NASHVILLE - Film (Movie) Plot and Review





USA, 1975


Director: Robert Altman

Production: Paramount Pictures; Metrocolor, 35mm, Panavision; running time: 159 minutes. Released 1975. Filmed on location in Nashville.


Producer: Robert Altman; screenplay: Joan Tewkesbury; title design: Dan Perri; photography: Paul Lohmann; editors: Sidney Levin and Dennis Hill; sound: Jim Webb and Chris McLaughlin; music director: Richard Baskin.

Cast: David Arkin ( Norman ); Barbara Baxley ( Lady Pearl ); Ned Beatty ( Delbert Reese ); Karen Black ( Connie White ); Ronee Blakley ( Barbara Jean ); Timothy Brown ( Tommy Brown ); Keith Carradine ( Tom Frank ); Geraldine Chaplin ( Opal ); Robert Doqui ( Wade ); Shelley Duvall ( L. A. Joan ); Allen Garfield ( Barnett ); Henry Gibson

Nashville
Nashville
( Haven Hamilton ); Scott Glenn ( Pfc. Glen Kelly ); Jeff Goldblum ( Tricycle man ); Barbara Harris ( Albuquerque ); David Hayward ( Kenny Fraiser ); Michael Murphy ( John Triplette ); Allan Nichols ( Bill ); Dave Peel ( Bud Hamilton ); Christina Raines ( Mary ); Bert Remsen ( Star ); Lily Tomlin ( Linnea Reese ); Gwen Welles ( Sueleen ); Keenan Wynn ( Mr. Green ).


Awards: Oscar for Best Song ("I'm Easy" by Keith Carradine), 1975; New York Film Critics' Awards for Best Motion Picture, Best Direction, and Best Supporting Actress (Tomlin), 1975.


Publications


Script:

Tewkesbury, Joan, Nashville , Toronto, 1976.

Books:

Feineman, Neil, Persistence of Vision: The Films of Robert Altman , New York, 1976.

Kass, Judith M., Robert Altman, American Innovator , New York, 1978.

Kolker, Robert Phillip, A Cinema of Loneliness: Penn, Kubrick, Coppola, Scorsese, Altman , Oxford, 1980; revised edition, 1988.

Karp, Alan, The Films of Robert Altman , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1981.

Bourget, Jean-Loup, Robert Altman , Paris, 1981.

Giannetti, Louis, Masters of the American Cinema , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1981.

Tuska, Jon, editor, Close-Up: The Contemporary Director , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1981.

Kagan, Norman, American Sceptic: Robert Altman's Genre-Commentary Films , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1982.

Wexman, Virginia Wright, and Gretchen Bisplinghoff, Robert Altman: A Guide to References and Resources , Boston, 1984.

Plecki, Gerard, Robert Altman , Boston, 1985.

Wood, Robin, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan , New York, 1986.

Keyssar, Helene, Robert Altman's America , New York, 1991.

McGilligan, Patrick, Robert Altman: Jumping Off the Cliff , New York, 1991.

Cagin, Seth, Born to Be Wild: Hollywood and the Sixties Generation , Boca Raton, 1994.

O'Brien, Daniel, Robert Altman: Hollywood Survivor , New York, 1996.

Sterritt, David, and Peter Brunette, editors, Robert Altman: Interviews , Jackson, 2000.


Articles:

Ciment, Michel, and M. Henry, "Entretien avec Robert Altman," in Positif (Paris), February 1975.

"Altman Seminar" in Dialogue on Film (Beverly Hills), February 1975.

Rosenbaum, Jonathan, "Improvisations and Interactions in Altmanville," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1975.

Murphy, A. D., in Variety (New York), 11 June 1975.

Reilly, C. P., in Films in Review (New York), August-September 1975.

Glaessner, Verina, in Focus on Film (London), Autumn 1975.

Rosenbaum, Jonathan, in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1975.

Wood, Robin, "Smart-ass and Cutie-pie: Notes Toward an Evaluation of Altman," in Movie (London), Autumn 1975.

"Altman Issue" of Film Heritage (Dayton, Ohio), Fall 1975.

