Genre: Drama, Music
Director: Robert Altman
Writer: Joan Tewkesbury
Allan F. Nicholls
Robert Altman’s insightful dissection about Nashville, the cradle of American country music, astutely captures the zeitgeist of 1970s and deploys a kaleidoscope of motley characters.
A red hot country superstar (Blakley) who is plagued by her feeble health condition and the straining relationship with her agent-husband (Garfield), who has to cater to another country diva (Black) who comes to supplant his ailing wife for a public concert; a pompous and loudmouth BBC journalist (Chaplin) who comes to shoot a documentary about Nashville; an uprising folk trio TOM, MARY & BILL (Carradine, Raines, Nicholls) with their chauffeur (Arkin) while Tom is the sleaze-bag philanderer and the married Mary and Bill undergo some connubial crisis; A housewife and gospel singer (Tomlin) whose husband (Beatty) is an agent who tenaciously introduces a politician lobbyist (Murphy) to the music moguls in order to get some big names to sing publicly for the presidential candidate and his main target is a honorific but over-the-hill country star (Gibson) with an astringent wife (Baxley) and an unworldly son (Peel), and fellow musicians (Brown, for example) as well
There is also a glut of ordinary people, two young singers-wanna-be, one is a runaway wife (Harris) seeking for an opportunity to sing in front of a large audience, another is a southern beauty (Welles) who optionally chooses to ignore her unmusical voice and insists on carrying her pipe dream at all hazards (a striptease in a local bar is just the beginning for the poor dim gal) albeit the eloquent persuasion from her friend (DoQui); two young lad, one is a reticent Pfd. soldier (Scott) who is obsessed with Blakley, the other one is a self-claimed musician (Hayward) totes his guitar box where conceals a dangerous weapon will later trigger the awesome finale; the last pair is a local old man (Wynn) and his vampy niece (Duvall), who flirts with every young man she meets including a weirdo-looking tricycle rider (Goldblum), never care too much about her dying auntie in the hospital.
To engineer and channel a huge cast like this is Altman’s strongest suit, the assemblage of hustle and bustle inducts audiences into a multivalent prism which bravely refracts an ideological society status, with whimsical banters abound and of course the music renditions. Despite that I have no honky-tonk root and my upbringing is immune to the genre, and from a standpoint of now, its traditional sense of worth oozing from the songs is grating and behind the times, the live-performances never cease to purvey vim and vigor to be appreciated. Notably from Blakley and Black, not to mention Carradine’s Oscar enthroned folksy I’M EASY, magnificently stipulates the high bar of music’s sex appeal.
Performance wise, Oscar-nominated Blakley is also in the top-tier, whose sensitivity is so authentic and whose aftermath could not be more shocking (god bless Loretta Lynn); Tomlin (owns her Oscar nomination simply by her gaze towards Carradine during his solo show), Chaplin (so obnoxious is the character but she is superb in presenting her into a wacky laughing-stock) and Wynn (savings the gratuitous nude scene, she manages to squeeze a veritable sense of mettle out of her levity and shallowness) are all great in their respective terrains; Gibson and Garfield are my picks for male counterpart, but it is indeed a female’s spectacle.
I cannot say it is my favorite Altman’s work (GOSFORD PARK 2001, still holds the slot), but no doubt it is a monumental achievement at its time and in Altman’s career path, the cogent political messages are being propagated from stem to stern, obviously it has a broader insinuation which even today one can hardly pass over.