April 15 2004 - 07:26 PM

I hope this excellent review represents a trend--that HTF will begin regular reviews of Criterion releases. I am a big fan of Altman, but I've yet to see this film. Based on what I'd read, I pre-ordered a copy, and I'm anxiously awaiting its arrival.

Nice work, Herb.


#12 of 17 Joe Cortez

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Posted April 17 2004 - 06:20 PM

Great review. I didn't even know this flick was going to get a release in the first place, and the fact that it's a Criterion disc just sweetens the deal. It'll be great to finally see this flick in all it's widescreen glory!

#13 of 17 Jarod M

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Posted April 18 2004 - 03:00 AM

Since I don't have the release yet, I do not know what Criterion has to say about the restoration of the image. But I do know that I saw this film 3 years ago at Roger Ebert's Overlooked film festival, and the print that I saw was in great condition (probably a freshly struck print), with bold colors and a newness at odds with the age of the film. Actually, only half the film looked this way. There was a mistake in the shipment of the reels to the festival, and the first half of the film was INCREDIBLY faded and moth bitten--those reels must have been a good 20 years old, if not going back to the film's original release. Then about halfway through a reel change occurred, and a collective gasp from the audience was audible. By the way, anyone who enjoys the work of David Lynch will probably like this film, as it seems likely that Lynch took some inspiration from 3 Women in some of his later works.

#14 of 17 Marc Colella

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Posted April 30 2004 - 02:26 AM

Had this on pre-order the moment it was available on
Amazon.ca - and I gave it a spin last night.

A great work from a great director.

The theme of identity between these women really reminds me of Bergman's Persona. I have to believe it influenced Altman to some degree in making 3 Women.

Criterion's done a nice job on the transfer. The washed-out and soft look is definitely intentional, as it fits the feel of the film.

It's a shame Criterion didn't get Spacek and/or Duvall involved in the DVD. Not sure if they were approached or not.

After owning over 200 DVDs, I've finally found a DVD that has an interesting Stills Gallery. Every single shot in the gallery is gorgeous. I liked them so much, I've made many screen-captures with my DVD-ROM drive and am using them as my Windows background. Beautiful stuff.

#15 of 17 Michael Reuben

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Posted May 16 2004 - 02:47 AM

Twenty-seven years after its release, this film remains as inscrutable as when I first saw it, but it's lost none of its fascination. Comparisons to Lynch are appropriate, but the film I was most reminded of on this viewing was The Shining, and not just because both films feature Shelley Duvall. Like Kubrick, Altman manages the neat trick of creating tension and suspense even while nothing much appears to be happening; but Altman does it without the overt ghost story, and you keep watching even though you're not quite sure why. It's easy to forget, from his later work, what a bold visual stylist Altman could be. Criterion's beautiful disc lets you immerse yourself in the images and be pulled into them, and that's what the experience of this film should be.

M.
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#16 of 17 Mark_vdH

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Posted May 16 2004 - 02:56 AM

I bought this one blindly, but haven't watched it yet - I'm a bit worried that it will be hard to watch when you're not totally in for it....
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#17 of 17 Michael Reuben

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Posted May 16 2004 - 03:02 AM

I was feeling particularly old this morning. Posted Image

Actually I first wrote "Nearly thirty", then decided to change it to "Twenty-seven" and obviously got distracted while making the revision. Duh!

Quote:
I'm a bit worried that it will be hard to watch when you're not totally in for it....

Well, you certainly need to pick a time when you can give it your full attention, but when you do, it draws you right in.

M.
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