Monday, January 21, 2013
Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 3/13/07 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.
Directed by Robert Altman and written by Joan Tewkesbury, Nashville is a multi-layered story about different groups of people coming together for a country music convention where the world of politics and celebrity collide in the course of five day that leads to a climatic concert. The film explores the world of celebrity culture through a variety of stories that features more than 20 characters. With an all-star cast that includes Keith Carradine, Lily Tomlin, Shelley Duvall, Michael Murphy, Geraldine Chaplin, Henry Gibson, Ronee Blakley, Gwen Welles, Barbara Baxley, Ned Beatty, Jeff Goldblum, Allen Garfield, Scott Glenn, Elliott Gould, Julie Christie, and many more. Nashville is a superb, sprawling, yet eerie film from Robert Altman.
Replacement party candidate Hal Phillip Walker is set to appear in Nashville, Tennessee in the hopes to win another primary for the U.S. Presidency as a BBC news reporter named Opal (Geraldine Chaplin) is making a documentary about the city. Opal accidentally interrupts a recording session for country legend Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) as she meets his son Bud (Dave Peel) while she attends another session featuring gospel singers led by a local housewife in Linnea Reese (Lily Tomlin). Linnea's husband Delbert (Ned Beatty) has a meeting with Californian businessman John Triplette (Michael Murphy) while a mysterious man (Jeff Goldbum) arrives on a motor-tricycle where a cook named Wade Cooley (Robert DoQui) and waitress/aspiring singer Sueleen Gray (Gwen Welles watch). Another aspiring singer in Winifred Albuquerque leaves her husband Star (Bert Ramsen) at a traffic jam as Nashville is waiting for the arrival of famed country singer Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley).
Delbert, Triplette, Haven, Bud, and Haven's mistress Lady Pearl (Barbara Baxley) are at the airport to meet Barbara Jean and her husband Barnett (Allen Garfield) while a soldier named Pfc. Glenn Kelly (Scott Glenn) watches while a folk trio named Bill (Allan F. Nichols), Mary (Cristina Raines), and Tom Frank (Keith Carradine) arrive to the city as does a woman known as L.A. Joan (Shelley Duvall) who meets her uncle Mr. Green (Keenan Wynn). Jean is sent to the hospital as many await to give interviews or to meet her as Mr. Green later gets a visit from musician Kenny Fraiser (David Hayward) asking to rent a room. Jean's appearance is canceled as everyone in town including African-American country singer Tommy Brown (Timothy Brown) play gigs all over the city while Linnea gets some strange calls from Tom Frank who sleeps around with some of the women in the city. Sueleen auditions for a man named Trout at a club where she passes the audition despite her poor vocal quality. At a show at the Grand Old Opry, Connie White (Karen Black) fills in for Jean who steals the show much to the dismay of Barbara Jean who is still at the hospital. With a big concert at the Parthenon still set, Bill and Mary's relationship is deteriorating as Triplette asks them to play.
Barbara Jean finally plays a show but the performance was shambolic making Triplette and Barnett worried if she will be involved for the big show. At a club later that night, Tom Frank reveals his vulnerability in a song called I'm Easy as Linnea watches while Sueleen attends the gig she received where it's revealed to be not what she expected. On the day Hal Phillip Walker arrives for the show, all of the people big and small in the past four day come together for the big moment where reality and tragedy collide.
Given upon the film's attitude towards idol-worship and politics, the timing couldn't have been any better for a film like Nashville. Even in today's view where whatever cynicism that had been growing in the mid-70s has only served as a reminder to today's harsh times. While a lot of credit should go to Altman for his improvisation, chaotic style in collaboration with his actors. Much of the credit should also go to screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury for telling this story of ordinary people including celebrities and political officers coming together in a place as American as Nashville.
A lot of the film reveals the kind of cynicism and disillusionment that came out of the 1960s. The character of Lady Pearl reveals these feelings when reflecting on her love for the Kennedys and her anger towards her own state for letting Richard Nixon win that state because they didn't want to vote for someone who is Catholic. A lot of the film's political overtones from the voice of P.A. guy talking about the candidate Hal Phillip Walker, who is never seen throughout the entire film.
