The American Cinematheque's Aero Theater is running a Robert Altman festival this month, in conjuction with Altman's new film, A Prairie Home Companion. I'm an Altman fan but haven't had a chance to see many of his early films. Friday night, I caught a double feature of The Player and 3 Women. 3 Women is a bit of a rarity, only recently available on DVD. It's definitely one of the stranger films I've seen but it's completely engrossing. Altman said he based it on a dream, and it has that dreamlike quality. Millie (Shelley Duvall) and Pinky (Sissy Spacek) star as coworkers who become roommates and doppelgangers. The homely and endearing Shelley gives a sad, funny, and amazing performance as a lonely self-deluded gal who fancies herself the most popular girl in their one-horse desert town while in reality none of the men she tries to woo are the least bit interested, except for Edgar, a drunken former stuntman and husband of the 3rd woman, Willie (Janice Rule), who becomes an important figure in all 3 women's lives. Homely but mesmerizing, Shelley anchors the film. She is so thin that her legs look like they might snap like twigs, but her spirit never falters. Sissy begins by echoing her Carrie role, as a naive girl who just wants to be liked. Just off the bus from Texas, she declares Millie's tiny apartment that is decorated in obsessive 70s yellow glory as the most beautiful place she's ever seen. After an accident, Pinky becomes a new, much more confident person, and she and Millie switch roles. Willie treads on the periphery until the end, but the creepy murals she paints make her a presence in the film. 3 Women is one of those meandering 70s movies: slow-paced to give us time to study the characters, uninterested in propelling the plot through quick cutting, meditatitive. While Altman typically shows us the interconnectedness of a large cast of characters, here he limits it to 3 women but with powerful results. Check out the Aero Theater calendar for descriptions of other Altman films in the series.