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  IMAGES

I find this REPULSION-esque Robert Altman ppsychodrama pretty silly overall, yet it does have a haunting and intriguing aura. Just donít expect too much.

The Package
     IMAGES (1972) is notable as the only true horror movie directed by the late Robert Altman (although he approached the genre in THAT COLD DAY IN THE PARK, 3 WOMEN and THE GINGERBREAD MAN). Filmed on location in Ireland, it was apparently the third time Altman had tried to film the material (following failed attempts in Vancouver and Milan).
     Sandwiched between McCABE AND MRS. MILLER and THE LONG GOODBYE, two of Altmanís most revered efforts, IMAGES was not a financial success, and remains one of his least-seen films: it was never released on VHS, and rumors persist that the original negative was burned. IMAGES did, however, net a Best Actress award at Cannes for its leading lady, the acclaimed British actress Susanna York (best known on these shores as Supermanís ma).

The Story
     Cathryn is an attractive but hopelessly schizophrenic woman living with her husband Hugh...or so it seems. Things are clearly not as they might appear, as becomes evident when Cathryn chats with Hugh one night and he suddenly transforms into someone else--and then back to himself. This terrifies her, and she flashes back (or possibly forward) to a trip the two took to a scenic Irish cottage.
     At the cottage Cathrynís psyche splits, experiencing reality from two separate vantage points. In one she meets the ghost of Rene, a long-dead lover who taunts her repeatedly, while in the other she finds herself adrift in the woods surrounding the cottage, constantly on the run and terrified for some reason by a benign-looking dog.
     The cottage-bound Cathryn finds the ghostly intrusions unbearable, and is further irritated by the flesh-and-blood presence of another former flame: Marcel, a beefy guy with a little girl who closely resembles Cathryn. Marcel canít keep his hands off her, and Cathryn for her part doesnít seem all that put off by his advances. But Rene continues his taunts, and a fed-up Cathryn takes him out with a shotgun. Luckily he isnít real.
     Not so lucky is Hugh, who Cathryn stabs to death, believing that he too is a hallucination--and indeed maybe he is. By this point sheís totally lost contact with anything resembling reality, and further inflames her insanity by running down her second self with a car, knocking the body over a waterfall. But did she really do so? Who the hell knows?

The Direction
     In an interview contained on the IMAGES DVD Robert Altman inveighs against derivative filmmaking, yet the primary factor that makes IMAGES a lesser film in the Altman cannon is the fact that itís quite derivative, of Roman Polanskiís REPULSION and Ingmar Bergmanís HOUR OF THE WOLF. Not that those comparisons do IMAGES any favors, as its depiction of the delusions of a schizophrenic mind seems trite and unconvincing. Worse, it lacks a compelling central character; an admirably committed Susanna York does what she can with the lead role, but sheís given very little in the way of characterization.
     The technical credits, from Vilmos Zsigmondís evocative photography to the jarring avant-garde score by John Williams (yes, that John Williams), are all top notch, while the lush Irish scenery makes for a startling contrast to the claustrophobic bleakness of the narrative. Plus the script, credited to Altman (who admits the film was largely made up as he went along), is intriguing in the way the narrative exists on several different timelines, gradually parceling out select clues to both past and future events. The end result is often laughable and more often exasperating, but does nonetheless seem worthy of the effort required to figure it out.

 
Vital Statistics

IMAGES
Equator Films Limited

Director: Robert Altman
Producer: Tommy Thompson
Screenplay: Robert Altman
Cinematography: Vilmos Zsigmond
Editing: Graeme Clifford
Cast: Susanna York, Rene Auberjonois, Marcel Bozzuffi, Hugh Millais, Cathryn Harrison
 

     

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