(Robert Altman, USA, 1975) 160 minutes


Director: Robert Altman
Producer: Robert Altman
Screenplay: Joan Tewkesbury
Cinematography: Paul Lohmann
Editors: Dennis Hill, Sidney Levin
Music Supervisor: Richard Baskin
David Arkin (Norman)
Barbara Baxley (Lady Pearl)
Ned Beatty (Delbert Reese)
Karen Black (Connie White)
Keith Carradine (Tom Frank)
Geraldine Chaplin (Opal)

Reviews and notes

1999 Austin
2014 Sydney, Haifa

Re-watching Nashville again is to be reminded of the sheer enormity of the film’s canvas, which offers a vision of America as a fabulously irreverent and destructive melting pot — a society spinning a farce of ever-expanding entitlement without any notion or expectation of its corresponding personal, political, and social costs. America was literally created by its irreverence, and later defined by it, and Altman understands his country and celebrates it while, at the same time, often mercilessly lampooning it. Nashville shows the tragedy of America to ultimately be one of a failure of self-consciousness, as the most heartbreaking moments show people’s delusions being casually obliterated by the truth of the grazing indifference of social life at large, as it’s actually lived.
- Chuck Bowen, Slant Magazine, 29 November 2013.

Nashville is the genuine article: a splendidly gifted film, vibrant and immediate, with-moments of true greatness. Moments. If all goes well, the movie will survive the wild enthusiasm that has already been generated on its behalf.

The movie is a honky-tonk panorama of contemporary America and most of its obvious contradictions: a flagrant, nearly frenzied, workaday energy and a kind of moral deadness; a proud regard for history and heritage and an abiding need to construct a synthetic mythology; a sweeping national certitude and the hypocrisy that comes with it. Altman is fearless in his thematic ambitions for Nashville; and it is a good measure of his success that the movie is always fleet and supple, never top-heavy.

The director and his talented collaborator Joan Tewkesbury (who also did the screenplay for Altman's excellent Thieves Like Us) find their major metaphor right at the heart of the country music scene and the people who create all those tunes about broken hearts. and long lonesome roads. One suspects that what attracted Altman and Tewkesbury to C&W, was both its audience ("These are the people who elect the President," a political advance man comments early in the film, with just a trace of disdain) and its tradition. Country-and-western basically dresses up folk music in rhinestones and spangles, making hay out of Americana. A lot of it is slick and sweet, and its sanctimony can curdle the blood. Altman used the music like a continuing, slap-happy dirge.

The movie satirizes country-and-western people - audience and performers alike - but without condescension and with a palpable affection for their fine, flaky spirit. Nashville stars two dozen actors, many of whom contributed their own songs, a touch that lends the film musical cohesion (and saves on expensive music rights). By themselves, most of the tunes - and most of the people who perform them - would not pass muster at the Grand Ole Opry. But the actors are skillful enough and their tunes either sprightly or funny enough to work around this point.

The one tune that occurs most frequently throughout the film and that indeed helps unify it is Keith Carradine's It Don't Worry Me with its chorus, "You may say that I ain't free/ But it don't worry me." Altman uses it as a lively anthem of indifference, a sing-along for deadheads. He weaves the song through the whole film and brings it full front at the climax, where a crowd sings it as a sort of chipper, even defiant apology after a singer has been shot down by a madman. "This isn't Dallas," shouts a performer from the stage. "It's Nashville." Of course, it is both. Altman means it to be even more. In this movie it is all of America.

Altman may have reached a little too far in this; but right now, in a time of congenial but often unambitious entertainments, it is good to have film makers who take that kind of risk. The intertwining narrative threads all have to do with music: people who make it or want to, people who listen to it and are moved by it, people whose lives are both distorted and enriched by it. There is no firm plot, only a lot of related incidents that enlarge and amplify each other. Relationships end and begin again, change deeply and remain the same. Whether it is a love affair, a business relationship or a fleeting allegiance, all the film's separate episodes seem to share a common theme of hollowness.

This can most clearly be seen in another recurring motif: the unlikely presidential campaign of Hal Phillip Walker. His platform expresses the shiniest, most insubstantial dreams of the country, and it capitalizes on the same sort of cozy, synthetic populism as country music. Walker wants to abolish oil subsidies and the electoral college, and even run all lawyers out of Government, "especially Congress." His appeal, like the music, is mostly emotional and a little treacherous. On a TV interview, Howard K Smith informs us that Walker is "something of a mystery man" and first attracted college students to his cause with McKuenesque inquiries like "Does Christmas smell like oranges to you?" In Altman's tilted but pertinent fantasy, it makes perfect sense for Smith to add as an afterthought that indeed for him Christmas always has.

Altman is at considerable pains not to take himself as seriously as perhaps he should. To this end, he installs a kind of international groupie, a BBC correspondent named Opal (energetically played by Geraldine Chaplin), at the very center of the action, and he has her mouth a great gush of pieties and platitudes about the U.S.: "It's America!" she says, beholding a collision on a highway; gun owners are "the real assassins," presumably because their influence can focus the madness of others toward homicide; a yard filled with auto wrecks is symbolic of the violent rape and waste of the whole country. Still, Altman is advancing these images seriously while Opal is commenting on them, and it is this kind of coyness — the eagerness both to use the rather parched symbolism and mock it too — that is the movie's most serious flaw.

The cast is large and almost uniformly excellent. One notices and most particularly appreciates Ronee Blakley and Karen Black as two of country music's leading attractions; Henry Gibson, wily and hilarious as Nashville's unofficial mayor, a purveyor of syrupy patriotism and fawning good will; Barbara Harris, splendid as a whacked-out kewpie who wants to be a big star; Dave Peel as Gibson's rather cowed son, looking like a crestfallen Arthur Godfrey; Michael Murphy as Walker's advance man; and David Hayward as the timid assassin.

Of all the reasons for which Nashville will remembered, not the least significant is the movie debut of Lily Tomlin, extraordinary in the role of an upper-middle-class suburban wife who sings with a black gospel group. Anyone who knows Tomlin's particularly shrewd and quirky kind of comedy from television will not be surprised that her same skills come through here: intelligence, a dead-on perception of people that can be funny or rueful (or both at once), a uniquely intriguing mixture of sensuality and chagrin. There is hardly a false moment in her performance, never a trace of calculation or caricature. She is a major actress.
- Jay Cocks, Time, 16 June 1975.


Created in 2K resolution from a 35mm interpositive, this presentation of Nashville offers a revelatory image that may inspire contemporary viewers to rethink their impression of Robert Altman’s aesthetic, which isn’t always noted for its visual bravura. The themes and the characters aren’t the only embodiments of the film’s grandness, as the image is breathtakingly wide and elaborately detailed. Take note of the scene in the bus yard, which boasts colors that subtly suggest the American flag in a great throwaway joke. This sort of nuance abounds, which also boasts terrific grain preservation and shows no signs of awkward digital revisions. The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround track is clear, immersive, and rich in new audible textures.
- Slant Magazine, 29 November 2013.

Back to screening list

Home Page | Schedule | Membership