It's not just politics that drives the course of this story, but also celebrity in which, you have some major celebrity figures in characters like Haven Hamilton, Barbara Jean, Connie White, and Tommy Brown. There's a scene in which the African-American Brown, based on the country singer Charley Pride, is called a racial slur, not by a white man but from one of his own. There's also a scene in where Barbara Jean starts to ramble where it shows the folly and downside of celebrity where it becomes a disappointment to somebody in the audience.
Largely because they're forced to see this iconic figure be something they don't want to see, human. Jean is an interesting character who starts to fall apart from the pressures of celebrity as well as the competition against rival Connie White. There's even a couple of walk-on cameo appearances from Altman regulars Elliot Gould and Julie Christie playing themselves intrigued by this event going on in Nashville.
The city itself is a major character since it's the melting pot of not just where country music is but also the place where Hal Phillip Walker hopes to win. There's a moment where John Triplette uses Nashville hoping to get more votes though he has no care for them. Right before the film's climatic concert, there's a scene of Triplette and Barnett arguing about political motives that revels in how a country has become unsure of their own future concerning the government. After this argument comes this tragedy that would foreshadow an event in the years to come. Plus, in this tragedy comes this wave of disillusionment, loss, and confusion. It is there that someone takes this tragic moment and tries to create something to get people together. This is where the genius of Robert Altman occurs.
Altman isn't concerned about politics, lifestyles, or the cult of celebrity but people, real people even if they're celebrities or political lackeys. Altman's observant yet improvisational direction proves that there's a lot of life in any part of a place like Nashville. Even in a scene where Opal goes to a car dump to prepare narration for her documentary as she is trying to figure out what to say. Altman shows the folly of humanity and how events can lead to surrealism. The character of Linnea Reese is a woman who is a loving mother and wife who cares for her deaf children while her husband is more distracted by this political event rather than paying attention to what his son is trying to say. Altman reveals the folly of people trying to follow something as confusing in politics and celebrity. The moments in the film are often filled with overlapping dialogue to convey the atmosphere of what is going on and where these people are. What are they reacting to or what are they thinking. Altman isn't trying to reveal any kind of answers rather than letting the audience themselves involved in what they think is happening. The result is a truly superb, sprawling direction from the late, great Robert Altman.
Cinematographer Paul Lohmann does excellent work in capturing the wonders that is Nashville from the Parthenon, the Grand Old Opry, and the clubs that make this place unique with its colorful, documentary-like camera work. Set decorator Robert M. Anderson also plays to the film's authentic look of the city with its intimate look for the clubs to the colorful, spacious home of the Reese family. Costume designer Jules Melillo does great work in creating the lavish costumes of the country singers as well as the laid-back clothes of the folk trio Bill, Mary, & Tom to the look of regular people. Editors Dennis M. Hill and Sidney Levin do great work in putting together the stories and characters together with some wonderful editing to move one story to another and see how they all relate to another. Sound editor William A. Sawyer along with Chris McLaughlin and James E. Webb also do amazing work with the sound to convey the sense of tension and atmosphere in the scenes that's happening, notably the way the music is captured.
With many of the actors including Altman contributing music to the film, the soundtrack is wonderfully memorable from the songs Ronee Blakley sings that is pure traditional country to the other songs by Karen Black, Henry Gibson, and Timothy Brown that shows the wonders of country in the 1970s. The musical performances are memorable with Gwen Welles doing a hilariously bad rendition of the songs she sings. Lily Tomlin also does some wonderful music while the real standout is Keith Carradine and his Oscar-winning song I'm Easy. The performance of It Don't Worry Me by Barbara Harris truly memorable while other songs features contributions from Richard Baskin and Gary Busey. It's one of the finest soundtracks ever assembled.
