Blu-Ray Review: 3 Women

Director: Robert Altman
Screenplay: Robert Altman, Patricia Resnick (uncredited)
Starring: Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Janice Rule, Robert Fortier
Country: USA
Running Time: 124 min
Year: 1977
BBFC Certificate: PG


1977’s 3 Women came at the end of Robert Altman’s ‘golden age’ in the 70’s. Prior to that he’d found success with the surprise hit M*A*S*H* at the start of the decade and followed it up with classics like McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye and Nashville. There were a few curiosities in between, such as Buffalo Bill and the Indians, but largely he could do no wrong. 3 Women was divisive (usual Altman champion Pauline Kael wasn’t a fan), but it still won a fair few awards (mainly for the performances) and had its followers. After that, he began a decline into his ‘troubled’ 80’s period when he fell totally out of favour before coming back with a few masterpieces in the 90’s (alongside some more clunkers).

I wouldn’t necessarily say that the production or reception of 3 Women caused his decline, but it’s a very unusual film, even by Altman’s standards. Perhaps it shows him getting frustrated and trying to do something completely new. His previous films had notable differences, but most of them had an ‘Altmanesque’ style and feel, with anarchic overlapping dialogue, often quite large casts and a need to subvert film genres or American ideals. There are hints of some of these characteristics in 3 Women, but it feels more like an art film from a European director. Supposedly Altman was influenced by Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and there are certainly similarities in style as well as content.

3 Women opens with Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek) starting a new job in a rehabilitation spa in California. Millie (Shelley Duvall) is asked to show her the ropes and you see Pinky quickly develop an obsessive admiration or possibly desire for the woman. Millie is lonely and deluded. She acts like she’s living the perfect existence of a modern woman with her designed apartment and her regular dates and dinner parties that never actually happen.

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Movie Club Podcast #30: POPEYE and PUNCH DRUNK LOVE

The Movie Club and Row Three want to serve up a great big hug and a kiss for Valentine’s Day with two rather unconventional love stories. The first is Robert Altman’s uniquely weird live-action adaptation of Popeye cartoons. The second, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love, is a deconstruction of the Adam Sandler man-child character amongst many other things. Kurt Halfyard is joined by a number of Rowthree regulars Jim Laczkowski (who also runs The Director’s Club Podcast, Bob Turnbull (who is also caretaker for Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind), as well as the Mamo! Podcasts’s Matthew Price to discuss these two films at length. Andrew James produced and edited the episode. Join us if you like, it beats flowers and candy.

The streaming conversation as well as the downloadable audio podcast can be found at:

The Movie Club Site

 

 
 
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Blu-Ray Review: Nashville

Director: Robert Altman
Screenplay: Joan Tewkesbury
Starring: Michael Murphy, Keith Carradine, Ronee Blakley, Ned Beatty, Geraldine Chaplin, Shelley Duvall, Henry Gibson, Scott Glenn, Jeff Goldblum, Barbara Harris, Karen Black
Producer: Robert Altman
Country: USA
Running Time: 160 min
Year: 1975
BBFC Certificate: 15


In 1970, M*A*S*H finally got Robert Altman noticed after two decades of mainly director-for-hire TV work. The film was a smash hit and due to the sudden emergence of young talent leading Hollywood in a more exciting and director-led direction, the 45 year old could finally begin to make the kind of films he always wanted to. Over the next 5 years Altman made another 6 films including classics such as McCabe & Mrs. Miller and The Long Goodbye before putting together the character-loaded epic Nashville. It’s one of his most well respected films, winning great critical acclaim and making fairly decent money for the time. For some reason however, Nashville has never been released in the UK on home video – VHS, DVD or otherwise. Thank God for the ever wonderful Masters of Cinema Collection from Eureka then, as they’ve brought British audiences the film in a dual format DVD & Blu-Ray edition.

Nashville is possibly the quintessential Robert Altman film, demonstrating the styles and techniques he is most famous for all in one huge package. Running at 160 minutes, the film follows a vast number of characters (24 key players) over several days in America’s music capital of the era, Nashville, Tennessee. There isn’t one core narrative as such, just a number of small stories to be told as the cast cross paths along the way. At the centre though is the political campaign of Hal Phillip Walker. We don’t meet the man himself (other than in a wide shot towards the end), but his campaign manager John Triplette (Michael Murphy) is getting to know the members of the local music scene so that he can bring them together to put on a big show as part of the election campaign.

