Wednesday 12 September 2018

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 11. Images

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Director - Robert Altman
Country - USA
Year - 1972
Runtime - 104 Minutes

Prolific film directors can often suffer the misfortune of having select films simply fading into obscurity over time. Five time academy award nominee Robert Altman is one such film-maker who directed a number of American classics throughout his incredible career, including MASH, Nashville and The Player. Many of his lesser celebrated films have left an indelible impression on audiences lucky enough to see them but don't garner the recognition awarded to his commercially successful films. Coming off the success of McCabe & Mrs Miller, Altman directed a nightmarish horror film, Images (1972); a bleak exploration of schizophrenia that retains the power to startle viewers almost fifty years later. Images was well received on its initial release – Susannah York even won the Best actress award at Cannes for her staggering performance – but it appears to have drifted out of the collective consciousness of cinephiles as time has passed by.

Taking its cue from Ingmar Bergman's radical study on identity, Persona (1965), Altman plays around with bizarre imagery and strange sounds to invoke the utter confusion that his main protagonist, Cathryn (Susannah York), suffers at the hands of her cruel psychological condition. Cathryn's distress is exacerbated by the absence of her busy husband, Hugh (Rene Auberjonois), so he plans a quiet weekend away together at a remote Irish cottage to ease her tension whilst allowing them some time to relax before the arrival of their first born.

Their plans for a peaceful retreat are put on hold with the arrival of Hugh’s friend, Rene (Macel Bozzuffi), and a strange parade of other visitors including those who live nearby or pass the cottage whilst out for a walk in the countryside. As we begin to see the instability of Cathryn’s mental state, it becomes apparent that not of all those who stop by are really there, and she has as much difficulty as us discerning who is real and who is merely a figment of her imagination. The schizophrenia really begins to take hold when Cathryn imagines she is being visited by her ex-lover who died many years ago, and as her agitation worsens, she starts to lash out at the apparitions that plague her, endangering herself and others around her.

There are some alarming scenes of bloody violence and a suggestive sex scene that emphasise the fragile state of Cathryn’s mind but Altman’s care and attention to these sequences places them firmly in the realm of art house rather than exploitation. Altman takes his cue from Hitchcock’s shower scene in Psycho in which we never actually see the blade penetrate the skin. He prefers to allow the audience to fill in the gaps, alluding to the graphic violence that accompanies Cathryn’s breakdown and making us believe we see more than is actually shown through the use of well-timed cuts or displaying the gory aftermath of such incidents.

York’s central performance is a tour de force in acting. The torment Cathryn experiences is disarming and frightening as she reacts to the apparitions with genuine terror and confusion, and York encapsulates this emotional distress with a bravura depiction of a schizophrenic. Those who play the imagined characters are equally as captivating with their strange and aggressive behaviours that provoke Cathryn; heightening the dramatic tension and adding to the illusion that they only exist in her mind.

Altman went on to revisit this fascinating concept for his later film 3 Women, which is the perfect companion piece to Images, and although it tones down the horror in favour of a more surreal approach to the subject matter, it is equally as compelling, and is far more well-known than its spiritual predecessor. For me though, Images remains my favourite of the two; successful film directors rarely venture into the world of horror - with many viewing it as a fantastical avenue that isn’t credible - and it is always a joy to see such an accomplished director’s stance on the genre. This cruel and compelling character study is a superb art-house horror and it fills me with a pang of regret that Altman never again explored the darker side of cinema.

If you take the time to watch Images then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

For previous instalments in the series click here

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