Then, we have the film's large, ensemble cast and it's truly filled with some of the most memorable characters assembled on film. From notable small performances from Gailard Sartain as a diner patron, screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury as the voice of Tom's lover and Kenny's mother, Howard K. Smith as a TV reporter, Merle Kilgore as Trout, composer Richard Baskin as a piano player named Frog, James Dan Calvert and Donna Denton as the Reese's deaf children, and cameos from Altman regulars Elliott Gould and Julie Christie as themselves. Notable small performances from Bert Remsen as Star, Jeff Goldblum as the tricycle man, and David Arkin as Norman are exceptionally memorable for their individual moments. Allan F. Nichols and Cristina Raines are also excellent as the bickering couple of Bill and Mary who are stuck in a tempting love triangle with band mate Tom. Gwen Welles is great as the naive dreamer Sueleen whose belief that she can sing is undermined by the fact that she can't until this moment of humiliation. Robert DoQui is also great as Gwen's friend who reminds her of her lack of talent despite his cynical attitude.
Karen Black is excellent as the bitchy, vain Connie White who has a nicer personality onstage but offstage, she's a mean, egotistical singer with little respect for Barbara Jean. Timothy Brown is also excellent in his brief role as the Charley Pride-inspired Tommy Brown while Scott Glenn is also good in his small role as a soldier who had a nice story about Barbara Jean. Barbara Harris gives a comical, memorable performance as a struggling singer named Albuquerque who is hoping for her own break where she has an amazing scene in the film's finale. David Hayward is also great as the mysterious Kenny who seems lost in the world he is surrounded by as a musician trying to find a place to fit in. Dave Peel is wonderful as the sweet, intelligent Bud Hamilton who enjoys the role of helping his father's business matters while aspires for something more. Allen Garfield is great as Barbara Jean's frustrated, caring manager who is trying to take care of his wife but couldn't deal with the way she's being used.
Keenan Wynn is wonderful as Mr. Green, L.A. Joan's uncle who is dealing with his wife's illness and his niece's single-minded personality. Shelly Duvall is wonderful as the loopy, icon-obsessed L.A. Joan who is more concerned about public events and icons rather than her own aunt. Barbara Baxley gives a wonderfully touching performance as the sweet yet cynical Lady Pearl whose loss of hope for politics reveal a dark anger to the way she reacts towards her own background. Henry Gibson is great as country legend Haven Hamilton who is trying to organize things while dealing with his own celebrity and his city's reputation. Ned Beatty is excellent as the neglectful Delbert Reese while Altman regular Michael Murphy is also great as the political lackey John Triplette, who makes an insulting comment on Nashville. Ronee Blakley gives a wonderful performance as the fragile yet enchanting Barbara Jean whose presence as a singer is wonderful to watch only to see her fall apart with her rambling.
Geraldine Chaplin is wonderful as the eccentric, loopy Opal who tries to create a story but isn't sure what to do while being selfish for her own gain. Altman regular Keith Carradine is great as the burned out, womanizing Tom Frank who has a great moment with his performance of I'm Easy. In her feature-film debut and first of many films for Altman, Lily Tomlin gives a phenomenal performance as Linnea Reese with her caring, conflicted woman who loves her children but tries to deal with her husband's neglect and her own role as a wife.
Nashville is a magnificent film from Robert Altman that features an outstanding ensemble cast and a captivating screenplay from Joan Tewkesbury. The film is definitely one of the great examples of what a multi-layered ensemble film should be as it doesn't lose sight on the big themes while allowing small moments to play out. It's also a film that is also not afraid to tackle big subjects that are more relevant than ever since its original release. In the end, Nashville is a tremendous film from Robert Altman.
Robert Altman Films: (The Delinquents) - (The James Dean Story) - Countdown (1968 film) - (That Cold Day in the Park) - M.A.S.H. - (Brewster McCloud) - McCabe & Mrs. Miller - (Images) - The Long Goodbye - (Thieves Like Us) - California Split - Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson - 3 Women - (A Wedding) - (Quintet) - (A Perfect Couple) - (HealtH) - Popeye - (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) - (Streamers) - (Secret Honor) - (O.C. and Stiggs) - Fool for Love - (Beyond Therapy) - (Aria-Les Boreades) - (Tanner ‘88) - (Vincent & Theo) - The Player - Short Cuts - Pret-a-Porter - (Kansas City) - (The Gingerbread Man) - Cookie’s Fortune - Dr. T & the Women - Gosford Park - The Company (2003 film) - (Tanner on Tanner) - A Prairie Home Companion
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