Thursday, November 10, 2005

Remarks, favorable and not, on Robert Altman’s Nashville at SFJ & konvolut m.

I feel compelled to butt in – along with Coppola’s Conversation, I place Nashville somewhere near the top of my list of great American films of the 1970s. I came to this film cold at age nineteen, an Altman virgin, with no love for country & western and total ignorance of Pauline Kael and her cult of geniuses. Franklin cites Henry Gibson’s recording of “200 Years,” a buffoonish bicentennial number that opens the film ("We must be doing something right to last...two-hundred years!"), as one reason the movie’s not a bust. Let’s enumerate some more:

*Lily Tomlin, in her first screen role, plays a gospel singer in a black choir. Lily Tomlin, in her first screen role, plays a gospel singer in a black choir.

*Jeff Goldblum: ghostrider motorcycle hero.

*Shelley Duvall’s “L.A. Joan.” Her lame California grooviness.

*The voluptuous horror of Karen Black.

*Geraldine Chaplin’s patronizing, annoyingly liberal BBC journalist. On watching the black choir: “That rhythm is fantastic. You know, it's funny. You can tell it's come down in the genes through ages and ages and hundreds of years, but it's there. And take off those robes and one is in darkest Africa. I can just see them - naked frenzied bodies dancing in the heat they carry on like that in church?”

*Gwen Welles, the tone-deaf wannabe country singer. Her excruciating naïveté.

*The touch-her-she’ll-faint fragility of Ronnee Blakely’s Loretta Lynnish Barbara Jean.

*The opening credit sequence!

*The voice of Replacement Party candidate Hal Phillip Walker. Ross Perot avant le lettre? His political koans. “When you pay more for an automobile than it cost Columbus to make his first voyage to America, that's politics”.

*The car crash sequence. Brilliantly shot.

If there’s a weakness in the film, it’s Keith Carradine. He just seems so unengaged.

Nashville was released the year I was born, so I don’t have much of a sense of what it felt like to live in 1975 – but I feel that this film most closely approximates what 1975 was like, or rather, what I imagine 1975 to have been like – a sort of post-revolutionary wandering stillness, where events happen but the particularity of those events are inconsequential – where a car crash that holds up traffic for a few hours is as significant as an assassination.

1 comment:

Michael said...

1975 was a very strange time... I was 11 and that era scarred me ;) seriously...

I haven't seen Nashville but will put it in on the list of films--I guess I should have checked it out a long time ago, as I am a film professor and an admirer of Altman. Oh well, who can keep up?

Thanks for the review though--it will motivate me to watch it.