Nashville (1975)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Americana, Ensemble Film, Media Satire, Musical Drama  |   Run Time - 159 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Lucia Bozzola

Following 24 characters in the country music capital, Robert Altman's 1975 epic presents a complex, critical portrait of the twin national obsessions with celebrity and power. Culminating Altman's experiments in loose, multi-character narrative structure; mobile wide-screen composition; and layered sound design, the film seamlessly interweaves many stories and moods, even within a single shot, creating a mosaic of "America" on the cusp of the Bicentennial. The improvisational acting enhances the casual feel of events, as does the dense mix of songs, dialogue, and background noise (like the campaign loudspeakers spewing populist bromides). Amid this random ambiance, characters consistently act out of base self-interest, intimating that these are the skewed values of contemporary America. Combining his somber social commentary with a lightly musical and comic atmosphere, punctuated by 27 songs by various cast members, Altman reveals how the worship of entertainment precludes personal relationships and political awareness, even as the film itself seeks to amuse. Critics, especially Pauline Kael, greeted the film as an incisive masterwork, predicting that Nashville would be a blockbuster like Altman's MASH (1970). While not a flop, it did not live up to those financial expectations, as audiences increasingly turned to such lighter diversions as the 1975 blockbuster Jaws. Nashville received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress for Lily Tomlin's adulterous gospel singer and Ronee Blakely's fragile star, but Joan Tewkesbury's screenplay was ignored; Keith Carradine's seductively folksy "I'm Easy" won the Best Song statuette. With its technical invention, narrative intricacy, provocative insights, and command of entertainment, Nashville still stands as one of Hollywood's most remarkable achievements; Paul Thomas Anderson's multi-character tapestries, Boogie Nights (1997) and Magnolia (1999), reveal just a small measure of its influence.