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Nashville Movie Review

altman robert film awards

1975 – Robert Altman –

Influencing both movies and television with its multiple plot lines, improvisation and hand-held cameras, Nashville is more than a moldy museum piece. Director Robert Altman departs from some of the assumptions of mainstream movies. He diminishes plot and focuses on the interesting recesses locked away in his characters. The people in his films—like the people in life—seem to come up with more sides to their personalities. As we get to know them, these sides often seem at once funny and sad. Altman's rich ambiguity and his rejection of the pat and simple also de-emphasize the importance of a completed, polished script and stresses the advantages of spontaneity and improvisation. Nashville beautifully illustrates all of these traits.

The film observes the tragicomic interactions of twenty-four people over five days in Nashville, actions that are all linked directly or indirectly to country music, a political campaign, and the bicentennial celebration. Reportedly, Altman left writer Joan Tewkesbury to solely decide the general arcs of what these interactions would be while he only stipulated that the film would end in a killing. The actors were encouraged to improvise some of their dialogue, and some scenes were shot with multiple, concealed cameras so that the performers would not know when they were being filmed and were forced to remain in character so as not to spoil the shot. Those who played country-western singers were allowed to collaborate on or even to write some of the songs they performed. One of them, Keith Carradine, won an Oscar for his music.

The results of such an approach to filmmaking, of course, will make some viewers fidget because the movie refuses to release its meaning in the more straightforward ways that other films do. (One of the characters, for example, is a reporter for the BBC, but she is simply offered as one more interesting person out of the flux of humanity rather than the observer and interpreter of events that most directors would have turned her into.)

For those whose curiosity is kindled by such an approach, the rewards are many. One of them is the continual state of surprise that Nashville maintains. It has the edginess and unpredictability of life itself. Because Altman simply follows where situations and characters lead, moments of originality and richness spring from the least likely places. In one of these, Lady Pearl (Barbara Baxley) slips into a long reverie about the slain Kennedy brothers. Her angry, tearful comments are mawkish but genuine, wildly idolatrous yet suggestive of a real hunger to serve her country. Should we laugh at her, pity her, or admire her willingness to get involved? (All three, Altman might say.) In another example, Altman shows the Sunday morning before the big rally in a montage of characters singing hymns at different churches, some more dignified in their worship, some more emotional, and one veering toward the Pentecostal. Again, no implied commentary guides the audience response as the shots cut back and forth from congregation to congregation; the film is content simply to capture such moments in their fullness and offer them up as samples of American religion. Altman, who has often compared making films to playing jazz, pours out rich human music in Nashville.

Cast: David Arkin (Norman), Barbara Baxley (Lady Pearl), Ned Beatty (Delbert Reese), Karen Black (Connie White), Ronee Blakley (Barbara Jean), Timothy Brown (Tommy Brown), Keith Carradine (Tom Frank), Geraldine Chaplin (Opal), Robert Doqui (Wade), Shelley Duvall (L.A. Joan), Allen Garfield (Barnett), Henry Gibson (Haven Hamilton), Scott Glenn (Pfc. Glenn Kelly), Jeff Goldblum (Tricycle Man), Barbara Harris (Albuquerque), David Hayward (Kenny Fraiser), Michael Murphy (John Triplett), Allan Nichols (Bill), Dave Peel (Bud Hamilton), Christina Raines (Mary), Bert Ramsen (Star), Lily Tomlin (Linnea Reese), Gwen Welles (Sueleen), Keenan Wynn (Mr. Green) Screenwriter: Joan Tewkesbury Cinematographer: Paul Lohmann Composer: Richard Baskin, Karen Black, Ronee Blakley, Keith Carradine Producer: Robert Altman for Paramount MPAA Rating: R Running Time: 159 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1975: Song (“I'm Easy”); Nominations: Director (Robert Altman), Picture, Supporting Actress (Ronee Blakley, Lily Tomlin); Golden Globe Awards, 1976: Song (“I'm Easy”); National Board of Review Awards, 1975: 10 Best Films of the Year, Director (Robert Altman), Supporting Actress (Ronee Blakley); New York Film Critics Awards, 1975: Director (Robert Altman), Film, Supporting Actress (Lily Tomlin); National Society of Film Critics Awards, 1975: Director (Robert Altman), Film, Supporting Actor (Henry Gibson), Supporting Actress (Lily Tomlin).

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