Cast & Crew
Cathryn is alone at home writing a children's book about unicorns and other magical beings when a friend telephones. During the call, another woman's voice breaks in, asking about Cathryn's husband Hugh. Throughout the evening, the woman repeatedly telephones Cathryn, telling her that Hugh is having an affair. After Hugh calls to report that he must work late, Cathryn dials the phone number at the Ambassador Towers address given to her by the woman caller, but she only gets a busy signal. When Hugh returns, he finds all the telephones in the apartment off the hook. Cathryn questions him about his fidelity, but he denies that there is anyone but her. When he attempts to kiss her, she sees him transform into a different man and screams. Confused by her hysterical behavior, Hugh calms her and they agree to spend time together at Green Cove, Cathryn's childhood home in the country. Upon arriving, Hugh goes quail hunting, and as Cathryn unpacks the car, she sees an image of herself watching and then, inside the cottage, believes she hears her name called. Hugh, failing to kill a bird, joins Cathryn at the cottage and passes the time taking pictures of a mounted deer head and assembling Cathryn's old jigsaw puzzle, a remnant from her childhood. One day, the Frenchman Rene, Cathryn's former lover who died three years earlier, appears to Cathryn and they have frequent conversations. She accuses him of getting her pregnant, but he insists that she was never with child and that she does not want children. While Cathryn is arguing that she wants a baby, Hugh enters the room and partially overhears her, but she says she was talking to herself. When Hugh later leaves to buy groceries, Cathryn sees herself standing on the cliff and walks out to investigate, but the sight of a familiar dog disturbs her and she runs back. At the cottage, Hugh has returned with their friend Marcel, who introduces his twelve-year-old daughter Susannah and remarks on her resemblance to Cathryn. Drawing Cathryn away from the others, Marcel grabs at her breasts and suggests a rendezvous at the boathouse, but Cathryn pushes him away. When Hugh misplaces the vermouth, Rene finds it for Cathryn, although neither Hugh nor Marcel sees him. Looking out the window, Cathryn sees herself standing outside with the dog. Late in the night, as Hugh and Susannah doze, Marcel talks about his wife's infidelity, while Cathryn, half-listening, thinks about her book. Preparing to leave, Marcel carries Susannah to the car and becomes Hugh in Cathryn's eyes. Then, as this imaginary Hugh tries to fondle Cathryn's breast, she suggests that they awaken Marcel, who she thinks she sees sleeping on the couch. Instead, the image of Hugh roughly forces a kiss and Cathryn orders him to stop, claiming that she loves her husband. After Marcel drives away, Cathryn goes to Hugh and begs him to make love to her, but, tired and inebriated, he goes to bed. Cathryn hears Rene calling to her from a different room. Following the sound, she relives how she arrived at his city apartment, after which she imagines Rene turning into Marcel, who aggressively tries to seduce her. Suddenly, Cathryn finds herself at home, where Hugh affectionately addresses her. In one moment, Cathryn is rolling around with the rough Marcel, saying she does not want a baby, while in the next moment, she is making love with Hugh, saying that she does. When her mind returns to the present, Cathryn goes to the bedroom and, instead of seeing Hugh, finds herself lying naked on the bed, smiling back. The next morning, Hugh and Marcel go bird hunting. Cathryn and Susannah take a walk, during which Cathryn confides that, after her parents divorced, she lived at Green Cove with her grandfather, whom she rarely saw. When the dog scurries up, Cathryn rushes into the cottage, where Rene remarks that the previous night was "fantastic" and an "orgy." However, Cathryn claims he could not have been there, as he is dead. Handing Cathryn a gun from the gun rack, Rene suggests that she "make him dead" and she shoots him, then smiles, relieved that he will no longer bother her. Prompted by the sound, Susannah and the dog's owner enter, but see only Hugh's camera and tripod shattered in pieces on the floor and are satisfied with Cathryn's explanation that the gun went off while she was putting it away. Later, while working on the jigsaw puzzle, Susannah reports that some pieces are missing, so Cathryn gives her a box containing them. Cathryn then goes upstairs, where she sees Marcel, who enthusiastically recalls the vigorous sex of the past night. Alternately, she rebuffs and encourages him, prompting him to call her a "schizo." Wanting to rid herself of his appearances, Cathryn approaches Marcel while holding a pair of sharp scissors behind her back, but then Hugh bursts into the room, dispelling his image. Hugh is at first upset about his demolished camera, but soon apologizes for his anger. Although Hugh mentions that Marcel returned to the cottage fifteen minutes ahead of him, Susannah tells Cathryn that Marcel stayed with her downstairs and never went to Cathryn's room. Troubled by the sight of the puzzle picture Susannah has almost completed, Cathryn runs outside to a waterfall, where she yells at a an image of herself to "go back!" Later, Hugh declares he must briefly go to the city, having received a message from work requesting his assistance, but promises to return as soon as possible. Seeing her anger, Hugh offers to take her along, but she urges him to leave, claiming she needs to finish her book. Alone in the cottage, Cathryn calls to Marcel and stabs him with a kitchen knife, leaving him to bleed to death while she goes to bed. The next morning, she finds the dog sniffing at his body and shoos it away. Soon after, Susannah comes over, feeling lonely because Marcel was not at home when she woke up. After Susannah mentions that Marcel came home late last night, Cathryn no longer sees the body of Marcel lying in the house and invites her in for tea. Later, while driving Susannah home, Cathryn tells her that she used to talk to herself, walk in the woods and invent an imaginary friend when her grandfather was not around. After declining Marcel's invitation to stay for dinner, Cathryn drives back toward the cottage in the rain, passing a man with a flat tire and, farther down the road, an image of herself walking along the road. Although the image calls to her, she continues driving home, where the bodies of Marcel and Rene lie on the floor. Seeing them, Cathryn drives back to where she saw herself and says that she knows how to be rid of her forever. Driving the car, she forces the person over the cliff and sees her fall to the bottom of the waterfall. Relieved, Cathryn returns to their city residence in the Ambassador Towers and takes a shower. As the water pelts her, the bathroom door opens to reveal a vision of herself and the dog. Surprised, Cathryn exclaims, "I killed you!" but her image replies, "Not me." Realizing that it is Hugh who is lying dead at the bottom of the waterfall, Cathryn screams. Meanwhile, Susannah completes the puzzle, which depicts a house, a tiger and a unicorn.
