Out of the rain, and into the mausoleum — not the main characters, but Robert Altman, who, with this forbidding meditation on the Gothic thriller, slammed the Hollywood door shut in favor of art-house barricading. An early stirring of the budding American Renaissance, the picture is a conscious new beginning after the previous year’s botched studio experience with Countdown, and, as befits Altman’s expanding awareness of his own maverickdom, the focus of Richard Miles’ novel is moved from interior first-person to an outsider’s fragmented observation of disintegrating psyches. No Repulsion subjectivity here, only a clinically searching camera watching pinched, thirtyish bourgeois Sandy Dennis shanghaing hippie youth Michael Burns from the park bench and into her Vancouver home. Dennis’ severity cloaks freaky neediness, while Burns, happy to dodge his family outside, plays mute and does a mock-balalaika in a bed cover for her; it’s only a matter of time before hostess turns warden. The gaze is slippery, craning up and down the side of a building or zooming and dissolving into mirrors, windows, and assorted pieces of glass, all the better for Altman, in his first examination of the degraded fury of marginalized female consciousness, to structure the trajectory as a shifting pas de deux for control between a woman’s stunted garrulity and a man’s manipulative silence. (Both churn with unacknowledged kinks, whiffs of death and incest — tensions ignored and, thus, perpetuated.) Indeed, the project suggests Altman’s later companion piece Images with less prettification and rawer nerves, and a cleaner vision of the fallout of an order where inequality and the repression of desire lead to disgust, premature spinsterhood and madness, a carving knife sinking into the humping mass beneath the sheets — a madness that entraps and, by boiling its tensions over, points perversely towards a tentative awareness. Cinematography by László Kovács. With Susanne Benton, John Garfield, Jr., Luana Anders, and Michael Murphy.
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