• Images



    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: March 19, 2018
    Director: Robert Altman
    Cast: Susannah York, Rene Auberjonois, Marcel Bozzuffi, Hugh Millais, Catherine Harrison, John Morley
    Year: 1972
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    The Movie:

    The 1970’s produced many legendary filmmaking careers, but few dominated the first half of that decade like the late Robert Altman. From 1970, when the director finally scored a major box office hit with his Korean War comedy classic M*A*S*H, to the 1975 release of his epic masterpiece of Americana we know as Nashville, Altman brought us one terrific film after another. Nestled between his tragic western love story McCabe & Mrs. Miller and the hazy modern California noir of The Long Goodbye was Images, a deeply unsettling psychological horror drama that received positive reviews and deserved awards attention for its lead performance and technical merits but barely made a dime at the box office.

    It was typical of Altman to squeeze in a more esoteric project when he grew tired of dealing with meddling studio executives back in Hollywood. Such films would define his cinematic legacy as much as his better-received critical and commercial successes. Behind the camera, Altman was fearless in following his storytelling instincts and finding the right actors in whom he could put his complete and unquestionable trust as collaborators. He had written the screenplay for Images five years before it was finally committed for all time to celluloid; at one point in its development, Altman had wooed Italian screen icon Sophia Loren into taking the lead role, and production was initially to commence in Vancouver. Delays in the start of the shoot resulted in the up-and-coming British actress Susannah York (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?) signing on to star, with filming taking place in Ireland.

    York stars as Cathryn, a children’s book author whose is apparently happily married to Hugh (Rene Auberjonois), a photographer who always seems to be working late hours. One night, Cathryn receives a series of uncomfortable phone calls from an unnamed woman who implies Hugh is really having an affair, which he later denies. When the couple embrace each other for a loving kiss, Cathryn sees a different man. Believing his wife to be coming unglued, Hugh takes her on a vacation to a cottage in the Irish countryside. Cathryn continues to hallucinate appearances from an old lover, Rene (Marcel Bozzuffi), who supposedly died years ago. Soon after their arrival, another of Cathryn’s past paramours, Marcel (Hugh Millais), comes to visit with his young daughter Susannah (Cathryn Harrison) in tow.

    Cathryn becomes unable to tell the three men apart, sometimes hallucinating that each is one of the others. As if that wasn’t strange enough, she also begins to see her own doppelganger lurking about. Is Cathryn losing her mind? Are these visions manifestations of past regrets and emotional damage? Will our besieged heroine result to murder to rid herself of these personal demons once and for all?

    The rural Ireland locations provide the ideal backdrop for Cathryn’s decaying state of mind, the beautiful country hills, cliffs, and forests alive with quiet menace and foreboding isolation Altman and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond exploit to hypnotic effect. The widescreen framing allows Zsigmond, who also shot Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller and The Long Goodbye, to use the gorgeous exteriors and the comforting cottage sets to gradually draw out the mystery of Cathryn’s internal conflict and keep the audience constantly ill at ease. Altman had wanted to make a film inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, which also told the story of a woman’s fracturing sanity and addressed subjects like duality. One could look at Images and spot many similarities to Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar-winning Black Swan, though Altman’s film is a bit more difficult to categorize. It has elements of chamber drama and psychological terror, and there’s even some violence, but it defies simple classification.

    In a supplemental interview on this Blu-ray recorded in 2003, Altman explicitly stated that Images was not a ghost story of any sort. The character of Rene is implied to be one, but although he is clearly not a real presence in the cottage, Cathryn is left unsure as to whether he really is dead. She is haunted not by his spirit but by his memory and the memories of a relationship she wishes she could forget. Cathryn also has a history with the sexually aggressive Irishman Marcel. What is implied but never fully expressed is the mixed emotions she experienced in her affairs with Marcel and Rene and how she feels them once more in her marriage to the ineffectual squish Hugh. Altman provides no easy answers, and the final moments of Images have us asking even more questions.