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Finite Focus: The Pool Party in Boogie Nights

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Whether you want to call it homage or straight up borrowing, P.T. Anderson’s great Boogie Nights certainly shows off its influences. Altman and Scorsese figure prominently, but another inspiration is Mikhail Kalatozov and his film I Am Cuba (which also happens to be a big Scorsese favourite too). Aside from being drop-dead gorgeous and a remarkably poetic piece of propaganda, I Am Cuba is known for several incredible long takes that, as it celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, will still take your breath away. One of them starts 2 minutes into the film as a camera roams through a decadent hotel party and bathing beauty contest, moves down several stories, through a crowd of people and into the water of a pool to capture the swimmers under the surface. Anderson states in his commentary on Boogie Nights that they not only wanted to try the same thing, but have the camera come out of the water too.

It’s a showy scene for sure, but it also ties together numerous threads and characters from the story and emphasizes how these lost souls are all together in this porn “family” – whether as complete avoidance of the real world or as a temporary waystation. We see Buck Swope’s (Don Cheadle) search for an identity continue as well as Maurice TT Rodriguez’s (Luis Guzman) pleading to Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) to be included in one of their films. Midway through the scene, Buck and Maurice go inside the house together as the camera picks up another character, but we reconvene with them a few minutes later in another scene that closes on Amber’s newly discovered fascination with Eddie Adams.

My favourite part of the party scene, though, is the last part of the clip above and comes right after the first cut that follows the long take into the pool. Eddie (who hasn’t yet become full blown pornstar Dirk Diggler) is asking his new buddy Reed Rothchild if his just completed pike dive into the pool looked awesome. Reed is looking to play a mentor role for the young lad and decides to reign in his confidence a bit. “I’ll show you what you did wrong.” Reed lines up a full flip, but only manages about 75% of it and lands flat on his back. As Eric Burdon and his sexy sounding female vocalist continue to pulse on the soundtrack, there’s a great edit underwater to Reed’s pained expression as he slowly floats to the surface with his back arched. It’s one of the funnier moments in a film teeming with them (as much as it’s also terribly dark at times), but it serves a purpose too – once Reed pops above the surface and Eddie says “You gotta brings your legs all the way around!”, that mentoring relationship has ended. Reed’s final “I know…I know..” comment is a realization and acceptance that he’ll be playing the supporting role to the star that Eddie will become.

Once we see Amber hoover a line of coke and then gaze intently at Eddie landing a full flip properly (in slow motion of course), we are fully prepped to dive headlong into the downward spirals that lie ahead.

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Cinecast Episode 253 – It’s not Trash. It’s Garbage.

Many of you know him as “Goon”, but illustrator/web designer/movie nerd, Corey Pierce of the Critical Mass Cast has parachuted into the Cinecast floating ever so gently down on the buoyancy of his love for Mirror Mirror and making the show one of epic length, even by Cinecast standards; we do not quite break the Cinecast record but we do come dangerously close. After a signature tangent on whether or not it is appropriate to applaud or boo after (or during) a film and comparing The Raid to both porn and “The Family Guy,” we tackle the glossy and relentless Indonesian action film in the context of how a movie can set its own terms, and either fail, succeed on those terms, or transcend them. Where does The Raid fall? You’ll have to listen.

We then move on to listener submitted home work and the glory (or lack thereof) of trash cinema. Going through the various assigned work reveals both enlightening and pandering to the ‘teachers,’ which underscores that our listeners do indeed take these homework assignments seriously. Bravo to you folks. The Watchlist rounds out the show and features a lengthy discussion of the Bully documentary, Eddie Murphy and racial/sexual epithets, JFK Conspiracy Books, American Presidents – right back to the founding fathers – fosters a wacky and over-simplified discussion of politics (Is there any other kind??!!) on both sides of the Canada/USA divide, studio Ghibli, giant gorillas and one-armed drummers. Yeah, the thing is over four hours. Enjoy…or endure! (Bend like a sapling in the wind, lest one break!)

