Images (1972)

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In Robert Altman’s Images, Susannah York plays a woman named Cathryn who’s married to a man named Hugh (René Auberjonois). Marcel Bozzuffi plays Cathryn’s former lover, René, and Hugh Millais plays Marcel, a friend of the family. Rounding out the film’s central quintet is Marcel’s daughter, Susannah, played by Cathryn Harrison. And so we come full circle: five characters, each one bearing the name of the actor who doesn’t play them. Considerably less thinking, apparently, went into the film’s storyline, an overwrought character study dealing with schizophrenia, paranoia, grand designs and underwhelming dream theatrics. Said study features lots of shock zooms, an utterly unhinged score (courtesy John Williams; it was nominated for an Oscar), and an aggravating telephone that rings off the hook, at least during the film’s opening fifteen minutes. It has that brash, British-sounding ring… Images was shot in Ireland by cinematographer par excellence Vilmos Zsigmond. The film is crammed and then some with other jangling, dangling objects—metallic wind chimes and glassy sun catchers and crystal car hangings draped from rear view mirrors. It’s a pretty noisy affair all told; Stomu Yamash’ta is credited with “Sounds” early on (a better title for the film, perhaps?). But for all its deliberately-crafted sonic motifs and mad mise en scène, Images—a genre departure for Altman even at this early stage of his career—doesn’t amount to much. It’s a jumble of psychological hyperbole despite Susannah (York) winning the Best Actress award at Cannes that year, no doubt for giving the thing her all.

(c) 2020 David N. Butterworth