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Paramount Studios presents
"Do I tell you how to sing, darlin'? Hmm? Have I ever told you how to sing a song? Don't tell me how to promote. Don't tell me how to run your life. I been doin' pretty good with it."
DVD ReviewBeginning with his first great success with 1970's M*A*S*H, Robert Altman has become one of America's most critically acclaimed directors. He has been nominated for the Best Director Oscar® four times but, like Martin Scorsese (a three-time nominee), he has never won. Many feel that Nashville is the best film of 1975 and one of the very best of that decade. I'm not sure if I agree with this first contention or not. That year proved to be a very strong year in film with Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, Jaws, and the Best Picture winning One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest all hitting the screens. The second claim, however, is undoubtedly true.
Describing the storyline of Nashville is not an easy thing to do. The film features no less than twenty-four major speaking roles. These characters go about their lives and interact with one another over a 5-day period in Nashville in the early 1970s. Some are the "haves", the country/western stars, such as the aged and surly veteran Haven Hamilton (Gibson), the physically and emotionally fragile Barbara Jean (Blakley), and overly ambitious and phony Connie White (Black). Some are the "have-nots", such as the wide-eyed and talentless waitress Sueleen Gay (Welles), destined to be walked over by the world, the groupie from California, L.A. Joan (Duvall), and the mentally unstable Albuquerque (Harris), who ditches her husband in an ill-advised effort to try and become a star. She will get her shining moment on stage, but in the most unlikely of circumstances. Then there are those that lie somewhere in the middle. Barnett (Garfield) is Barbara Jean's domineering husband and manager. Tom Frank (Carradine) is a member of a reasonably successful folk trio who is now trying to break away and launch a solo career. He is also a womanizer of the worst sort who sleeps with a pretty fair chunk of the cast but has trouble landing the one woman he really desires. Delbert Reese (Beatty) is a successful local lawyer who is unable to relate with his own deaf children. His wife, Linnea (Tomlin), is a gospel singer who spends much of the film fighting off unwanted advances from Tom. John Triplette is the political front man who, with Delbert's help, is attempting to convince the musical stars to appear at a political rally. Norman (Arkin), is the limousine driver that gets no respect from clients or friends. Additionally, the cast contains an assortment of odd, yet omnipresent, characters. Opal (Chaplin) is a hustling woman who barges around with a tape recorder claiming to be a documentary maker with the BBC. Then there is PFC Kelley (Glenn), who follows Barbara Jean around like a benevolent stalker. The mysterious Kenny Frasier (Hayward) is an aimless young man who has come to town with an unopened violin case. Lastly there is "Tricycle Man" (Goldblum), who rides from scene to scene on his three-wheeled chopper and never says a word to anyone.
The unifying thread that ties this myriad of characters together is the campaign of Presidential candidate Hal Phillip Walker, who is running on the "Replacement Party" ticket. As we see Tricycle Man's face but never hear his voice, we hear Walker's voice but never see his face. His booming rhetoric emanates from the speakers mounted atop his campaign van, which slowly passes through a majority of the film's outdoor scenes. His posters are everywhere and his young supporters swarm about almost constantly. The various storylines culminate with an all-star benefit rally with powerful results.
Nashville is, in some ways, a musical. The film contains over an hour of music, most of it written and performed by the actors themselves. Some, like those performed by singer/songwriter Ronee Blakley and Keith Carradine, are quite good. This original music garnered the film its only Oscar® win, with Carradine's ballad "I'm Easy" winning Best Song. Nashville received a total of five nominations, including nods for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress nominations for Lily Tomlin and Ronee Blakley. Ironically, that year's Best Actress winner, Louise Fletcher (for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) was originally slated to play the role eventually filled by Tomlin.
Nashville takes us inside the Hollywood-like microcosm of fame and fortune in the music capital of the world. Roger Ebert put it well when he called this film a "wicked satire of American smarminess". Altman's trademark use of interlocking characters and stories has become an inspiration for later filmmakers, including Paul Thomas Anderson and Lawrence Kasdan. He gives us the city of Nashville, almost as a character in and of itself and we are privy to how this city of music crushes some dreams, fulfills others, and entertains all kinds of personalities in the process.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the twenty-five year-old print received a very effective remaster for this release. For its age, it looks pretty darn good. Almost all evidence of significant film blemishing is gone. There is an underlying graininess but it is very subtle. As one would expect from a film of this period, crispness and definition are not tremendous, but the biggest complaint I have about this transfer are the oversaturated colors.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Like the image, the audio is better than expected but still shows its age. Often within this film, we move from one conversation to another with great haste, sometimes within the noisy confines of concert halls and nightclubs. Through all this, the dialogue remains distinct and easy to understand. However, the sound is kind of dull and lacks the crispness of a more modern transfer.
Recorded in stereo, Nashville has been remixed in Dolby Digital 5.1. However, like some other recent 5.1 remixes of older films, the end result is rather gimmicky. The transfer contains very little low frequency extension and your surrounds will stand dormant for all but a few minutes of the film. Only for a few public address system effects and some occasional music will the surrounds add to the sound coming from your front channels. Several scenes that occur in crowded, noisy environs could have benefited greatly from surround channel use.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Robert Altman
Nashville also features a 12-minute interview segment with Altman, most of which is a rehash of information provided in the commentary. Be warned! Do not watch this interview first if you have never seen the film. It does contain a couple of major spoilers.
The original trailer rounds out this small, but respectable, group of extras. I personally would have loved to have seen some thorough cast and crew bios included. Many of the performers in this film have gone on to bigger and better things (Tomlin and Carradine, et.al.), while others have faded into mediocrity. A few, like Gwen Welles and Keenan Wynn, have passed away in the 25 years since the film's release. Some, like Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie), just have interesting backgrounds.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsAt about two hours and forty minutes, Nashville will require an effort from the viewer. This effort is sure to be well rewarded.
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