Blu-Ray Review: Robert Altman’s Images From Arrow Academy

by Rachel Bellwoar

New to Blu-ray from Arrow Academy, Robert Altman’s Images (1972) is a lesser discussed horror film about a woman (Susannah York) with schizophrenia. When Cathryn’s husband, Hugh (René Auberjonois), turns into her dead lover, René (Marcel Bozzuffi), midway through a kiss, she begs him to leave for Green Cove with her. Meant as a country retreat where she can write her children’s book in peace (York’s own book, In Search of Unicorns, is used for the voiceover), Cathryn keeps seeing her lovers – one dead, one alive, but not always in the flesh – and the trip becomes a struggle to discern what’s real and dispel what’s not.

York would go on to win Best Actress at Cannes for her performance and it’s easy to see why. While the film has her playing doppelgängers, there’s not a clear split in personality, where you can identify who’s who. Sometimes a visual cue implies Cathryn has changed, but afterwards she doesn’t act differently. It’s more like an out-of-body experience when Cathryn sees herself in front of Green Cove from a clifftop nearby. The camera switches to the other Cathryn’s point of view, and proceeds from there, but again, she doesn’t seem different.

Filmed in Ireland, the transitions in Images are seamless. One of my favorites has Hugh bend over in search of vermouth and come back up as René. There are also some interesting overlaps where the wrong name will be used, or Cathryn will mouth the other Cathryn’s words. You keep waiting for Cathryn to lash out at the wrong person and that concern provides most of the film’s tension.

Images rarely grants solid footing, but that’s by design. Even moments I initially passed over turned out to require a revisit. One of the bonus features has Altman comment on select scenes, and during his discussion of the opening sequence (with its great voice cameo by Barbara Baxley), my understanding was that Cathryn was ignoring the phone, but Altman says she doesn’t hear it until the last ring. There’s no arguing with Altman (and who would want to?) but I was so sure I understood what was going on. To learn I had gotten this simple scene wrong was unexpected and pleasing.

New to Arrow’s Blu-Ray release is an interview with actress, Cathryn Harrison, who played Susannah, where she talks about meeting Altman in a swimming pool and connecting with the subject matter.

A commentary track with film critics, Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan [Full disclosure: I write for their web-site, Diabolique Magazine] hits on all the film’s mesmerizing motifs, from a fascination with food to the presence of cameras. While I patted myself on the back for thinking of Psycho, the list they collectively build of films related to or influenced by Images is incredibly comprehensive and should be a blast to wade through someday.

Other bonus features include “Imagining Images,” an interview with Robert Altman and, to a smaller degree, cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. There’s also an extra with musician and author, Stephen Thrower, that I had in my head would only be a few minutes long but ended up being a fascinating look at the critical response, “rootless” setting, musical composition (John Williams did the score while Stomu Yamash’ta provided sounds), and hesitation by some critics to classify Images as a horror film.

If you enjoy psychological thrillers that keep you on your toes (it was after reading that Images was a precursor to David Lynch’s Lost Highway that I sought the film out), Arrow Academy’s Blu-Ray is the way to watch Images on the small screen.

Robert Altman’s Images is available on Blu-Ray starting Tuesday, March 20th. First pressings include a new essay by Carmen Gray and a passage from Altman on Altman.