Writer/director Robert Altman is famous for large-cast, multi-storyline films like M*A*S*H, Nashville and Short Cuts. He also made many smaller, low-budget films of high value. Among them is a puzzler called 3 Women, starring Sissy Spacek, Shelley Duvall and Janice Rule as women who alternately assume each others’ personas. The idea for the film grew out of some images in a dream Altman had.
In the commentary track for the film, Altman speaks about creating films out of dream material, and the way art and music influence his generative process:
It’s like a watercolor in a funny way. You start and you want to vaguely give the impression but you don’t want to do hard lines. You want the viewer to look at it and let them make the hard lines in the watercolor, or the painting.
These films, as I see it, to me they are more like paintings than literature. It’s more about a visual idea and getting impressions from a visual idea. Except, we go back to the same problem that a film is linear. If a film is two hours long, it’s always two hours long. A painting is the length of time you wanna look at it.
Music is linear. But music is not specific in terms of literature. I remember as a very, very small kid when radio first started, my parents would take me for a ride in the car, ’cause I was probably a terrible little kid. And I would come home and they would turn the radio on. It was all classical music then. And I remember kinda half in a half-dream state — half-asleep, half-awake — I’d hear that music.
I would make up stories to go along with them. These stories had no beginning or ending, but they would usually [contain] things that were in my world then. It would be a cowboy riding across the plains. Things that a four- or five-year-old child thinks about. But these are impressions. These same impressions I wouldn’t have today with that music, but it does tend to carry you through a visual. So I guess my ideal film would be a painting with music.