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The mixing pot of Nashville Circa 1975 is sampled as only Altman can
Robert Altman is a maverick master filmmaker and Nashville is often considered his magnus opus. Nashville has two backdrops. The first is the city, with its rich musical heritage. The second is one of America's dirtiest and most favorite games – politics. The film takes place in the days preceding the Tennessee presidential primary. In this cauldron of music and politics, Altman mixes a stew that contains two-dozen significant characters. Nashville isn't one long story; it's an interweaving of many shorter ones. And, though there are many minor intersection points, it isn't until the finale, which takes place at a Hal Phillip Walker rally, when all of the principals come together. Until then, they are living out their lives in close proximity to each other, but without impacting anyone except those in their immediate circles. Altman proves that it is possible to develop sympathy for a diverse group of individuals in only a short time. Most of the characters have less than 20 minutes of screen time, yet, after only a scene or two with each of them, we develop an emotional investment in their future.
Like it's subject—the Tennessee and country music capitol being a metonym for the country and the culture industry at large—Altman's masterpiece is a melting pot of a movie, part political satire, part concert film, part docudrama about the everyday lives of minor stars. With apparently enough footage that producers originally floated the idea of splitting the film in two, a RED volume and a BLUE one—it's Nashville, so white would be well-represented regardless—the decision to instead release one ungovernably massive (anti-)epic ends up doing a better job reflecting the confused, combative, self-contradictory soul of America, if ultimately not through soul music. As Geraldine Chaplin's loopy and frivolous Opal, the asinine alien observer whose patronizing lack of self-awareness sporadically occasions the true insight of an outsider, says of a multi-car pileup stopping traffic on the freeway: "It's America, those cars smashing into each other and all those mangled corpses…" It's a sentiment echoed thirty years by a (then) little known state senator: There are no red states and no blue states, but only the United States—likewise, there is no red Nashville and no blue Nashville, only Altman's messy, beautiful, unwieldy NASHVILLE, with its overlapping dialogue, its sprawling cast, its extraordinary scope, and its ability to contain its paradoxes and incongruities side by side without falling apart (yet, at least).
Yet the film's message is more cynical and not so benignant as all that, offering a subversive vision of the celebrity machine at the heart of (the) country. Whatever their protests to the contrary, the film presents the Nashville scene as being no less egoistic, image obsessed, and exploitative than the coastal elites in Hollywood or New York; yet nor are they any less fragile, genuine, and complex. Case in point, by inviting the actors not only to perform their own songs, but to actually compose them, as well, Altman simultaneously undermines the myth, already in the Seventies, of country and western's authenticity, showing how it can be just as facile and produced as mainstream pop music. And judging by the shock of violence that climaxes the film's meandering, rambling narrative, the idyllic heartland is just as destructive as all that fabled sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, to boot—to again quote the accidentally profound Opal, blood stains not only the hand that pulled the trigger, but the whole gun culture that provoked the long American history of murder: "All these people here in this country who carry guns are the real assassins, because you see, they stimulate other people who are perhaps innocent and who eventually are the ones who pull the trigger." Then again, suggests the film at the end in its most censorious gesture, what is the violence of gun culture compared to the violence of celebrity culture, America's most shameful death cult—ostensibly a celebration of individual lives, though in truth propelled by the death drive, as is evidenced by the outpouring of collective melancholia online whenever a celebrity dies—which so abhors a vacuum that it can leave no opportunity for mourning or reflection, but rather takes no time in replacing one interchangeable voice for another.
Either you get it [and you laugh for more than 2 hours]...or you don't.
I have no idea how it's possible to fully flesh out all of these characters in a film with such a free-roaming plot. I also have absolutely no clue how every plot-line that concerns a specific character, or a specific group of characters, kinda intertwined, or rather formed altogether a complete (and very impactful) picture by the end.
It took me some time to get invested, but once I found an interesting character, I gradually became fully immersed in what was going on. Also, I have to admit that I wasn't constantly, or equally, engaged with each story-line, but that will definitely change upon rewatch.
The songs are some of the best I've ever heard in a film. The well-deserved Oscar-winning song ,"I'm Easy" is simply brilliant! It's quite a refreshing experience to listen to songs played out in such a free-wheeling manner.
The performances are splendidly genuine. And you can't help relating to all of the (many) main characters when the film get to the personal dramas and moments of revelation by its second half.
Yes, I wasn't wrong when I said in my M*A*S*H review that I think Altman's other films will work for me pretty well, and here he has made a kaleidoscope of cynicism, wit and intimacy: he has made a sprawling mosaic of American society in a most effortless efficiency!
I am very conflicted on this film because while I love parts of it I find it to be incredibly overlong and parts of it are almost impossible to stay engaged in. Robert Altman is not one of my favorite directors because although he has made films I really like, Fool for Love (1985) and 3 Women (1977), he has also made some of the most tedious films I have ever sat through, Quintet (1979) and The Company (2003), depending on what day it is Nashville falls on either side. Today I feel a real love for it because despite it's faults it can be an absolutely joy and some of the satirical observations it makes are even more relevant today. I would put this in my Top 100 of films because it manages to do very special things in a few short scenes and that and the major influence that this film has had deserves recognition.
The film has 24 main characters who interact with one another in Nashville during the lead up an independent political candidate's rally and various people related to the music industry undergoing personal and professional trials.