Reportedly, the film's original negative was burned by Columbia Pictures.
This rumor, long believed to be true, has turned out to be false. MGM's home video wing released a DVD in the fall of 2003, apparently from a new print struck from an existing negative.
The title of the film appears onscreen as Robert Altman's images, with the word "images" in lower case. Altman's onscreen credit reads: "Written and directed by." Excerpts from the 1973 book In search of unicorns, credited onscreen as: "`in search of unicorns' a book for children by Susannah York," are heard intermittently throughout the film, recited in voice-over narration by York, who portrayed "Cathryn." In the film's final scene, during which "Susannah," who is portrayed by Cathryn Harrison, completes the jigsaw puzzle, Harrison's voice is heard reciting the final passage from the book. The excerpts from In search of unicorns broadly parallel the action of the film. Although York wrote the book while images was in production, it was a personal project unrelated to the film.
Throughout the film, the character "Hugh," who is portrayed by Rene Auberjonois, makes banal jokes, many reflecting the film's themes of schizophrenia and duality, such as his nonsensical question, "What is the difference between a rabbit?" (The answer: "Nothing. One is both the same.") In depicting Cathryn's schizophrenia, the film remains ambiguous about whether a character appearing in a scene is "real" or part of Cathryn's hallucination. Nor is it entirely certain that the person is doing what Cathryn imagines, as in the case of Marcel's sexual overtures. Windchimes and other exotic sound effects, which are performed in the soundtrack by Stomu Yamash'ta, precede sequences depicting the hallucinations.
Visual images appearing repeatedly throughout the film include mirrors, cameras, camera lenses, binoculars, eyeglasses, mobiles and various windchimes. As noted by several reviewers, writer-director Altman gave the five main characters in the story the same first names as the lead actors, although no actor portrays a character with his or her own name. images is one of two scripts that Altman wrote without a co-author, the second being his 1977 production 3 Women. According to a November 1972 Andy Warhol's Interview article and a modern biography, Altman based the film on a poem about mirrors he wrote as a child. Modern sources note that Altman worked on the script for five years and made eight revisions, and that the addition of York's children's book as narration was added after the actress was cast.
Filmfacts reported that Altman raised $807,000 from independent sources to produce the film after "every major studio" declined to subsidize it. According to an October 1968 Daily Variety news item, Factor-Altman-Mirell Films Ltd. planned to produce the film, but in a July 1969 Daily Variety news item, Don Factor alone was announced as producer of images. A December 10, 1969 Variety news item reported that Factor and Jimmy Lyndon would produce the film. The film ultimately was produced by Lion's Gate Films, a company founded by Altman, and the British-based Hemdale Group.
According to a December 10, 1969 Variety news item, Altman planned to shoot in Vancouver, Canada (where he had recently completed the Factor-Altman-Mirell 1969 film That Cold Day in the Park), at locations in Long Beach, Fisherman's Cove and along the Vancouver coast. However, as noted in Filmfacts, the film was shot at the Ardmore Studios, in and around Dublin and Loch Bray, Ireland. Although an April 1968 Daily Variety news item reported that Natalie Wood was cast and the December 1969 Variety news item listed Marianne McAndrews, John Vernon and Michael Murphy in the cast, none of the actors appear in the final film. A modern source adds Barbara Baxley as the voice on the telephone.
According to July 1972 Daily Variety and Variety news items, images was rejected by Cinema 5's Don Rugoff and United Artists' David Picker, before Columbia acquired the film for distribution. The July 1972 Daily Variety news item reported rumors that Altman, who had retained some control over marketing and publicity and preferred a fall release, was at odds with Columbia, which wanted an August 1972 "key city" opening. According to an April 1972 Box Office article, the film was the first Irish feature to be screened the Cannes Film Festival, where, a July 1972 Daily Variety news item noted, York won the Best Actress award. The film also was screened at the Edinburgh and Cork Film Festivals. For his contribution to images, John Williams was nominated for an Academy Award for Music-Best Original Dramatic Score.
The United Kingdom
Released in United States Fall October 1972
Released in United States October 8, 1972
Released in United States November 1972
Shown at the Edinburgh Film Festival.
Shown at the Cork Film Festival.
Shown at New York Film Festival October 8, 1972.
First script that Altman wrote without a co-author.
Released in United States Fall October 1972
Released in United States October 8, 1972 (Shown at New York Film Festival October 8, 1972.)
Released in United States November 1972 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Contemporary Cinema) November 9-19, 1972.)