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


 
 

 

To download the show directly, paste the following URL into your favorite downloader:
http://rowthree.com/audio/cinecast_12/episode_253.mp3

 
 
Full show notes are under the seats…
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Cinecast Episode 247 – That’s Just The Kind of Pretentious Twaddle I like!

Here we are a week before Oscars and there is so little to talk about on that front other than that there is so little to talk about. Gamble gives a run-down on the Best Animated Shorts which are always worth a look. Kurt gives a sparkling review of the latest Studio Ghibli animated feature; a Japanese spin on the classic British children’s novel The Borrowers. Re-titled The Secret World of Arrietty, the film is surprisingly adult in tone and theme and worth looking at on the big screen. We spend a tangent-driven span of time grading the homework assignments (criminal clowns) before diving into The Watch List: Wil Wheaton, Elliot Gould, Alain Delon, Brian DePalma, Michelangelo Antonioni, Billy Bob Thorton and Anna Faris! Andrew goes to town on smashing Tiny Furniture. Matt goes to town on pummeling the seven-year-delayed Margaret (and in the pejorative sense thinks Kurt and Rot will love it).

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


 
 

 

To download the show directly, paste the following URL into your favorite downloader:
http://rowthree.com/audio/cinecast_12/episode_247.mp3

 
 
Full show notes are under the seats…
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Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: The Long Goodbye (1973)

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Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye was not on my original watch list for this marathon for a couple of reasons – I’d already seen it years ago in a college film criticism class, I already had a bunch of Altman films on the list and I wanted to diversify a little bit, and I didn’t particularly like it the first time around and wasn’t sure I wanted to revisit it, even though I suspected I would appreciate it a lot more if I did. But after I named Altman my favorite director of the marathon so far, Rot and David both recommended I give this film another look, and then it happened to be playing at a local rep cinema, and I figured it was a sign that it was time to rewatch Altman’s nearly revisionist version of Raymond Chandler’s 1940s crime novel. And I’m so glad I did.

I wrote recently about how much I love The Big Sleep, and I think my original distaste for The Long Goodbye was merely an inability to envision any other version of Philip Marlowe than Bogart’s, or any other take on Chandler than a straight-up noir detective film. But the brilliance of The Long Goodbye is precisely in how it takes the Marlowe character and the detective story and drops it into the extremely different milieu of 1970s Los Angeles, turning it into an ironic, knowing version of the very cinema that took Chandler straight in the 1940s.

Elliott Gould’s Philip Marlowe is a mumbling, ambling fellow who’s smarter than most everyone around him, but aloof enough not to bother pointing it out, except barely under his breath in a kind of on-going ironic mutter that feels more like an interior monologue than actual speech. He’s bemused at the spacey yoga-practicing girls in the apartment across the way, has little use for the police, and spends a great deal of time trying to please his cat. The cat is something of a substitute for human engagement; his general response to any human interaction is “it’s okay with me,” a detached statement of passive affability and implicit refusal to get personally involved.

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Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: Nashville (1975)

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So far, Robert Altman is winning the award for my favorite filmmaker of this marathon – I almost want to say favorite discovery, which sounds weird when talking about someone of Altman’s reputation and stature, but it is true that I hadn’t seen any of his pre-90s films until now. And of all the films so far in this marathon that I hadn’t seen before, Altman’s have been consistently my favorites – Nashville only confirms and expands that.

Nashville is one of Altman’s most renowned films, and often cited for its use of a vast interlocking ensemble cast (something of an Altman trademark), yet even with that reputation in my head when I sat down to watch it, Nashville still managed to exceed my expectations. The setting is the lead-up to a political rally for the fictitious Replacement Party in Nashville, the country music capital of the world. Meanwhile, various musicians and singers weave in and out of recording studios, live shows, traffic jams, parties, personal breakdowns, career disappointments, and affairs.

The balance that Altman and screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury find among all the different characters, giving each enough time and back story to make us feel we know them, yet never letting any single character become more central than any other, is nothing short of astounding. By using an extremely simple overall plot (three days of vignettes loosely tied together by the recurring political campaigning, though even that isn’t as central as I expected it to be) and letting the story flow from the characters, Nashville manages to avoid the pitfalls that many ensemble films fall into – especially that of an overly complicated plot preventing us from feeling connected to the multitude of characters.

