3 Women: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

Since the start of the 1970’s, Robert Altman had been one of the most unique filmmakers that had come out and one of the elder statesmen to a band of younger renegade filmmakers that dominated that decade. He started off the decade with a big hit in M*A*S*H. As the years and the films went along, he took a genre and spun in in a different direction that critically was looked at as something special but financially was not even close to the past success. It wasn’t until the middle of the decade that Altman returned to the studio that made him a success to make a film, that he pitched was “based on a short story”, but in reality was based on a dream Altman had while his wife was in the hospital. A vision appeared, three actresses appeared and with those three actresses came one title, “3 Women”.

Millie (Shelley Duvall) works at a old age spa and life couldn’t be more interesting in the magazines as long as she follows what they say. Things look fairly ordinary until a waif named Pinky (Sissy Spacek) comes into her place of work to be trained by her. Millie doesn’t know a lot about Pinky and Pinky doesn’t know a lot about Millie but Pinky can’t help but follow Millie almost everywhere she goes whether at work or when Millie posts an ad for a roommate at her apartment. Things start to go well with the two, even when Pinky starts borrowing and picking up Millie’s ways and clothes. Along the way they encounter a former double for Hugh O’Brien named Edgar (Robert Fortier) who feels time with the guns and women never ended and his wife, Willie (Janice Rule) is laconic, artistic and has a bun in the oven at the same time. Pinky looks like she’s in desperation mode but there’s something a little more to her and with all the other characters lies a whole other world of desperation.

This viewer has seen a lot of movies in his times, none as unique as “3 Women”. Robert Altman lets the camera roll and lets the actors do what they do best as long as they don’t look like they’re acting. All three of the main women in this film give extraordinary performances whether it’s Shelley Duvall as Millie with the “head on her shoulders” and the end of her dress finding its way outside her car door, Sissy Spacek as Pinky the girl who doesn’t know what she wants to be but does little by little to be Millie, even sharing the first name as her and Janice Rule as Willie showing that even a voice of reason does not have to be said in words.

The ending as well as most of the film is ambiguous and is experimental character based filmmaking at it’s best. Robert Altman delivers his desperation environment with everything the viewer normally isn’t supposed to see through the eyes of the Panavision lens and plays around with the audience at any turn, even with the 20th Century Fox logo which appears without fanfare and fades in to the film at the start.

Even the score by Gerard Busby has a touch of a low-key Bernard Herrmann scored thriller that gives a mood that anything is possible and even the most incoherent can be understood. There is no real meaning and there is no solutions. There is only an artistic vision seen through this film filled with yellows, purples and paintings every once in a while which can be accompanied with some rippled blue water for effect. In short, “3 Women” is a unique character driven experience that only gets better with repeat viewings.

Video: How does it look?

This Blu-ray features a fine-looking 2.35:1 AVC HD transfer and looks, by and large, very clear and clean. The palette used is a bit on the muted side, but this was somewhat commonplace for films of the late 70’s. Don’t expect to see bright, vivid colors jumping off the screen because they simply aren’t there. Detail seems to be cleaned up a bit in comparison to the DVD issue, but all things considered the standard DVD looked so good that it was hard to improve on that transfer.

Audio: How does it sound?

This Blu-ray now features an uncompressed mono track that does sound a bit improved over the previous DVD release. While this will never hold a candle to some of the more modern soundtracks, it’s the best the movie has (and most likely ever will) sounded. Gerard Busby’s score simply resonates through the center channel providing an unsurpassed depth from previous issues. Dialogue, a staple of Altman’s films, sounds rich and crisp. Kudos to Criterion for keeping the bar set so high.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Like the previous standard DVD, this Blu-ray carries over the features found there and we start off with a commentary track with the late Robert Altman. His commentary ranges from this film, other films, future films, and his own take on filmmaking in general as well as what he’s is and is not comfortable with when it comes to his ideas, his attitudes then and his attitudes now and the overall picture he sees in this film. It’s is everything a film fan (and Altman fan) can ask for. He does get redundant at times and not to the point that he did on the “M*A*S*H” track, but it is this comfortable redundancy and his refreshing comments that make this track very entertaining and a great lesson in Altman Film 101: The Man and his Movies. Whether you love or not care for his work, it is a must listen.

The other extras on here are both the teaser and theatrical trailer along with 2 TV Spots and a section of production stills. We also find an essay by film critic David Sterritt.

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