Tools
Tools
MOVIES
Flicks - Nashville
Nashville 11/07/07 3:11
Flicks - Nashville
Robert Altman's 1975 satiric film about the Nashville music scene reflects deep anxieties about American culture after Vietnam. During that all-too-brief period in the 1970s when American filmmakers experimented with new themes and new ways to tell stories, Robert Altman was one of the best of the maverick directors. And among his films, Nashville, released in 1975, is arguably the best and certainly the most emblematic of that era.
Nashville follows a large group of disparate characters in and around the Tennessee city's music industry over a period of several days, including a childlike country star named Barbara Jean, played by Ronee Blakley, returning to an adoring public after a freak accident put her in the hospital. Among the notables meeting her at the airport is the veteran country singer Haven Hamilton, a short, gentlemanly figure of pretentious patriotic nobility played brilliantly by Henry Gibson. Also on hand are Karen Black as Barbara Jean's catty rival Connie White, Keith Carradine as an endlessly womanizing folk singer, and Lily Tomlin as a married gospel singer whom Carradine seeks to seduce. There are quite a few other actors and plot strands too numerous to mention, and a bunch of good songs, many of them written by the cast, and often slyly satirizing the jingoism and naďve sentimentality of the country genre. All the while a van cruises the streets broadcasting the message of a fringe 3rd party candidate for President, whose agent, played by Michael Murphy, is trying to get a bunch of local music stars to perform at an upcoming rally.
The script is by Joan Tewkesbury, although Altman's style tends to disguise the fact that there is a script at all. With his ironic, observational method using overlapping dialogue and a lot of long and medium shots, the director creates a texture of seemingly inconsequential events and everyday banality, a lot like real life. The self-absorbed music culture is treated with dry, satiric irony—the emotionalism of the country lyrics vying with the desperate-to-get-ahead show biz climate. The pretenders and the hangers-on, like the bubblehead played by Shelley Duval or the girl played by Gwen Welles who wants to be a star even though she can't sing to save her life, are like the pathetic flip side of the American dream. Geraldine Chaplin's British journalist is the ultimate joke—while pretending to be in the know she is spectacularly clueless about everything going on around her.
Made as Vietnam was finally ending and the bicentennial was approaching, Nashville conveys the mood of a country gone terribly wrong, where underneath all the cultural ferment the spirit is broken. Altman's indirect method was never put to better use than here, where a genial form of chaos suffuses all the scenes. It's the kind of movie that could never be made today, harshly critical of American culture, a movie combining a kind of defiant humor with a real tenderness. Nashville is available on DVD.