Sunday, May 29, 2011


"It's America... cars smashing into each other and all those mangled corpses!"

I can't imagine how hard it must have been to write the script for Nashville. If I were to have read it, not knowing that it was to be directed by Robert Altman, I would have predicted it would come out a scattered mess. It's true what they say about Altman: he really does break all the conventional rules of moviemaking. About half of the shots are so dark you have to squint to see what's going on, the dialogue overlaps or is too quiet to hear, the plot does not move toward one specific goal or end point, and there are far too many characters. But as always, Altman gets away with it.
Nashville takes place over the course of a few days in the mid-seventies, around the time of the Grand Ol' Opry and the presidential primaries. The film follows the occasionally intertwining stories of about 25 musicians, fans, politicians, and their friends or family members. I love the way Altman introduces his characters. Some of them walk in the frame for a few seconds, heads faced away from the cameras. If they weren't famous actors, like Shelley Duvall and Jeff Goldlum, you could easily mistake them for extras.
Another interesting thing about Nashville is that about 1/3 of the running time is comprised of musical numbers, all written specifically for the film. Because of this, its 2 hour and 40 minute length is very appropriate: it plays in parts almost like a concert. Nashville has been called a satire of the would of country music, but I really don't feel like Altman is making an attempt to mock the industry. Instead, it plays not only as a celebration of the genre and its fans, but also as a reflection of the political, social, and musical turmoil that was occurring at the time the film was made. Thus, Nashville has a somewhat tragic tone to it that continues to develop as the film approaches its climax.
Because of the depth and intricacy of this film, I feel like I can hardly scratch the surface. But one thing stood out to me the most. Just like many other Altman films, Nashville is not concerned with specifics. Each individual line or character does not matter on its own. Instead, much like the ideas of the Soviet montage movement, this film is about the interplay of the characters, their environment, and their effects on each other. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so to speak.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

PS: Dad, I hope you're not mad I didn't give it the full 5. That's reserved for Short Cuts and McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

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