Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on May 7, 1973 in The Journal Herald.
It is a rare film that can entice me to surrender my logic, but Images does just that. It is pretentious, contrived, and melodramatic. Why then does it cause this generally suspicious viewer to plunge into its chilling pools?
Images, at the Cinema South, is personal cinema. Its writer-director Robert Altman, because of his past successes, has earned the right to so the film his own way and has done so in this Irish motion picture.
Altman calls this film his fairy tale, and I suppose that is the nest way to take it. Altman makes logic less important than inspired beauty in this shimmering tale.
Images is about a woman fighting madness. Cathryn (Susannah York) is isolated, living with her genially foolish husband (Rene Auberjonois) and writing a poetic children's story about unicorns and other fey creatures. She is also constantly hallucinating about men in her life and her imaginary retaliations against them.
She receives strange, phantom phone calls, and the Images of a French ex-lover (Marcel Bozzuffi) and an artist friend (Hugh Millais) cruelly invade her confused mind. She keeps mixing identities 00 those of people present in reality with those in her imagination and memory.
On a trip to their country home in Loch Bray with her husband, she becomes more and more desperate as she suspects him of liaisons and her ghostly hallucinations become more and more real to her.
She struggles to keep her equilibrium as her world reels bloodily around her. One source of solace is the petulant daughter of the artist who reminds her of herself as a child. But Cathryn's imagination, fears, sexual frustration, and her childlike vulnerability ultimately drive he to a shock conclusion in a deluge of water.
As a puzzle Images is slightly less than exasperating. But as a vision of poetic torment, it is exceptional. The film is rich in mood, and there is suspense in almost every image -- a suspense of anticipation at what spellbinding effect Altman will arrange for us next.
These Images include tinkling ornaments, a covey of quail, shimmering water. They are startlingly beautiful Images, often cut by shocks to Cathryn's sensibilities. At one point she is writing her story and watching ponies, but a dog and frantic sounds break in.
The Irish countryside offers up wonderful scenic footage, and Altman and his brilliant cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond catch moods and spells. One breathtaking shot is of water rippling with orange sunlight through twisted tree branches.
Perhaps the most telling shot is the superimposition of the child Susannah's image on Cathryn's in the windowpane.
Altman is ceaselessly original and inventive. One clever touch is that he relates his characters' and actors' names. Cathryn is played by Susannah York and Susannah is played by Cathryn Harrison. Hugh is played by Rene Auberjonois, Rene is played by Marcel Bozzuffi, and Marcel is played by Hugh Millais. Art and actuality shift even in the literal.
Susannah York gives and exceptional performance as the agonized Cathryn. She is vulnerable, sensual, innocent, and wild. In one nude shot she seems oddly distended. It turns out that Ms. York, who is playing a character who wants to be pregnant, was in actuality well into her own pregnancy.
Rene Auberjonois is particularly good as the smooth, unknowingly galling husband, who causes Cathryn such grief.
Altman's command of our senses is unusual and expert. The music by John Williams was an Academy Award nominee. But what is especially gripping are the dissonant sounds credited to Stomu Yamash'ta -- incredible, eerie, and atmospheric.
Also poetic and affecting are the spoken passages from the children's story which accompany some of the Images. Ms. York actually composed the story, another blending of art and actuality.
Images is a film in which Robert Altman doesn't worry about defenses. He boldly creates a spiritual vision and lets logic and caution fall by the wayside of wondrous beauty.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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