15 June 2014

Masters Of Cinema Blu-ray Review – Nashville (1975)


Genre:
Music, Drama
Distributor:
Eureka! Video, Masters Of Cinema
BD Release Date:
16th June 2014 (UK)
Rating: 15
Running Time:
160 Minutes
Director:
Robert Altman
Cast:
Ned Beatty, Karen Black, Keith Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Shelley Duvall
Buy: Nashville (Masters of Cinema) (Dual Format Edition) [Blu-ray + DVD] [1975]

In a career that spanned more than 50 years, the 1970s stands out as Robert Altman's strongest decade as a filmmaker. The New Hollywood movement of that era, which saw the emergence of a new generation of directors (Scorsese, Coppola, Bogdanovich, De Palma, et al.) influenced by the various new waves in European cinema, provided a landscape within which his sensibilities could thrive. Altman was at his best when he turned his eye to genre revisionism, masterly delving into American mythology with his two greatest films, McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) and The Long Goodbye (1973). But I tend to agree with Michael Atkinson when he says that amongst Altman's most highly acclaimed output there are "overrated behemoths like M*A*S*H (1970), an unfocused and infantile anti-war farce better remembered than freshly seen, and Nashville (1975), a fabulously detailed dose of Americana-mania constructed from simplistic vignettes."

While Atkinson does not go far enough in his description of the bad taste prevalant in Altman's M*A*S*H, the demeaning misogyny should always be mentioned in any critique of the film, the only real concern I have with Nashville is with how successful the satire is. The Nashville music scene is, rather obviously, at the forefront of the satire but politics is integrally threaded throughout. Joan Tewkesbury wrote the script after spending only 5 days in the city, guided by Altman's request that politics be linked in to the story, and that an assassination take place at the films end. The inclusion of this political thread and its shocking climax does give the film a wider satirical scope, a scope that is magnified by the film being made in the immediate aftermath of the Watergate scandal, but this aspect of the film feels more like a device to further the story, more a means to an end than a targeted satire on American politics.

And while I agree with Atkinson's statement that Nashville is built up around simplistic vignettes, we need to pay closer attention to the first part of his sentence because the film is fabuously detailed and we should not understate the sheer enjoyment one feels when watching Altman's 'behemoth' creation meander its way through a multitude of interconnected characters towards the climactic assassination. This wonderfully fascinating structure, coupled with Altman's inventive trademark use of overlapping dialogue, gives the film a masterful quality, one which allows for greater audience participation in the proceedings, a participation that is more demanding. I have no doubt that repeat viewings will be rewarded. To quote Jonathan Rosenbaum, "If Nashville is conceivably the most exciting commercial American movie in years, this is first of all because of what it constructs, not what it exposes."

★★★★

Shane James


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