Friday 25 May 2018 12.56am
‘Revisiting Nashville 43-Years Later’ 2018
A Robert Altman Film
Written by Joan Tewksbury (if ever a screenplay deserves to be heralded, this is one of them)
Top 100 Films Ever Made –
This film is equal #73 in the 2012 BFI Critics Poll and #132 in the Directors Poll.
I’ve seen Nashville (1975) once before in my life, forty-three years ago, when it was released in Sydney, Australia in 1975. I was either eleven or twelve and I had never seen anything like it before. It was the most boring film I had ever seen. Prior to 1975, that honour lay with Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1973) and The Little Prince (1974). With those two films I remember thinking, “When the hell is this film going to end so I can go home?” Nashville eclipsed that feeling. I set myself the goal of counting from one to one million. I was certain that somewhere around one hundred thousand the film would finally end. I was their my brother and parents, so it wasn’t like I could just get up and walk the five kilometres home to our house in Petersham. That same year Barry Lyndon (1975) would rival Nashville and test my ability to withstand and survive unrelenting boredom, making me wonder, “who on earth makes this kind of crap?”
To put it in context, however, I need to say that around the same age I enjoyed The Conversation (1974) – which I didn’t understand – thought The Parallax View (1974) was amazing and loved All the President’s Men (1976). I eventually gave Barry Lyndon another go, in 1999 – twenty-four years later because it was made by the great Stanley Kubrick – and my opinion changed from loathing a film to absolutely loving it and considering it a masterpiece. I waited forty-three years to see Nashville again, despite the fact that it was made by another well-respected director, Robert Altman, and if it hadn’t been on the BFI 2012 Film Poll, I still wouldn’t have revisited it. My antipathy for country and western music pretty much ruled out ever giving Nashville another chance, but forty-three years later a lot of things have changed. Not only am I a lot older – I’ve come to accept that there is good country and western music and bad country and western music – I’ve experienced almost all of the things that the different characters in the film are experiencing over the course of a few days. I’ve also gone through High School, graduated from University, lost a family member, dreamed of a major career, then had a minor career in music and film, been married, been cheated on, been divorced, had a breakdown, remarried and had children.
It potentially makes Nashville the story of one life, broken up into many, fragmented, pieces; rather than just a story of many lives, where everything before and after what we see on the screen is, for the most part, largely unknown. There are phrases here and there which give the viewer a bit of background into the characters’ lives, but it’s infrequent. It’s all about what these characters do in Nashville. It’s about their behaviour, and what they do and what they exhibit, in Nashville, as every moment they’re onscreen, and how they act, is a result of the events in, and experience of, their lives, leading right up to the moment the film begins and the moment the climax is reached. Almost everything comes to a grinding halt at a rally in the park for a political candidate trying to inch his way forward, state by state, as he aspires to a term or two in the white house. This event gathers all of the characters, large and small, together.
Robert Altman has made movies in a similar style many times in his career, concentrating on several different storylines which overlap. But this may well be one of the first American movies to do that. I don’t know if it had been done previously in Cinema from other countries, but I think the reputation of this film probably lies in the fact that it was this way of allowing a story to unfold, making it special, if not downright unique.
In terms of storyline, there are a lot of different things happening in the lives of the characters. At the beginning of the film, most of them are gathered together due to a pile-up on the freeway. Off the top of my head, the only character that isn’t involved in the car crash scene or the climax in the park, is Connie White (Karen Black). That makes sense, because her appearance in the film centres around replacing Barbara Jean after her hospitalisation when she collapses at Nashville airport. Sneakily, Altman does allow her an appearance at the freeway crash, on a poster on the side of the bus from which Pfc Kelly (Scott Glenn) alights. Barbara Jean and Bartlett are absent from the freeway scene because they’re in the local hospital. Unluckily, Barbara Jean, of course, is the opening act at the rally for Presidential candidate, Hall Phillip Walker, but is absent by the end of the scene. Instead, Barbara Harris, a would be c&w star gets the chance to show off her vocal chords.