Gow, Gordon, in Films and Filming (London), October 1975.

Strick, Philip, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), October 1975.

Benayoun, Robert, "Altman, U.S.A.," in Positif (Paris), December 1975.

Interviews with Joan Tewkesbury, Ronee Blakley, and Keith Carradine, in Positif (Paris), December 1975.

Byrne, Connie, and William O. Lopez, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1975–76.

Blaedel, M., in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), no. 131, 1976.

Self, Robert, "Invention and Death: The Commodities of Media in Robert Altman's Nashville ," in Journal of Popular Film (Washington, D.C), no. 5, 1976.

Cardullo, R. J., "The Space in the Distance: A Study of Altman's Nashville ," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), no. 4, 1976.

Knorr, W., "Buffalo Bill und die Indianer: Nashville ," in Medien und Padagogik (Munich), no. 4, 1976.

Belmans, J., "Pour bientot de Robert Altman," in Amis du Film et de la Télévision (Brussels), January 1976.

Verstappen, W., in Skoop (Amsterdam), March 1976.

Magrelli, E., and G. Turroni, in Filmcritica (Rome), April 1976.

Giuricin, G., in Cinema Nuovo (Turin), July-August 1976.

Colpart, G., in Téléciné (Paris), July-August 1976.

Pitiot, P., and H. Talvat, "Robert Altman de Mash a Nashville ," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), September-October 1976.

Sauvaget, D., in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), October 1976.

Frezzato, A., in Cineforum (Bergamo), October 1976.

Macklin, F. A., "The Artist and the Multitude Are Natural Enemies," interview with Robert Altman, in Film Heritage (Dayton, Ohio), Winter 1976–77.

Binni, W., and A. Lombardo, "Poetiche ed ideologie de tre registi," in Cinema Nuovo (Turin), January-February 1977.

Levine, R., "R. Altman & Co.," in Film Comment (New York), January-February 1977.

Plazewski, J., in Kino (Warsaw), March 1977.

Elsaesser, Thomas, "Ou finit le spectacle?," in Positif (Paris), September 1977.

Sack, C., "Joan Tewkesbury on Screenwriting: An Interview," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), Winter 1978.

Cook, B., "Bob and Pauline: A Fickle Affair," in American Film (Washington, D.C), December 1978-January 1979.

Bowles, Stephen E., " Cabaret and Nashville ," in Journal of Popular Film (Washington, D.C), no. 3, 1978–79.

Masbany, R., " Saturday Night Fever and Nashville : Exploring the Comic Mythos," in Journal of Popular Film (Washington, D.C), no. 3, 1978–79.

MacCabe, Colin, "The Discursive and the Ideological in Film: Notes on the Conditions of Political Intervention," in Screen (London), no. 4, 1978–79.

Tewkesbury, Joan, in American Film (Washington, D.C), March 1979.

Taubman, Leslie, in Magill's Survey of Cinema 3 , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1980.

Yacowar, Maurice, "Actors as Conventions in the Films of Robert Altman," in Cinema Journal (Evanston, Illinois), Fall 1980.

Edgerton, G., "Capra and Altman: Mythmaker and Mythologist," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), Spring 1983.

Elsaesser, Thomas, " Nashville : Putting on the Show," in Persistence of Vision (Maspeth, New York), Summer 1984.

Listener (London), 22 August 1985.

Rush, J. S., "Who's in on the Joke; Parody as Hybridized Narrative Discourse," in Quarterly Review of Film and Video (New York), no. 1–2, 1990.

Comuzio, E., "Una canzone-azione in Nashville di Robert Altman," in Cineforum (Bergamo, Italy), January-February 1990.

Altman, Rick, "24-Track Narrative? Robert Altman's Nashville, " in Cinémas (Montreal), vol. 1, no. 3, Spring 1991.

James, C., "Film View: Nashville Political Prescience," in New York Times , 8 November 1992.

Salamon, Julie, "On Film: Altman's in a Class by Himself," in Wall Street Journal (New York), 30 September 1993.

Lippy, T., "Writing Nashville ," in Scenario (Rockville), vol. 1, no. 1, Winter 1995.