    The film could be about Cathryn’s struggles with leaving behind a traumatic past so she can embrace a more hopeful future, but it could also be about a well-meaning woman slowly descending into madness and finding nothing but cold indifference from the men in her life. Hugh tries to empathize with his wife the best he can, but his efforts are all for naught, while Rene and Marcel only appear to be interested in the pleasures of her flesh. A case could be made for Images really being about a woman oppressed by cold, demanding men who is taking back her soul and life; the film leaves itself open to countless interpretations that make perfect sense if you fully consider them.

    Altman has crafted a fascinating puzzle (an actual puzzle makes several onscreen appearances) from which he cleverly hides a few pieces to keep the viewer mostly in the dark. The cast is superb, with Susannah York taking top honors among the actors with a performance of complexity and sorrow that makes Cathryn a sympathetic main character to anchor Altman’s nonlinear narrative. York also provides the source of what little emotional content exists in Images, but the detached performances by Marcel Bozzuffi (The French Connection), Hugh Millais (The Dogs of War), Cathryn Harrison (Black Moon), and Altman repertory player Rene Auberjonois (Brewster McCloud) add to the film’s disconcerting atmosphere. It should be noted that Millais previously worked for Altman on McCabe & Mrs. Miller, playing the hired killer Butler.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Images receives a stunning new high-definition transfer for its Blu-ray debut from Arrow Video as part of their Arrow Academy line. The original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 4K resolution and underwent an extensive and painstaking restoration, and the film is presented in its proper 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The upgrade in resolution has done nothing to dull the lush waking nightmare ambience achieved in Zsigmond’s cinematography. Color timing is cooler in the earlier scenes that favor harsh white hues, but the green Irish hills and creaking wooden interiors of Cathryn and Hugh’s cottage benefit greatly from warmer tones. Film grain is authentic, strong, and consistent in every frame, while plentiful texture and bolstered detail brings renewed vitality in the image.

    The 24-bit English PCM 1.0 mono audio track was restored from the original DME mag reels. Images is a film heavy on dialogue, often overlapping as Altman famously enjoyed, and every line comes through the speakers with coherence and buoyancy. The layered sound design doesn’t require multiple channels to achieve its desired effect and never clashes with the intentionally dismaying soundtrack composed by John Williams with the participation of Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamashta. Distortion is nowhere to be found, and the volume levels are sturdy and never require manual adjustment (though Susannah York’s screaming might have you thinking otherwise). English subtitles have also been provided.

    Some of the bonus features were ported over from MGM’s 2003 Region 1 DVD release, beginning with “Imagining Images” (24 minutes), an interview featurette with Altman and Zsigmond discussing the origins of the project, casting and locations, achieving its dreamlike quality in the cinematography, and more. Altman also gets to expand on his observations from the interview in a select-scene audio commentary, which was recorded for the earlier DVD edition in lieu of a full commentary as Altman had a difficult time holding listener interest (check out his M*A*S*H for further proof of that). The original theatrical trailer (3 minutes) is here and it reminded me of one of those previews cut for an Italian giallo - credit font, tinted frames, and all.

    Now we move on to the extras produced by Arrow for this release. First up is a full-length audio commentary with Diabolique Magazine’s Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger, a track that is rich in critical insight, historical background, and personal observations. Co-star Cathryn Harrison briefly shines in a video interview (6 minutes) where she talks about getting the role of Susannah, working with Altman and the cast, and more. Stephen Thrower, the author of Nightmare USA and books about the films of Lucio Fulci and Jess Franco, offers an appreciation of Images (32 minutes) where he explores the fascinating thematic elements of the story, analyzes the choices made by Altman and York, and much more.

    Arrow’s Blu-ray also features new cover art created by Twins of Evil and a collector’s booklet containing a new essay on Images by Carmen Gray and an excerpt from the book Altman on Altman.

    The Final Word:

    Images may be regarded as one of Robert Altman’s lesser-known films, and rightfully so, but careful attention and a very open mind might have first time viewers realizing that is far from one of his lesser films. Arrow Video once again does right by a misunderstood and neglected gem of cinema with an outstanding picture and sound restoration and a supplements package featuring new and archival material that will either enrich your appreciation of this film or reinforce your complete bemusement at its fractured, often puzzling narrative.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!