by Angeliska on August 17, 2010
I had tried, on multiple occasions, to watch 3 Women – knowing instinctively
that I would love it, though I hadn’t yet seen many of Robert Altman’s films.
Something always went wrong. The disc had a flaw, and froze up, or everyone
had already seen it too many times. Finally, I gave it another try, and watched
it by myself one sweltering afternoon a couple weeks ago. I knew even watching
the opening credits, with the strange and watery montage of monstrous murals
that it would be one of my all-time favorite films. It really is incredible. I think I
need to own my own copy! I’ve never sat through the entire director’s commentary
on a film before, but this was that sensation when you finish an amazing book,
and just have the urge to turn it over and start reading it again, from the beginning.
The story of how the idea for the film came to Altman in a dream, fully formed and
cast, is so fascinating. I admire both Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek utterly – as
immensely talented actresses, outrageously beautiful women, and as fellow Texans!
They both put so much into their roles as Millie Lammoreaux and Pinky Rose, both characters
feel absolutely authentic in their oddness. Their accents are as familiar and sweet as milk
to me, and Sissy has always secretly reminded me of my mom (who was a red-headed
Texan also nicknamed Cissie). I was watching Inside the Actor’s Studio with Sissy Spacek
today, and I love how she says, “You know, being from Texas is like being a member of a
very exclusive club.” She’s right, too! We always seem to find each other, and have a very
particular understanding for one another, and also – an innate friendliness. We’re not earnest
like Canadians, but just very open, somehow. I love being from here, I must say. If I had a pair
of Texas-shaped sunglasses, I’d wear ‘em every day. I know they exist out there, somewhere!
What other state has sunglasses made in the shape of it, I ask you? None! Texas rules, man.
Janice Rule, who plays Willie Hart, also fascinates me. Witch-blue eyes staring ruefully, silent
in long skirts and straw hat. Always painting these bizarrely gorgeous murals on the walls of
drained swimming pools. Heavily pregnant, crouched with her brushes and pots in the hot sun.
She knows things, ancient mysteries, but she’s not saying. She watches, and paints, and carries
a deep sadness. The sorrow of the mother of the world. She’s a primordial crone-queen.
Bodhi Wind was the actual artist who painted the strange and savage murals,
and unfortunately, very little is known about him. He was incredibly talented artist,
a symbolist visionary, and something of a babe! Sadly, I discovered that four or
five years after 3 Women was made, he stepped off a curb in London and was
struck and killed by an oncoming car. I’ve found myself wondering about who
Bodhi Wind was, and where the inspiration for his beautiful beasts came from.
What wonders might he have created had he lived? I’ve also been thinking a
lot about the 1970′s – and all the brilliant drifters that simply wandered off the
horizon into oblivion. What did they leave behind? In an era before people
could simply be googled and found, you could just disappear, and leave no
trace. I wonder about the murals in the desert. Did they flake away, or get
painted over? Are they still out there, preserved in the pool of the Purple Sage
apartment complex, or hacked off the walls to grace the dining room of some
Hollywood luminary? I wish I knew. It seems he also did the cover art for the
album Elevation from jazz great Pharoah Sanders. That’s all I could dig up,
alas. But who knows? There’s got to be some people out there who knew him,
who worked with him, who knew what his name was before he became Bodhi Wind.
Altman said it was so hot in the desert, that they couldn’t paint during the day –
the paint would literally boil and bubble. They had to wait until evening, and
drag lights down into the empty pools to paint by. Can you imagine?
This was his assistant, his friend, maze-painter. Who was he? Where is he these days?
I would have loved to have seen books of Bodhi’s paintings, galleries filled
with his mystic monsters. How would he have evolved as an artist? Mysteries.
I’ve been devouring Joan Didion’s collection Slouching Towards Bethelehem,
and the first passage in the first essay “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream”
seemed so apt, seemed to perfectly describe the setting, and the rootlessness
of 3 Women. I’d never read Didion before, but I’ve got a stack I’m working through.
“This is a story about love and death in the golden land, and begins with the country.
The San Bernardino Valley lies only an hour east of Los Angeles by way of the San
Bernardino Freeway but is in certain ways an alien place: not the coastal California
of subtropical twilights and the soft westerlies off the Pacific but a harsher California,
haunted by the Mohave just beyond the mountains, devastated by the hot dry Santa Ana
wind that comes down through the passes at 100 miles an hour and whines through the
Eucalypts windbreaks and works on the nerves. October is the bad month for the wind,
the month when breathing is difficult and the hills blaze up spontaneously.
There has been no rain since April. Every voice seems a scream.
It is the season of suicide and divorce and prickly dread, wherever the wind blows.
The Mormons settled this ominous country, and then they abandoned it but by the time they
left the first orange tree had been planted and for the next hundred years the San Bernardino
Valley would draw a kind of people who imagined they might live among the talismanic fruit
and prosper in die dry air, people who brought with them Mid-western ways of building and
cooking and praying and who tried to graft those ways upon the land. The graft took incurious
ways. This is the California where it is possible to live and die without ever eating an artichoke,
without ever meeting a Catholic or a Jew. This is the California where it is easy to Dial-A-Devotion,
but hard to buy a book. This is the country in which a belief in the literal interpretation of Genesis
has slipped imperceptibly into a belief in the literal interpretation of Double Indemnity, the country
of the teased hair and the Capris and the girls for whom all life’s promise comes down to a waltz-length
white wedding dress and the birth of a Kimberly or a Sherry or a Debbi and a Tijuana divorce and
return to hairdressers’ school. “We were just crazy kids” they say without regret, and look to the future.
The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past.
Here is where the hot wind blows and the old ways do not seem relevant, where the divorce
rate is double the national average and where one person in every thirty-eight lives in a trailer.
Here is the last stop for all those who come from somewhere else,
for all those who drifted away from the cold and the past and the old ways.
Here is where they are trying to find a new life style, trying to find it in the
only places they know to look: the movies and the newspapers.”
– From the essay “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream”
“Whooping cranes are white birds, five feet tall, and graceful where they should be ungainly.
Like loons, cranes raise only one or two chicks per year. Unlike loons, cranes are endangered
enough to merit captive rearing to supplement their numbers. The trick to raising birds in captivity
is to look and sound like them, to stay silent and play crane calls through an mp3 player, to swaddle
one’s self in a white sheet with one gloved hand marked to look like a crane’s head: red forehead patch,
yellow eye, long black beak. Then when the cranes are introduced to other cranes they will migrate with
them, they will mate with them, they will not know that the difference between the misshapen thing that
raised them and the real bird they see now. They will follow the crane flock home.”
Man, I need to watch Coal Miner’s Daughter again! Badlands, also which
3 Women joins at the very tip-top of my all-time favorite films canon.
Sissy Spacek Interviewed for 3 Women at Cannes – she’s so elfin and perfect!
Look at her corn-flax hair, and that crisp blazer and her enthusiastic ease.
I grabbed all the best stills I could find for this post, with many thanks to
Miss Moodboard, Mister Ron’s Log, and John Waterson for making them available!
Also, check out Corbu’s Cave – The Painted Wall: From Cave Painting
to Le Corbusier and Beyond for a nice piece on Bodhi.
Unrelated, save for their hues and beauty – some dewy sweet peas from Ecstaticist: