Not that I ever in a million years thought he’d be interested in doing either. Both of these movies stand out as singularly strange in the Altman canon. It’s as if he’s trying to shed his cinematic skin in both, in terms of directorial style and subject matter. When some directors take this curveball approach, it makes for an interesting change of pace (i.e., Scorsese’s Age of Innocence or even Linklater with the kiddie-friendly
). Not so for Altman in this case. If Images is a strikeout, then the atrocious Quintet is Altman arriving to the wrong ball park all together. School of Rock
Images, in a nut shell, is about the schizophrenic breakdown of a woman writer of children’s books. It’s Altman channeling Polanski in his Repulsion / The Tenant days but without the psychological menace. After receiving a phone call one night from an unidentified woman telling her that her husband is having an affair, the lead (Susannah York) begins having trouble with reality, seeing her own self from afar (outer body experience style) then later seeing her husband as one of several lovers she’s had in the past. The problem is she can no longer distinguish between who is the real her, her real husband, and which are just mental projections.
So what’s a girl to do? Basically, she starts murdering them all. But wouldn’t you know it? You go around killing mental projections and eventually one of them is going to turn out to be the real thing. Figuring out what is real and what’s not makes for a bit of fun for awhile, and the British countryside shooting does add some nice texture. But it’s not enough to keep you enthralled or even really that appalled, though the uselessly recurring image of crystal wind chimes and the screechy overbearing John Williams score did stretch my patience pretty thin.
Quintet is another matter all together. Its reaches, dare I say, Prêt-à-Porter levels of badness and possibly even exceeds them.
The setting is a post apocalyptic ice world (i.e., Canada and the 20th Century Fox lot) where the only thing left to do is play an inscrutable board game called Quintet. As far as I can tell, it's some kind of high-stakes version of Yahtzee and Dungeons and Dragons but with a real body count. Poor Paul Newman, decked out in Eskimo parkas and a very silly fur cap, trudges around the snow for two hours trying to figure out the rules of the game (and how he got suckered into this movie most likely) and, I think, looking for his murdered brother. Oh yes, Fernando Rey also makes an appearance as The Judge who presides over the game in a very god-like way, along with a few Bergman stalwarts.
Altman doesn’t bother to set up the world other than a few shots of frozen tundra. Nor does he bother to set up the titular game other than some vague philosophizing (game as metaphor for life, yadda yadda) and some shots of very hi-falutin’ looking dice. But what bothered me the most is…if everything here is frozen over, what do these people eat? I know for sure what the packs of wild dogs (there are lots of them) running through the background shots eat -- namely the humans who are murdered in “the game.” But other than vague mention of Newman’s unsuccessful seal-hunting and a few stashed bottles of whiskey, I have no idea what these people subsist on. I guess they just LIVE FOR THE GAME.
Yawn…I’ll take Thunderdome over this place any day.