Friday, April 16, 2010

1975 - Nashville

Apologies for the short delay in starting the next year of review. The IRS (that's the American equivalent of the ATO, for my Aussie readers) was in need of my money, and for some reason, this country has the most unnecessarily complicated tax system in the world. Thus, it took a short time to figure it out. I have also been hard at work performing in a pilot for an upcoming dramatic web series, named Pioneer One, which is shooting this week. It's a very innovative and suspenseful story with the makings of a cult sensation (if I do say so myself). I'm quite chuffed (that's the Australian equivalent of proud, for my American readers) to be involved. Check out the hype at the official website.

You may notice there is no poll to decide the next year to review. Fear not, I will add it soon. Just ran out of time today. I did, however, find a small window of time today to begin the review of 1975's Best Picture nominees, starting with...

Robert Altman
Joan Tewkesbury
Ned Beatty, Karen Black, Ronee Blakley, Keith Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Shelley Duvall, Henry Gibson, Scott Glenn, Lily Tomlin
Academy Awards:
5 nominations
1 win, for Best Song ("I'm Easy")

One of Robert Altman's signature slice-of-life pictures, Nashville follows 24 characters over the course of a few days in the country music capital of the world. Rather than trying to summarise the story on my own, I'll let the film's trailer speak for itself.

As might be evident, there's a lot going on in Nashville. Most of the scenes are not traditionally structured. There's not much beginning, middle and end action going on - it's mostly just middle. We hear snippets of conversations and then, just as quick, we're on to the next conversation. And they are mostly rather ordinary conversations. Which is not to say nothing interesting happens. (Within the first twenty minutes, for example, there's a multi-car pile-up on the freeway.) It's just that none of those interesting things end up meaning anything. Something else just happens immediately after ... and then something else ... and then something else ... Just like life.

And therein lies the fascination with Nashville. The fly-on-the-wall type narrative is utterly mesmerising. Apparently, the story is based on the travel diary that screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury kept during a short visit to the country music mecca, which may explain its rambling nature, but it's those little details that keep you glued to the screen. Who could honestly look away when the mysterious motor-tricyclist (played by Jeff Goldblum) is discovered shaving in a rear-vision mirror at a school bus depot. Totally random. And considering this random rambling lasts for two hours and forty minutes, it's a rather impressive feat that it holds your attention. Although, it must be said, the story's intensity and cohesion increases as the film continues and its climax is especially captivating.

There is a fair amount of concert footage padding out the film's length, but even if you're not a fan of country music, there is plenty of emotional subtext during the songs. The Oscar-winning "I'm Easy" is particularly heart-string-pulling. The womanising singer (played by Keith Carradine, pictured) introduces the song with an ambiguous dedication, resulting in at least four women thinking that he is singing to them. Interestingly, a lot of the songs in the film were written by the actors who perform them, and oddly, there is also one by Gary Busey, who does not appear in the film at all.

Improvisation was encouraged by director Robert Altman and that is certainly evident. The cast are all extremely adept at the naturalism required of them. Lily Tomlin, better known for her comedic roles, proves her accomplished dramatic talent in her turn as a dissatisfied housewife. I also particularly enjoyed Michael Murphy's performance as the smooth campaign organiser. Jeff Goldblum shows his sleight of hand (literally) in this mute role, one of his very first appearances on screen. And adding to the film's realistic feel, Elliott Gould and Julie Christie make cameo appearances.


  1. Finally got around to re-watching Nashville again. Considered Robert Altman's crowning achievement, an opinion I can find no fault with. How he is able to take all these characters with their narcissism, self-absorption and delusion, desperation, compassion, celebrity-worship and psychosis, turn them loose and make his audience feel that they know them so well is just amazing.

    The characters aren't constructs, but real people. Bravo, Altman.

  2. I just found this review, one of my all-time favorite films. Great review here! It is a difficult film to review, and you did it justice.

    Despite the downbeat and shocking finale, I left this movie feeling excited, motivated...I felt this movie in my bones, and could not stop talking about it with my friends in the dorm. I later took a mob of people with to have a look...we discussed it all night.

    Controlled chaos....everything from the movement of actors and cutting to the color scheme are meant to look haphazard, but a closer look reveals the deliberateness of the design.

    Thanks for remembering it!