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Nashville
USA 1975
Directed by Robert Altman
Running time 159 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars


One might think that you have to be an American, and even more, to love country music to enjoy Nashville but this hardly explains the veritable adulation that is almost universally lavished on Robert Altman’s film and has been since its 1975 release.

Certainly in its day, its episodic, multi-stranded portrait of 24 contiguous characters was innovative and it is rich with both regional flavour and Zeitgiest resonance (Shelley Duvall and Jeff Goldblum provide some particularly delicious wardrobe statements), but Altman has recycled the improvisational approach himself many times, notably in Short Cuts and the Zietgeist has long since gone, yet the film has lost no noticeable portion of its critical support base.  Equally too there have been many quality country music singer biopics like Coal Miner’s Daughter and Sweet Dreams, so the behind-the-scenes look into the often cruel and tawdry world of the country music business is hardly as revealing as it was then.

With an original screenplay by Joan Tewksbury, who collaborated with Altman on Thieves Like Us, Nashville follows its characters over a torrid 5 day period of hustling and lobbying.  As most of the characters are, or are aspiring to be, country music singers a goodly portion of the film is given over to musical numbers, many written by the people who perform them including Ronne Blakley, Henry Gibson, Karen Black, Keith Carradine. Meanwhile, the Tennessee presidential primary is taking place and Geraldine Chaplin witters away as a visiting British Broadcasting Corporation journalist doing a “think” piece on America. From her interviewing style it would seem unlikely to ever to see the light of day.

Lily Tomlin received a Best Supporting Actress nomination, as did Ronee Blakely, and the two women provide the most engaging elements of the film which, in the absence of a centralizing dramatic focus or particularly memorable songs ( "I'm Easy," written and performed by Keith Carradine, won an Oscar for Best Song and became a minor pop hit) and with a 2 hour 40 minute run-time, requires forbearance.  How this translates into the regularly-touted encomium “masterpiece” remains a mystery to me. Perhaps one day Nashville will be my Damascus.

 

 

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