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Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: Short Takes Vol. 1

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Clearly I’m getting behind on the New Hollywood marathon; I’ve actually been watching a good bit, but not finding the right things to say to write about them. So I’m just going to lump together some short thoughts on the films that didn’t inspire me to write a whole post about, or films that others reviewed or are planning to review.

The Graduate

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This is one of the few films on this marathon’s master list that I’ve seen before, but I wanted to rewatch it because I was pretty sure I had missed something the first time around. That first time, I was just barely eighteen and was sure that college would sort out any remaining lack of certainty I had about my future career and life. Four years later, it hadn’t, and I found myself, like Benjamin Braddock, unsure what to do after graduation and drifting a bit, trying to find something to latch onto. I think when I first saw it, I had difficulty understanding Benjamin’s indecision and willingness to just float along after graduating, basically falling into an affair with Mrs. Robinson (the wife of his father’s business partner) because he didn’t have much else better to do. This time, it all worked and fit together much better for me.

The inclusion of Simon and Garfunkel songs was perfect, and made me think about how influential The Graduate, with its detached main character, soundtrack, and mood, has been on films since – especially Indiewood quirky coming-of-age stories. Half of R3 will strangle me for saying this, but there seems a strong connection to Garden State (though even I would agree that The Graduate is a stronger film). My only beef is that the Berkeley sequence, when Benjamin goes to try to win Elaine, loses some interest and waffles a bit too much. On the other hand, the very last shot that’s often berated (by some) is exactly right.

M*A*S*H and McCabe and Mrs. Miller after the jump.

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Easy Riders… : McCabe & Mrs. Miller

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McCabe & Mrs. Miller is a film that didn’t grab me straight away – it’s muddy soundtrack (Altman was working ahead of the recording technology available at the time) and lack of obvious narrative took a bit of getting used to. Maybe it had been too long since I’d watched an Altman film though as once I settled into it and afterward let myself digest what I’d experienced the film more than grew on me. There are no bold stylistic flourishes (visually at least) and no gripping storyline, but it’s a film that you soak up and live in for two hours. The film’s setting, the town of Presbyterian Church, was constructed from scratch for the film (up in Canada), with period detail adhered to as often as possible, down to substituting nails for wooden pegs (according to a vintage documentary on my DVD). This, added to Altman’s trademark overlapping, largely improvised dialogue create a world within the picture that truly feels like a living, breathing place and it’s a place you don’t want to leave when the film reaches it’s bleak finale.

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Hidden Treasures – Week of June 8th

Welcome to the latest installment of Hidden Treasures. By the way, there’s still room for one more movie in this month’s guest Hidden Treasures. For more information on how to submit your favorite film, click here

Gunga Din (1939)
When director George Stevens first read the script for Gunga Din, he was shocked to learn that the majority of the movie, which centered on a famous 19th century battle in British India, was slated to be shot indoors. Relying on his instincts, Stevens went before the bosses at RKO and said “I need a half million dollars to take this story outside”. The studio agreed, and Stevens brought in some additional writers to make the necessary script adjustments. It proved to be a stroke of genius. With action and excitement at every turn, there wasn’t a soundstage in Hollywood that could have possibly contained Gunga Din. Sgts. Cutter (Cary Grant), MacChesney (Victor McLaglen) and Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) are loyal British soldiers stationed in India. All three are willing to do whatever it takes to defend Queen and Country…as long as they can have some fun while doing so. When Ballantine announces that he’s leaving the service to marry Ms. Emaline Stebens (Joan Fontaine), his two comrades convince him to sign up for one last adventure before packing it in. So, it’s off to Tantrupar, where a Hindu cult known as the Thuggees are planning an uprising against the colonial British army. Gunga Din’s action scenes, as staged by director Stevens, are spectacular. In one early battle, the three sergeants, heavily outnumbered, take on the opposing forces single-handedly. They start out with some hand-to-hand combat before moving to the rooftops, where they exchange gunfire with the enemy army below. While on this roof, the three discover a cache of dynamite, and before long, they’re tossing it into the enemy ranks, taking out large pockets of the opposing army while blowing up half the town in the process. Once they’ve done all they can do, Cutter, McChesney and Ballantine make their escape by jumping off a huge cliff, landing in the river below. Effective as an action film, a buddy movie, and a humorous look at army life, Gunga Din is still, almost 70 years later, an extremely entertaining film.