Tewkesbury, Joan, and Tod Lippy, " Nashville ," in Scenario (Rockville), vol. 1, no. 1, Winter 1995.

Kostik, Damian, "Creation, Content and Context: Interview with Joan Tewkesbury," in Creative Screenwriting (Washington, D.C.), vol. 4, no. 3, Fall 1997.

Hoban, Phoebe, "The Outsider as Hollywood Favorite: Biography," in New York Times (New York), 15 June 1997.

Ross, B., "Neither Plot nor Hero: The Script of Nashville ," in Michigan Academician , vol. 29, no. 3, 1997.

Gross, Larry, "Nothing Fails Like Success," in Premiere (New York), vol. 12, no. 9, May 1999.


* * *


Robert Altman's Bicentennial epic about one weekend in the lives of people in Nashville, Tennessee, conveys his personal reflection on the state of the nation and his political call to fellow Americans on the nature of the state. Altman's artistic success results from the way he shapes uniquely American materials and sensibilities into a complex ideological network.

After three prologue scenes, Altman introduces a staggering total of 24 characters in one long location sequence at the Nashville airport (only Connie White—Karen Black—is not there, but her poster image represents her). The interweaving of characters, music, sights, and sounds in the airport and freeway sequences establishes them and their lives within a modernist context, a barrage of sensory impressions which Altman choreographs into a bombardment of movement and timing. The continuously moving camera, rhythmic cuts between characters, background band music, TV announcer both on screen and as off-screen voice-over commentator, airport noises, characters talking and overlapping each other, continue to build in momentum until all characters are on the freeway on the way to town. The freeway sequence incorporates wider perspectives in aerial and high angle shots, highway noises, conversations and arguments until, as screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury said, "Everything has whirled and spun and played through your senses."

Following this barrage-like exposition, Altman departs from stylistic sensational overload and moves to a "floating narrative," much like the style of TV soap operas in which the lives and events of many characters are presented by cutting back and forth between them. Altman periodically brings together and connects his 24 characters through devices of communication: telephones and telephone conversations, radio programs, tape recorded songs, the p.a. announcements of a presidential campaign van. He presents events happening simultaneously while slowly allowing for the evolution of time. Altman then cuts between four simultaneous church scenes, offering perspectives on as many characters as possible, then moves forward by cutting events into a progressive 24-hour period. Fewer things occur simultaneously as the camera begins more and more to catch each character impressionistically rather than following them all at the same time.

Cutting back and forth between gestures, reactions, and responses, their dynamic personalities of the characters emerge. But nothing is hinted at of their internal workings. They remain the sum of their exposed surfaces as no psychological or narrative meaning is assigned to their existences. Country singing star Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley) comes the closest to exposing an internal emotional depth, but that is because her emotions have become her raw surface, both as a star and as a person, turning her into a fragile human being. Because she is the key narrative character, her fate and its meaning is more unresolved than anyone else's at the film's end.

In the last sequence of the film, the rally at the Nashville Parthenon, Altman reunites and refocuses on all his characters in one place. Unlike the airport scene, here the characters are united by a single event on which their reactions and responses depend. The Parthenon rally and the subsequent assassination act as the narrative's culminating hub, while all the characters move like spokes of a wheel in relation to it. Altman moves from the barrage of simultaneous moments in many characters' lives to a progressively more linear pattern until he is once again able to present many perspectives simultaneously responding to one single unifying element.

By creating a mosaic of contemporary American life, Nashville suggests a cultural view of reality that is made up of fragmented images and their incomprehensibility. But Altman overturns a bleak finale with the optimism that learning to live with uncertainty yields an affirmation and assignment of meaning to life in and of itself.

When influential New Yorker critic Pauline Kael first saw the film, she applauded Altman's vision, "I've never before seen a movie I loved in quite this way." Her laudatory review, based on a screening of a pre-release version of the film, caused a minor flurry of controversy about critical responsibility and was not able to help the film out of its box-office doldrums. But despite its lack of popular success, Nashville has since been heralded as one of director Altman's finest films and one of the quintessential American movies of the 1970s.

—Lauren Rabinovitz



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