Images (DVD)

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Images (DVD)

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In 1972, Robert Altman showcased Images at Cannes, where it won a Best Actress award for star Susannah York. After receiving spotty theatrical distribution, negative American reviews, and poor commercial returns, it's rarely been seen since. Some rumors even had Columbia Pictures burning the negative. Thankfully, that turned out to be untrue, as the quiet arrival of a new DVD version attests. In the intervening years, those who did catch Images have given the film a dual reputation as, depending on who's doing the telling, a masterpiece or a pretentious mess. In many respects, it's only appropriate for it to provoke a split response. Plunging viewers into a series of skewed perspectives, it recounts several eventful days in the life of a protagonist whose mind divides against itself. Left alone too much, first in the posh apartment she shares with husband Rene Auberjonois and later at the country home they use as a getaway, York's mind begins to drift, first toward dead lover Marcel Bozzuffi, then to a sexually aggressive family friend (Hugh Millais) and his daughter (Cathryn Harrison), who stop by for a visit. Altman wastes little time on establishing York's instability, and only slightly more time on establishing Images' instability. Bozzuffi exists entirely in York's mind, but sometimes, so does Millais. Occasionally, Auberjonois plays Millais' character, and sometimes York encounters her double while wandering the countryside. Extending the blurriness into the world beyond the film, Susannah York plays a character named Cathryn, Cathryn Harrison plays a character named Susannah, and so on. In real life at the time, York was pregnant and working on a children's book called In Search Of Unicorns, and both details, chillingly, find their way into the film. It sounds confusing, and by design, it often is, but Altman's skilled direction gives Images its own dreamlike internal logic. Inspired in seemingly equal parts by Ingmar Bergman's Persona and Roman Polanski's Repulsion, Altman lets the film slide into unsettling surrealism almost from the start. John Williams' eerie, atonal score (made in collaboration with avant-garde percussionist Stomu Yamashta, who gets a credit for "sounds") sets a tone matched by Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography, all marble-gray interiors and crisp images of frosty Irish landscapes. But the best, uncredited contributions come from the various crystal chimes that appear in nearly every scene. Making the sound of fragile material colliding without quite shattering, they could just as easily be a projection of York's troubled inner life, as the phantasms drag her slowly into violence and madness.

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