The part of the film that I loved most was the character of Opal, Geraldine Chaplin, a nutty woman impersonating a BBC reporter who gloms on to whatever politics are convenient and is obsessed with fame. Her hidden prejudices and ironic shallowness can be seen when she enters the trailer of African-American musical artist Tommy Brown, Timothy Brown, who she assumes is white. She condescends his friends, also African-American, by referring to them as "You lovely people" and says that Brown must be very progressive to hang out with them. Another standout scene occurs when she is seen walking around an abandoned yard of dilapidated school buses and continuously adjusts her angle on the metaphor she is ascribing them to as it becomes clear she is mental and has none of her own political convictions. Chaplin gave one of the funniest performances I have ever seen and the fact that she didn't win and wasn't even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress was shocking to me.
The storyline that I appreciated second most was that of Linnea Reese, Lily Tomlin, and Tom Frank, Keith Carradine, a middle aged housewife and a young country singer who have a brief affair. Tomlin appears as a compassionate and sweet woman who while she cares for her children struggles with her philandering husband. Her pairing with Tom, who sleeps with nearly every woman in the film including his bandmate Mary, Cristina Raines, seems unlikely but we believe it during the famous performance of "I'm Easy." The camera closes up on Linnea's face as we see flashes of fear and sexual excitement cross her face as she receives attention from a male for the first time in a long time. Their post coital conversation is also sweet as she teaches him sign language but when she gets up to leave we see him angrily retaliate by calling another woman. The fact that he ends the conversation immediately after she leaves hints at the fact that he felt more of a connection to her than he does with his usual groupies but the abilities of Carradine and Tomlin to sell their connection in just a few scenes is impressive.
The film looks beautiful as it is very much a documentation of the fashion of 1975. Shelley Duvall's L.A. Joan in particular wears the sort of clothing you associate with a â~sexy' seventies woman and her afro and famously thin frame only add to the look. A lot of the young men sport long, shaggy hair and beards while the older men wear maroon colored suits and bell bottoms. The sight of an iconic city like Nashville at a time of such upheaval has a certain novelty to it and Altman captures many of the city's most famous landmarks.
This isn't a perfect film but I would like to talk about only the positive aspects of the film because it is worth sitting through the musical performances for the really interesting, detailed, funny parts of the film which are something that can only really be found in a Robert Altman movie.
The best, GREATEST movie ever made! With the best movie song ever sung: I'm Easy!
An absolutely horrible film. Not funny. Not clever. Just a bunch of vignettes that seemingly are supposed to lead to the surprising finish. You're actually hoping it will end, any way you can get it. I am amazed at the ratings I see here, frankly.
The entire first act of Nashville was one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever watched. The way that you are bombarded by characters constantly and they all run around from one place to the next is confusing, even downright disorienting. I had no idea who anyone was, what anyone wanted, where they were going, and so forth. The film does not settle focus for even a moment in that entire first act in order to allow you to understand what is happening, it just pushes forward and starts a dozen or more little plot threads at once. For me, this experience was like sitting in a crowded shopping mall catching small snippets of conversations as people wander by. I might be able to focus in on one or two of those conversations and try to deduce what they are doing or where they are going, but I’m certainly not going to care about any of them. Nashville slowed down its pace a bit as the movie progressed and we were allowed to spend more than a few minutes at a time in any given scene. It was still a struggle to care in the slightest about anyone, because I didn’t feel like I genuinely knew anything about the characters, but at least I could follow what was happening to them. As I’ve seen with other Altman movies, the dialogue in the film is atrocious because he doesn’t script enough and allows actors to improvise a lot. This leads to a lot of clunky dialogue, and moments where you can feel the performer searching for the right words to say. He even leaves in moments when people flub their lines and it is like nails on a chalkboard to me. I’m starting to suspect that Altman could rival Malick as my least favorite director. Then there’s the music. I’m a fan of musicals, so taking breaks in a movie I’m not enjoying sounded like a welcome reprieve. That would be the case if all these singers weren’t terrible. I think there were two songs in this entire film where I found the melodies pleasant and actually wanted to hear more. The rest was like strangling cats, and I’m not one of those people who hate country music, I just hate when the artists can’t sing it. I genuinely wanted to fast-forward through most of the songs, but I stuck it out because I hoped that the lyrics would inform on the characters. However, I never felt like I got to know or care about the characters so that was a pointless endeavor. Then everyone converges in one place for the final scene, people have a fight about something that is resolved because the scene needs to end, and we are thrown into the last concert For the big finale during the next terrible song *spoiler alert* someone gets shot! Unfortunately it wasn’t me, so I was left to question why this frustrating film is something people love. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years it’s that there are other reasons people find for watching and enjoying movies. Not everyone is looking for a traditional narrative, story, or plot. Those are pretty high on my personal list of things to look for in movies, so I get discouraged when I find a movie that lacks any of those. I want to connect with characters and feel emotionally impacted by their journey, but a film like this is less interested in a specific character’s journey and cares more about establishing themes. Someone told me that this movie is like a snapshot of who the country was in its bicentennial year, if that’s the case I’m glad I wasn’t born until late 1976.
Nashville is the undisputed best of films about the search for the American Dream, with great laughs and poignance, and craftsmanship that is unmatched even with Altman's other work.