Russian Ark (2002)
Every so often, a film comes along that, by way of its startling boldness and courageous technique, demands recognition. Russian Ark is just such a film. There is not a single cut, fade or dissolve in this entire movie, not a single editor’s splice to be found anywhere. Shot on location at the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, it is, at 90 minutes, one of the longest uninterrupted shots in cinematic history. We follow the film’s narrator (represented by the camera in a continuous point-of-view perspective) as he navigates the halls of the Hermitage, mystically traveling through time as he does so. Functioning as our guide to this wonderful retelling of Russian history, which covers the events of yesteryear ranging from the reign of 18th century ruler, Peter the Great (Maxim Sergeyev) right up to World War II, the narrator eventually crosses paths with a French aristocrat from the 19th Century (Sergei Dontsov), known only as the Marquis de Custine, who also seems to be traveling through time. A scathing critic of Russian art and history, the Marquis joins the narrator on this journey of discovery, stopping every so often to admire the beautiful artwork that adorns the walls of the Hermitage. Russian Ark contains scenes of both sweeping grandeur (such as the ballroom dance, which features no less than three performing orchestras) and quiet simplicity (in one marvelous sequence, we follow Anastasia, the daughter of Nicholas II, as she playfully runs through the hallway with several ethereal friends). I was left completely overwhelmed by the experience of watching Russian Ark. I bathed in its artistic beauty, was enraptured by its grand scope, and basked in the glow of a bright and courageous filmmaker, one who pulled off an amazing feat of creation. The cinematic accomplishments of Russian Ark are enough in and of themselves to assure the movie a place in the annals of film history. The fact that it is a work of art as well makes its existence an absolute miracle.

Short Cuts (1993)
If you gave Robert Altman a huge cast, he could perform miracles. He did so many times throughout his career, with films such as Nashville, The Player, and even Gosford Park. Well, after watching his 1993 film, Short Cuts, I can safely say that the great director had done it again. No synopsis of Short Cuts could possibly be complete, seeing as the film details the lives of 22 Los Angeles residents, all of whose paths cross, one way or another, over the course of a few days. The main thrust of the story begins with a traffic accident, in which Doreen (Lily Tomin), a waitress, accidentally hits young Casey Finnegan (Lane Cassidy) with her car. Shortly afterwards, the boy falls into a coma, and his parents, Ann and Howard (Andie MacDowell and Bruce Davison), who had been busy planning Casey’s birthday party, find themselves wondering if their son will even live to see his eighth birthday. Events are further complicated when Howard’s estranged father, Paul (Jack Lemmon), shows up unexpectedly at the hospital, hoping to explain to his son why he and Howard’s mother divorced many years earlier. But this is only scratching the surface. There’s so much more to this film: more drama, more emotion, and many, many more stars. There’s Dr. Ralph Wyman (Matthew Modine), the physician who treats young Casey shortly after his accident, and whose wife, Marian (Julianne Moore), is an artist. At a neighborhood playhouse, the doctor and his wife meet Stuart Kane (Fred Ward), an unemployed salesman, and his wife, Claire (Anne Archer), who works as a clown for children’s parties. There’s Jerry Kaiser (Chris Penn), who cleans pools for a living, and his wife Lois (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who works as a phone sex operator, getting guys off as she changes the baby’s diaper or sets the dinner table. Arrogant policeman Gene (Tim Robbins) is cheating on his wife Sherri (Madeleine Stowe) with Betty (Frances McDormand) whose ex-husband Stormy (Peter Gallagher) is trying to win her back. Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? Not to worry. This is Robert Altman, the best in the business when it comes to juggling jam-packed stories. In his typical fashion, the director leaves no stone unturned, and no matter how many twists Short Cuts ultimately took, Altman ensured that no character was left behind.