• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:June 9, 2019

Nashville: 200 Years Later


Perhaps a lot of Americans were wondering in the year 1975 what the future might look like for their country, one year ahead of celebrating its Bicentennial Anniversary. After all, U.S. forces were cutting and running from the Vietnam War, President Nixon had just been forced to resign because of the Watergate affair and there had been numerous political assassinations over the past decade, of such prominent figures like John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

This was the time when Robert Altman released Nashville, and the film showed, to a certain extent, the state of the young nation.

Nashville is of course the capital of country music. This is where a political campaign is headed, promoting the presidential bid of one Hal Phillip Walker, a third-party candidate, sort of like Ross Perot. We never get to see Walker, but there’s a van driving around in the city, its loudspeakers blaring his populist agenda. The van appears now and then, much like the loudspeakers from MASH (1970). I guess they represent a call for an alternative to the parties that started the Vietnam War and made Watergate happen.

There are 24 major characters in this movie, but they’re pretty easy to follow. There’s Triplette (Michael Murphy), Walker’s tool in Nashville, who’s trying to persuade the country stars to join the campaign. There’s Nashville profile Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson), who’s thinking about it, and Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley), another star who doesn’t care about politics and suffers from a mental illness. There’s a rock star (Keith Carradine) who just won’t give up on trying to bed Linnea (Lily Tomlin) even though she’s married. Oh, and there’s also a young groupie (Shelley Duvall), as well as a clueless reporter (Geraldine Chaplin) for the BBC. In short, there are many interesting characters to follow. Some are fascinating, others not so much. Chaplin’s character in particular is a silly invention whose bird-brained portrayal of America is pointless.

A wonderful cocktail
It’s a typical Altman mosaic, with a lot of overlapping dialogue and politics and music blending in a wonderful cocktail. The intrigues are reasonably involving, the portrayal of Nashville and the political campaign are very convincing and the actors are great. The filmmakers come up with the perfect way to end this movie. Actually, it’s one of the greatest endings ever committed to celluloid. I won’t reveal too much to those who haven’t seen it, but it involves a very dramatic event, a country singer (Barbara Harris) rising to the occasion, a song that keeps growing from the second it starts playing, and shots of an audience finding the courage to sing along and defeat those who try to throw the country into disarray. That sequence simply gave me chills.

The cast is full of familiar faces, some of them getting their break. Comedian Tomlin was nominated for an Oscar for her serious portrayal of the married woman who is attracted to the rock singer. Gibson and Blakley are both terrific as the country stars. And then there’s the music. Apparently, director Altman requested of his actors to write songs for the movie, and surprisingly enough some of them are quite good. Carradine, in particular, delivered two knockout numbers, “It Don’t Worry Me”, which is the closing song, and “I’m Easy”, which won an Oscar.

Still, the lasting impact of the film is its ambition to depict America at the doorstep of its anniversary. We learn that politics won’t get us anywhere and that showbiz is the greatest comfort in the world. Original? No, but true.

Nashville 1975-U.S. 159 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced and directed by Robert Altman. Screenplay: Joan Tewkesbury. Songs: “I’m Easy”, “It Don’t Worry Me” (Keith Carradine). Cast: Henry Gibson (Haven Hamilton), Karen Black (Connie White), Ronee Blakley (Barbara Jean), Keith Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Lily Tomlin… Ned Beatty, Shelley Duvall, Jeff Goldblum. Cameos: Elliott Gould, Julie Christie.

Trivia: The part Tomlin came to play, the lady with deaf children, was originally written for Louise Fletcher who herself is a mother of two deaf children. Robert Duvall was allegedly considered for the part of Haven Hamilton. The character of Barbara Jean was allegedly based on Loretta Lynn.

Oscar: Best Original Song (“I’m Easy”). BAFTA: Best Sound Track. Golden Globe: Best Original Song (“I’m Easy”).

Last word: “[Henry Gibson’s] part was written for [Robert] Duvall. It was one of the last characters added and it turned out to be one of the most important. Duvall came down here and said he wanted to be in the picture and could sing country-and-western. So I said, ‘Fine, you can write your own songs’.  Then I guess we broke over money.” (Altman, “Robert Altman: Interviews”)



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