IMAGES (1972) Blu-ray
Director: Robert Altman
Arrow Academy/Arrow Video USA

Robert Altman explores the fractured mind through IMAGES, on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy.

Cathryn (Susannah York, THE AWAKENING) is a woman on the verge of a breakdown. Having sublimated much of her fears and insecurities into a fanciful children's novel, they start to resurface in more unexpected manners: from a voice on the telephone needling her with apparent evidence of her husband's infidelity to the surprise appearance of dead lover Rene (Marcel Bozzuffi, THE FRENCH CONNECTION) in place of husband Hugh (Rene Auberjonois, THE EYES OF LAURA MARS). After a hysterical episode, Cathryn is whisked away by Hugh to the cottage where she grew up deep in the idyllic countryside, but she soon discovers that she is no safer there from the apparition of Rene or the very heated attentions of Hugh's best friend and her former lover Marcel (Hugh Millais, THE WICKED LADY). Becoming increasingly less certain of who is real and who is not – she even at first mistakes Marcel's daughter Susannah (Cathryn Harrison, BLACK MOON) for herself as a girl – she resolves to sort it out definitively ("There's a good ghost, then.")

A portrait of female madness somewhere in between REPULSION and LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH, IMAGES distinguishes itself from even those singular pictures through director Altman's interest in exploring the Cathryn's slipping grasp on reality as characters not so much merge personalities as bleed into one another through repeated dialogue and adapted gestures, rounding a corner as one character and appearing as another, or being seen as one character by Cathryn while apparently being another. Although Cathryn exhibits schizophrenic behavior – and is even joking labeled as such by Marcel – Altman is uninterested in diagnosing her for the audience, while the characters in the film pay the price for treating her as a high-strung woman in need of sedatives and a breath of country air. Already no longer able to discern between Hugh's comforting embrace and the mauling of Marcel (either of which may also be Rene beneath the skin) she even starts to find herself unable to distinguish between Susannah and her own double – when Cathryn asks Susannah what the young girl will do if she returns to the city, the girl responds that she would "tell myself stories, play in the woods. I'd make up a friend" – and ultimately it seems as if her own doppelganger comes to embody all of them not to form a multifaceted portrait of herself but something powerful enough to destroy or replace what remains of her psyche. Working in concert with the great cinematographer Vilmos Zgismond – who fled his native Hungary along with László Kovács (EASY RIDER) and started working stateside as cinematographer for the likes of Al Adamson (BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR) and James Landis (THE SADIST) before a string of collaborations with Altman lead to bigger assignments – time and space are displaced with zooms, pans, and shifts of focus while the chamber scoring of John Williams (JAWS) is augmented by jarring percussion, musique concrete, and voices by avant-garde composer Stomu Yamash'ta who also augmented John Phillips' score for Nicolas Roeg's THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (with which IMAGES shares DON'T LOOK NOW editor Graeme Clifford).

Released theatrically through Columbia Pictures, IMAGES was long unavailable stateside until the Hemdale library ended up with MGM and they put out an anamorphic widescreen DVD in 2003. Zgismond's use of a new Panavision zoom lenses – the very same lenses he used to shoot Donald Cammell's short THE ARGUMENT under the guise of shooting test footage for Altman according to a Video Watchdog article on the short – and his favoring low-light, backlight, and capturing atmospheric effects as well as plenty of lens flare made for a challenging viewing experience even in a new transfer; as such, Arrow's 4K-mastered 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen transfer does not make things crystal clear but detail is heightened with a better representation of the film grain, colors are more carefully delineated with skintones no longer taking on the sickly orange of the interior lighting of the cottage and no longer as cool as the off-white walls of the couple's city apartment. Blacks no longer crush as badly as in the early transfer – important given its deployment in the costumes and set dressing – but it appears as if Zgismond may have flashed the film in some scenes as he did in McCABE AND MRS. MILLER. The LPCM 1.0 mono track is clean and vibrant with the sound of chimes sometime piercing the ear and other times distantly present. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided.

Ported over from the MGM DVD is a selected scenes commentary by writer-director Robert Altman (35:52) in which the visual portion has been replaced with the same segments from the new HD master. Altman does not really give much of an interpretation as highlight elements that add to "the mystery" from the occult objects decorating the sets of Leon Ericksen (UP IN SMOKE), the use of bells and chimes, foreshadowing, as well as subtle indications of Cathryn's schizophrenia. Accompanying the feature encode is a new audio commentary by Diabolique Magazine's Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger who draw comparisons between the so-called "women's pictures" of the thirties and forties and Altman's own trilogy of women's pictures – THAT COLD DAY IN THE PARK, IMAGES, and 3 WOMEN – as well as describing the film as an anti-genre treatment of similar themes found in the likes of Bergman's PERSONA, Polanski's treatments of paranoia and madness both female (REPULSION, ROSEMARY'S BABY) and male (THE TENANT), and the later SYMPTOMS and LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH. They also couch the film in the context of cinematic treatments of the double and the duality of good and evil within a single character, and suggest that Altman may even have been taking a dig at Alfred Hitchock with whom he worked on television before resigning due to creative differences.

The Altman interview "Imagining IMAGES" (24:31) has also been ported over from the DVD in which he goes to greater detail about the origins of the project, his attempts to mount it in Milan with Sophia Loren in the lead, in Vancouver, and then in Ireland with York who initially felt that that she could not do the film since she was pregnant until Altman incorporated that as well as the children's book she was writing into the film. He also discusses the contributions of production designer Ericksen and cinematographer Zgismond who shows up in a separate interview clip. Actress Harrison (6:04) shows up in a short new interview in which she recalls meeting Altman at a pool party given by Millais (a friend of her stepfather), improvising dialogue with York, and the name-swapping of the characters. Musician and author Stephen Thrower also contributes an appreciation (32:26) covering much of the same ground as the other supplements in regard to the origins of the project but also noting that Altman not only admitted to stealing freely from Bergman but may also have been inspired by Joseph Losey, particularly his SECRET CEREMONY. While the commentators referred to it as an anti-genre film, he describes it as a genre film by a serious director and how that affects audience perception. He also notes that the film was not actually a critical flop in spite of the venom directed at it by Rex Reed. The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (3:13). Not include for review were the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil and the illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Carmen Gray and an extract from Altman on Altman included with the disc's first pressing only. (Eric Cotenas)