America celebrated its bicentennial in 1976, and for a year or so leading up to that notable date, multiple films and television programs were dedicated to that commemoration: some celebratory, some exploratory. Robert Altman’s Nashville was definitely of the latter variety: a cross-sectional look at the strata of society as filtered through the Nashville experience. It’s a brilliant, challenging work with two dozen characters criss-crossing in mini-plots often of importance to them but not many of them necessarily melding into a unified whole. Altman isn’t trying for an amalgamated story but rather offers a dissection of the country to see what makes America tick, and what he finds is sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking but definitely not always so pleasant.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 2 Hrs. 40 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVDbook-style holder in a cardboard slipcase
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 12/03/2013
Over the course of five days in Nashville, a number of different people interact with one another. Some are in show business either as performers or members of their entourages, some are businessmen, and some are in politics. Some want desperately to break into the music industry while others are merely spectators leading their own lives while momentous events occur in the background. But all wind up attending a massive political rally for a third party presidential candidate (whose recorded and announced political diatribes regularly broadcast white noise around the lives of the movie’s characters) who’s gaining momentum in the months leading up to the national election.
The Production Rating: 5/5
After surviving the Vietnam War and Watergate and its aftermath, Nashville captures the country in an era of national exhaustion. That’s mirrored by the film’s central star country singer Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley) who has been in and out of hospitals recently due to accidents and nervous collapse. But Barbara Jean is but one of the large handful of players involved in this national fatigue. The film through Joan Tewkesbury’s marvelous script dwells on the schemers and dreamers, the lovers and the haters, the haves and the wanna-bes all acting out their own little scenarios in order to fulfill their own needs. There’s the pretentious journalist Opal (Geraldine Chaplin) who pushes her way into any and all situations and her non-journalist doppelganger Joan (Shelley Duvall) who ignores her dying aunt in the hospital and trails after any attractive man in her vicinity. There’s the phony magnanimity of country star Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) all smiles and courtesy on the outside and a vicious spewing bug on the inside whose eyes open wide when the suggestion of a governorship is dangled before him by political strategist John Triplette (Michael Murphy). And the phoniness extends to the two reigning country music divas Barbara Jean and her rival Connie White (Karen Black), all smiles and kindness around the fans but who actively despise one another behind closed doors. Celebrated rock star Tom Frank (Keith Carradine) is breaking from his group and starting a career as a single while bedding any and every available lady but is especially attracted to the one who doesn’t seek his attention, Linnea Reese (Lily Tomlin), mother of two deaf children. A couple of blank-faced citizens are also part of the film’s action: a soldier (Scott Glenn) and a mama’s boy (David Hayward). And it wouldn’t be a movie about the music capital of America without showing the struggling artists who dream of the big time. Both Albuquerque (Barbara Harris) and Suleen Gay (Gwen Welles) long for the spotlight, and each ironically achieves it during the film but in ways neither one ever would have expected.
Robert Altman examines this amazing cross-section of Americana with the skill of a surgeon welding a sharp scalpel. Utilizing his well known overlapping dialogue and multiple cameras, he can capture everything from a massive pileup on the freeway to the absolutely astounding scene where Keith Carradine warbles his new solo song “I’m Easy” in a club where four different women think he’s singing it directly to each of them individually (the moment where Geraldine Chaplin finally figures out he’s not focusing on her but on Lily Tomlin is done with such subtle grace by the actress and director that it’s breathtaking). Being set in Nashville, one expects music, music, music, and he gets it. Altman takes his cameras to dives, social clubs, the Grand Old Opry, churches, recording studios, even a stock car race where the film’s various artists warble tunes (most of them written by themselves with the assistance of music supervisor Richard Baskin). Even in this Altman fantasia, the movie always has the smack of reality about it.
As in any good musical, the songs often comment on the inner feelings of the performer or the action of the moment. True, some of the actors who were singers and songwriters in real life (Ronee Blakley, Keith Carradine) have an advantage as their numbers have the real ring of authenticity about them (Blakley’s three superb songs are all tunes that could have charted, and Carradine’s “I’m Easy” won the film’s only Oscar while “It Don’t Worry Me” becomes something of the movie’s anthem as it’s performed in three different moments in the picture, each time brilliantly reflecting the circumstances under which it’s being sung). Karen Black in her three numbers is somewhat limited by a mediocre singing voice (and the stars performed their songs live so clunkers here and there aren’t a surprise), but Henry Gibson’s talk-singing in “200 Years” (a sanctimonious bicentennial parody if there ever was one) is terrific, and he continues that style with his two Opry tunes “Keep a Goin’” and “We Must Say Goodbye.” Timothy Brown does a marvelous Charlie Daniels impression as Tommy Brown singing “Bluebird.”
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is accurately conveyed in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Movies from the mid-1970s always had a roughness and rawness about their look, and Nashville is certainly no exception. The transfer is impeccably clean, and while sharpness isn’t razor-edged, it never was during theatrical presentation either. Color is strong though flesh tones do occasionally get a bit too rosy. There’s also a momentary bit of aliasing on some stairs that only lasts a moment or two. The film has been divided into 31 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track allows the music to get a nice spread across and through the soundstage, but most of the split effects are present only across the front soundstage with the rears sometimes curiously silent. Altman’s famous overlapping dialogue has not been routed to various channels but exists in the center channel.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentary: Robert Altman contributes the commentary track. It’s a start and stop affair; he doesn’t find the need to fill every moment of his lengthy film with chatter so the comments are interesting certainly but also sporadic.
Special Features Rating: 5/5
The Making of Nashville (1:11:09, HD): a marvelous 2013 documentary with various cast and crew members sharing memories of the film’s conception and production. Among those speaking are screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury, assistant director Alan Rudolph, Altman’s widow Kathryn, and stars Keith Carradine, Ronee Blakley, Lily Tomlin, Michael Murphy, and Allan Nichols.
Robert Altman Interviews (HD): three interviews are offered separately. A 1975 interview with PBS’s Jim Whaley on Cinema Showcase (26:36), a 2000 interview where he looks back on the film (12:31), and a 2002 conversation with David Thompson (7:50).
Behind the Scenes (12:33, HD): home movie behind-the-scenes footage shot during two major events in the movie: the freeway pileup and the climactic political music rally.
Keith Carradine Demos (12:06, HD): Keith Carradine sings three of his songs for director Robert Altman in this audio demonstration recording: “It Don’t Worry Me,” “I’m Easy,” and “Big City Dreamin’.”
Theatrical Trailer (2:12, HD)
Sixteen Page Booklet: the illustrated booklet contains the chapter listing, the cast and crew lists, and film critic Molly Haskell’s overview of the film and analysis of it including its critical and public reception.
Timeline: can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
DVD Copy: the film and a separate features disc are enclosed in the same package in this dual-format release.
Though it didn’t win Oscars in any of the major categories for which it was nominated, Nashville did much better with the critics earning Best Picture and Best Director from the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the National Society of Film Critics. Ronee Blakley, Lily Tomlin, and Henry Gibson won assorted honors from those groups as well. In a career filled with several wonderful and completely unique achievements, Nashville may be the pinnacle in the career of Robert Altman. Very highly recommended!
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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