By Christopher Null
Call me a heathen. I don't like Nashville.
Possibly the most celebrated film of the 1970s -- at least among film snob circles -- Robert Altman's sprawling case study of five days in the Tennessee city is self-absorbed, overwrought, and dismissive. Nor is it particularly well-made, with poor sound (even after being remastered for its DVD release) and washed-out photography, not to mention a running time (2:40) that's at least an hour too long.
Not liking country music is probably part of my distaste for the film, but that's hardly a major point. Frankly, Altman's opus is so far-flung and random that it simply doesn't make for compelling viewing. Other critics gush about its little vignettes and how telling they are with subtle glances and nods of the head, but this is shorthand for the fact that the movie doesn't have much to say. Even its plot -- a third-party Presidential candidate descends on Nashville to throw a fundraising bash -- is a throwaway. It feels like Altman had to fold in his vaunted 24 characters just to give the movie some substance -- something that misses far more than it hits.
Again, its ardent fans will talk of how Nashville is so remarkable for turning its head agains the budding hallmarks of Hollywood: the big action sequence, the leading man, the plot point structure. And Altman actually did manage to throw all that stuff out some 20 years later with Short Cuts, and with dramatic success. But so much of Nashville is frivolous and uninspiring, and there's just so much folky-country song and dance, that any sense of the auteur in Altman isn't readily apparent.
I will give Altman credit for absolutely nailing Nashville's decrepitude and sadness, obsession with Goo-Goo Bars and the Grand Olde Opry (a stage on which I've actually performed as a non-country singer, but that's another story). The political turmoil of the 1970s is also well on display here, too. But you know, the 1970s political unrest movie has been made before. And no one else set it in Nashville, Tennessee.
For good reason.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Sunday 21st September 1975
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Production compaines: American Broadcasting Company (ABC), Paramount Pictures, ABC Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 41 Rotten: 3
Cast & Crew
Starring: David Arkin as Norman, Barbara Baxley as Lady Pearl, Ned Beatty as Delbert Reese, Karen Black as Connie White, Ronee Blakley as Barbara Jean, Timothy Brown as Tommy Brown, Keith Carradine as Tom Frank, Geraldine Chaplin as Opal, Robert Doqui as Wade Cooley, Shelley Duvall as Marthe aka "L. A. Joan", Allen Garfield as Barnett, Henry Gibson as Haven Hamilton, Scott Glenn as Pfc. Glenn Kelly, Jeff Goldblum as Tricycle Man, Barbara Harris as Albuquerque, David Hayward as Kenny Fraiser, Michael Murphy as John Triplette, Allan F. Nicholls as Bill, Dave Peel as Bud Hamilton, Cristina Raines as Mary, Bert Remsen as Star, Lily Tomlin as Linnea Reese, Gwen Welles as Sueleen Gay, Keenan Wynn as Mr. Green, James Dan Calvert as Jimmy Reese, Donna Denton as Donna Reese, Merle Kilgore as Trout, Carol McGinnis as Jewel, Sheila Bailey as Smokey Mountain Laurel, Patti Bryant as Smokey Mountain Laurel, Richard Baskin as Frog, Jonnie Barnett as Himself, Vassar Clements as Himself, Sue Barton as Herself, Elliott Gould as Himself, Julie Christie as Herself