Initially posted on my school’s film club movie review site, I wrote this review about Nashville. I thought it’d be nice to post it on here since over a year ago I wrote about the upcoming release of the Criterion DVD of Nashville.
Were there to be a number one rule about Robert Altman, it would most likely be something along the lines of: one should not watch one of his films only once. Someone like Altman mandates multiple viewings. For some people, that’s too much commitment for there are other movies we must give our attention to. Yet here I am, multiple viewings later, writing this review for Nashville.
Altman’s style requires concentration, thought, and keen observation. For some viewers, he’s tedious and not worth the time because “there isn’t anything going on in the film.” However for others, like myself, Altman is a sigh of relief. With his long lens shots and overlapping dialogue, Altman trusts the viewer to use his or her senses to interpret what is happening and what it means. With that being said, it is nearly impossible not to see or hear something you didn’t notice in the previous viewing. It is with every rewatch I am more blown away by Altman’s technique of directing. I honestly have no idea how a director can put that much in one movie in a short frame of time that I notice a new line or prop piece that adds to the film’s various layers, especially considering Altman’s technique of using the script as a blueprint and allowing his actors and actresses to improvise. I am forever in awe.
But enough with the fangirling and on to the movie. As the trailer says, Nashville follows the lives of 24 characters. “That’s a lot of characters so listen closely.” Not only listen but also watch very closely as well. Each of these 24 characters is unique and holds some sort of personality was rife in the 70’s, ranging from Jeff Goldblum’s Easy Rider-esque unnamed “psycho freak” to Ronee Blakley’s “adored” country singer Barbara Jean. There is such a wide range of characters that it is impossible not to find one person you consider funny or interesting. There are many aspects of Nashville that one can focus on because of its structure. It does not always follow the same person through every event that happens to them. Instead the viewer is expected to fill in bits and pieces about what happened to the character, and that is what Altman expects and needs from the viewer. Nashville is wonderful in that, as writer Joan Tewkesbury says, it can only exist as a film because it literally moves through time and space; climaxes and plot points common in other films that could be written and described are absent from this film.
So what do I have to say about Nashville? I have so many things, let’s be honest, but I will keep it fairly brief. First off, it is funny. Oh my god is it funny. You have so many people from different backgrounds that that in it is amusing to watch. Underneath that, Nashville is layered and complex. There are certain aspects of the film that I’m drawn towards, such as the treatment and actions of the women in the film or the behaviors of the patriarchal country singer Haven Hamilton. But above all what interests me the most is the core basis that connects every single person in this film, and that is politics. American politics is exemplified by the Hal Phillip Walker campaign. Nashville was made in 1975, just before the Watergate scandal leaked but in the midst of growing disgust for American politics. However, the campaign car reminds the viewer, and the city of Nashville, that we are all involved in politics. This is essentially the basis: everyone in this film is involved with the Hal Phillip Walker campaign in some way that it affects their everyday lives.
Nashville, the capital of country music, equates to any small town in America. The people of Nashville are the people of 1970’s America. For viewers today, it is a glimpse of what the world was like in 1975. Altman himself said that he directed what he saw happening in the world, not as he viewed it. So it may not be surprising to learn that I recommend this film for any person, especially those who are serious about film. It is a film that, for me, is hard to give a good, run down review for so much of it is dependent on how much and what you observe. You may grow to love or hate Altman, but either way you will see a different approach of what film can be.