Release Date(s)1972 (March 20, 2018)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures/Hemdale/Lion's Gate Films/Handmade Films/Park Circus Film (Arrow Academy)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
Robert Altman’s Images is complicated to delve into without a deep discussion about its content. Altman set out to make a film about mental illness, but threw out most of the script in the process and encouraged his actors to improvise nearly every scene. The result is a film that feels choppy and unorganized, but in a way that serves an aesthetic purpose more than a narrative one.
The story concerns a housewife and children’s author (Susannah York) who appears to be suffering from schizophrenia, sometimes witnessing events that may or may not be occurring with people who may or may not actually be present for them. During a vacation to a remote cottage with her husband (René Auberjonois), their mutual friend (Hugh Millais), and his daughter (Cathryn Harrison), her condition worsens and her hallucinations become even more intense, ultimately leading to deadly behavior.
Images is also a rare horror entry in Robert Altman’s filmography. Through the lens of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and aided by the music of John Williams, Altman paints a disturbing and disorienting portrait of a woman seemingly gone mad. Certain things about it don’t really make sense unless you’ve seen it more than once and take the time to really think about it, which isn’t a difficult thing to do as it’s the type of film that lingers in your mind long after you’ve seen it. The performances are quite good and Altman’s attempt at capturing the feeling of insanity is admirable, but it’s definitely not for your average audience.
Arrow Academy’s presentation of Images comes sourced from a 4K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative with occasional “dupe” inserts, which were originally inserted into the cut negative itself. The film has an intentionally soft and dream-like look thanks to Vilmos Zsigmond’s lush cinematography, so detail can sometimes be hidden due to the way it was shot. That said, this is a beautifully organic and film-like presentation with only minor instances of uneven grain, as well as a potent color palette. Black levels are dense while brightness and contrast is virtually perfect. No digital enhancements have been made and the overall presentation is stable and clean. It’s gorgeous. The audio is presented with an English mono LPCM track with optional subtitles in English SDH. A well-realized soundtrack, due to a mix of disconcerting sound effects and John Williams’ score, it’s also slightly narrow, but comes through with plenty of support for the elements at play. Dialogue is also clean and clear with no hiss, crackle, or dropout issues. Had Altman had access to multi-speaker tools at the time, I imagine the soundtrack for the film would have been a much different experience, to say the least.
This release also carries over all of the extra features on the original MGM DVD release of the film, and adds a few new ones as well. Included is an audio commentary with “Diabolik Magazine” authors Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger; a scene-select audio commentary with director Robert Altman; Imagining Images, a nearly 25-minute interview with both Robert Altman and Vilmos Zsigmond; a 6-minute interview with Cathryn Harrison; Robert Altman’s Images: An Appreciation by Stephen Thrower (who is always a welcome addition); the original theatrical trailer in HD; and a 32-page insert booklet with the essays “Images” by Carmen Gray and “Altman on Altman: Images” by David Thompson, as well as restoration details.
Robert Altman’s philosophy on filmmaking, and I’m using his words here, is needing a temporary blueprint “so you know what kind of paint to order” and asking “how big of a wall are you going to give me?” That has never been more personified than in Images. Influenced by Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and seemingly incoherent at the outset, it’s a highly experimental but effective piece of work, and Arrow Academy’s presentation of it leaves little to be desired.
- Tim Salmons