I've written briefly about the glories of 3 WOMEN before, as a part of my Guide to Melancholy Horror, and it is indeed a brilliant film, atmospheric and strangely frightening, brimming with the pathos and everyday tragedy while flirting with a kind of otherworldly dread. It's also draped in a mystical, feminine energy, rarely glimpsed in mainstream film. It's very comparable to PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK or PERSONA in that aspect.
Regardless, I'm here to talk about "Dirty Gertie," a bizarre, animatronic bar fixture that makes a brief but memorable appearance.
Millie (Shelly Duvall) takes her new work acquaintance/burgeoning friend Pinky (Sissy Spacek) to her favorite bar and leaves her alone while she makes selections on the jukebox. Millie advises Pinky to tug on Dirty Gertie's scarf to get a surprise.
Dirty Gertie, the monstrous head depicted in the second screen capture, spits water on Pinky and begins to laugh maniacally. It is terrifying. I tried to put this clip on YouTube, but it was promptly blocked, so I suppose you'll have to see the whole movie (which you should).
Regardless, Dirty Gertie reminds me of a strange amalgamation of, say, the factory robot room from HALLOWEEN III, William Sanderson's workshop in BLADE RUNNER, that weird animatronic head that Corey Feldman is building in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 4, or perhaps just a trip to Chuck E. Cheese.
What does it mean? I'm not exactly sure. Perhaps it is the innocence of youth (Sissy Spacek) confronting the perceived grotesqueness of old age– in the context of the film, she's taking poorly to her new day job of assisting the elderly at a nursing home. The spurt of water strengthens the likelihood of this connection, as a large part of her job entails escorting old folks through a wading pool. Perhaps she must overcome her revulsion before her connection with the 3rd Woman (played by Janice Rule, whom she meets in this scene) can be made in earnest, and the mystery of her place in the world revealed. ...Or maybe Dirty Gertie is there just to be creepy. Either way.