Directed by Robert Altman
Cast: Lily Tomlin, Gwen Welles, Henry Gibson, Geraldine Chaplin, Ronee Blakely, Ned Beatty, Barbara Harris, Keith Carradine, Karen Black, Shelley Duvall, Jeff Goldblum, David Arkin, Barbara Baxley, Timothy Brown, Robert Doqui, Allen Garfield, Scott Glenn, David Hayward, Michael Murphy, Allan Nicholls, Dave Peel, Christina Raines, Bert Remsen, Keenan Wynn.
1975 159 minutes
Rated: (for profanity and nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 1998.
Director Robert Altman's "Nashville" has been widely hailed as one of, if not the greatest film of the 1970's, and it is just that. The film is a sprawling, flawless, epic mosaic of five days in the lives of 24 characters in the country music capital of the world. Altman later made other pictures with a huge cast of characters, such as 1993's "Short Cuts" and 1994's "Ready to Wear," but this film is like no other I have ever seen for one major reason: it plays exactly, and I mean exactly like real life.
For people more into conventional movies, look elsewhere, because many things happen that aren't explained, and that can't be explained, because there are things in life that just happen, without any explanation, and just as in real life, things happen to characters, and characters simply do things naturally. Within the five day frame of "Nashville," which clocks in at 159 minutes, most of the characters never really get to know each other. Their lives occasionally cross paths, and in some cases, characters may run into others that later on may unknowingly change the fate of their lives. The wide range of people in the film consist of country singers, political aides, inhabitants of Nashville, and visitors who have come to see the country shows. For most of the running time, there are rarely huge plot developments, or twists, and when they do come, they come from the characters, not the plot itself. This style of filmmaking rarely is done, and most of the time, it is done badly. But Altman directs with such a sure hand, and has written such a truthful, vigorating, original screenplay that "Nashville" is an emotional powerhouse, and a one-of-a-kind motion picture experience.
It would be difficult to describe all of the characters here, except in the general way that I have already done. Instead, I'd like to talk about the many layers of "Nashville." The movie doesn't follow the 24 characters, as much as it observes them in everyday life, which I think is much more effective. By simply "following" them, there is a greater chance that we might just learning something in the process about human nature, and I think this film succeeds at that too.
Another layer is that country music isn't the only focus during the five days that the characters are there, but there is also a political election going on. These two elements of music and politics intermingle throughout, as do the people, as they walk in and out of each other's lives.
The performances are flawless in "Nashville," as is the music, which won the Academy Award for Best Song ("I'm Easy"). Some of the standouts in the cast are Lily Tomlin, who plays an unhappy housewife with two deaf children; Geraldine Chaplin as a naive British journalist who has travelled to Nashville to film a documentary; Ronee Blakely as a country artist who has a nervous breakdown; and Gwen Welles as a waitress who dreams of becoming a singer, but has no talent at all.
"Nashville" is a masterpiece in every sense of the word, and it is one of the most important movies ever made. The picture may be set in Nashville, Tennessee, but it has a much wider scope, and the last scene is as heartbreaking, surprising, and hopeful as any moment ever captured on film.
There are no so-called "likable" characters, because Altman paints each one as a real person with both virtues and flaws, but it is so "real" that we are able to sympathize with everyone's plight. "Nashville" is about America in general; it is about our hopes, our dreams, and our disappointments in life.
© by Dustin Putman