An Essay on 3 Women

by smARTfilms curator Tova Gannana


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Millie Lamoureux's apartment is in shades of yellow, like an expectant mother decorating in gender neutral colors. Millie played by Shelley Duvall, will pick up a strange friend, named Pinky played by Sissy Spacek. Both roles were written for the actresses by Robert Altman. One night thinking about making this film “3 Women” he had a dream in which in his dream he kept waking up to write things down. He was in Malibu at the time and in the morning there was sand in his bed, so he set the film in the California desert. Both women in the film and in real life came from Texas as if that state was their birth mother.


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“Sure does remind me of Texas. Doesn't it you?” Pinky asks of Millie in their first car ride home together. “I don’t like Texas anymore. But I like it here,” Millie responds. Here is the new life that Millie is building for herself. It is a brick and mortar life, but also an illusion. The problem is nobody's listening. Millie’s words fall on the backs, necks, shoulders and heads but never the ears of the people around her. Altman has them physically twisting away from Millie, muttering amongst themselves, we don’t hear them speak clearly. When Altman does turn up the volume on what humanity is saying in response to Millie we hear cruelty and mocking. They say the key to standing out in a crowd and gaining acceptance is to be authentically yourself. Millie has no idea of herself; she is a mimicker hoping to say the right things and act the right way. Pinky shows no self and is an imitator. They both are shaking off Texas. Millie has no parents; Pinky has The Roses. The apartment Pinky had before Millie took her in was a one room, old-fashioned, depression era abode. She washed her only pair of underwear in the sink and sewed her own clothes. The film begins in the Desert Springs Rehabilitation and Geriatric Center. Millie descending into a pool with an older woman walking her through the water. Pinky watching her through a window the way a new mother watches her infant in the hospital through a window. They haven’t yet met, but Pinky is enamored. This is Millie’s place of employment. We don’t hear Millie but we see her lips moving. Pinky will also get a job here and Millie will train her. “Is he asleep? Can he hear us?” Pinky asks about an old man soaking in a therapeutic tub. Both Pinky and Millie are marked in their aloneness. As though the world walks straight and they walk at a slant.


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The music in “3 Women” is a reflection of what we see on the screen. It feels sprite like as if it were a character itself. The music becomes another voice to pay attention to, or not, hanging above us like an atmosphere. Between Pinky and Millie’s work and The Purple Sage Apartments where they live is Dodge City, a run down bar and ranch. The third woman in the film is Willie, played by Janice Rule. Willie is silent and pregnant. She and her husband Edgar own both The Purple Sage and Dodge City; in both Willie paints the swimming pools with mythological creatures in moments of great expression. They too are wordless. They float beneath the film and like the musical score are also the film's reflection. Edgar pockets the coin tips at Dodge City the girls leave for Willie. Edgar ironically tells Pinky and Millie, “Never trust a dishonest man.” He tries to conceal his thievery but it oozes out of him. He seems unredeemable. Willie is the seer, Pinky the hearer and Millie the speaker. We listen to all three. From the steam in the first pool scene to the muted pale pinks, yellows and blues of the desert, the film feels like a dream or a hallucination, one in which you are staring off into the hazy waters of Malibu. Or if you are in Texas dreaming of a golden California. The story shifts when Millie gets desperate. She is about to go to bed with Willie’s husband Edgar and Pinky tells her softly, “Don’t.” It is in her protest that we glimpse at Pinky’s center.


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As though Millie was yelling at herself in place of the world she says to Pinky, “Not one word. What do you know about anything. This has nothing to do with you. Ever since you moved in here you have been causing me grief. You don’t drink you don’t smoke, you don’t do anything you are supposed to do. Well I tell you what. If you don’t like the way I intend to live around here why don’t you just move out! Anytime suits me. Anytime at all.” Pinky takes this cue and jumps from the balcony into the pool. This is when Texas arrives, Pinky’s past life, her parents The Roses. Pinky in the hospital in a coma and she awakes to them and shrieks “They are not my parents!” And they aren’t anymore. The Roses have each other. Their love is an exclusive and excluding love. They look dated like they just came through the Dust Bowl. “Do you like yellow and purple? They are my favorite colors. Like irises. I love irises. I love flowers and candlelight. They’re so romantic,” Millie said once to Pinky. Romantic as the idea of a mother, because a mother is all your own. The Roses go back to Texas. For Altman “3 Women” was a film about identity theft. Not as a horror but as a haunting. In life we ask ourselves all the time, does it matter who we once were or is it just about who we are now? Who ultimately will be stronger, the world or a self deep inside who shapes and defines? A truck brings Coca Cola and there is a final shifting of roles for all three women. Willie, Millie and Pinky alone under one roof at Dodge City. The Purple Sage Apartments and the Geriatric Pools, have gone the way of Texas, like a hairline receding, a road grown over, disappearing.

—Tova Gannana, curator

Join us on November 14th at 7:30 PM for 3 Women.


Tickets: $10 Member, $12 Non-Member

Dinner seating in Bistro begins at 5:30 PM. Reservations recommended - 206-451-4011.
Auditorium opens at 7:00 PM
Movies at 7:30 PM