In the 1970s Robert Altman was riding high off the success of M*A*S*H, so he was able to make some of the most idiosyncratic films of the era. Luckily for him, some of them were successful, most notably Nashville and McCabe & Mrs. Miller, but he also made numerous quirky films that while they often dealt with genre, also completely subverting their conventions. Images was his stab at a horror movie, or if you want to be pretentious, a “psychological thriller.”
The film’s setting adds an enormous amount to the unsettling feeling that you get from the very first frame, a feeling that endures to the last. It’s all shot in Ireland, but there is nothing in the film to indicate you are in Ireland – the locations could easily pass for Canada (where it was initially set), the UK or the USA. The score by John Williams is one of his most experimental (it’s nothing like his collaborations with Spielberg or Lucas) and just adds to the oft-kilter experience of the film, which is just like what Susannah York’s character Cathryn is experiencing.
It’s a film that is basically about a children’s book author, Cathryn, who is slowly losing her mind, and experience the film completely from her own mind. One of the most fascinating scenes involves a narrative trope where she is staring back at her double, and from that moment onwards you follow that version of Cathryn and never return to the other. It’s one of Altman’s most daring scenes, and it’s down in such a matter-of-fact way that it’s a stroke of genius.
It’s a descent into madness that most certainly owes a great deal to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, but it’s also about morphing and twining, which of course he got from Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. Altman has admitted that throughout the ‘70s he stole from Bergman, and Persona was his go-to for “inspiration”: Altman’s 1977 film 3 Women is the missing link between Persona and Mulholland Drive. I personally consider Altman to be a superior director to Bergman, because for the most part I find Bergman’s films too cold for my own taste (although Persona is one of his films that I rate highly.) They are such very different directors anyway, with very distinct concerns and interests.
When it came out in 1972, Images was a hit at the Cannes film festival, where York ended up scooping up the best actress award. It took a long time to find distribution in the States, and was eventually released at the end of the year, undoubtedly to try to get York an Oscar nomination. However, it didn’t find an audience, and the reviews ranged from raves to bafflement, with some ranging into downright hatred. Until this Blu-Ray, the film has been hard to find and for the most part has been out of circulation since its Region 1 DVD went out of print years ago—I had a poor 4:3 transfer on DVD from Europe for years.
It most certainly isn’t up there with Atman’s finest work, but there is so much that will fascinate the viewer of this odd little movie that he went to Ireland to film. He would return to similar themes more successfully with 3 Women, and this does feel like a dry run for much of that film, although in a very different setting. Arrow’s release includes commentary from critics and a scene-specific commentary from the much-missed Altman, along with an interview with the man himself, a new interview with actress Cathryn Harrison, and an appreciation with Stephen Thrower (who was once a member of the industrial band Coil.) The release is rounded out by the trailer and, in its initial pressing, a booklet with writing on the film.