Catching up with reviews for the immense catalogue of releases we’ve accumulated is one of Masters of Cinema’s latest releases and a film singled out as one of Altman’s best works – Nashville. On the sheer scale of the venture, thinking of this release as nothing shy of towering would be a gross underestimation. The vague narrative has 24 characters and an hour of uninterrupted musical numbers. Across many concerts and gigs, country musicians navigate a hectic week competing with this are the political efforts of one man to establish a third government option with the Replacement Party. Stooping to pretentious expression, Nashville is the stage and its music industry is its players.
If there was to be a main character the ones best qualified fit that bill solely receive the most screen time, and they are fourfold. First is Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley), a popular singer who has suffered from health problems. Second is Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson), a charismatic musician beloved by his fellow Tennessee residents. Third is Opal (Geraldine Chapman), a curiously inept BBC journalist who is in town to document the city and its most colourful people. Lastly are married couple Linnea (Lily Tomlin) and Del Reese (Ned Beatty); she is a white singer in a black gospel choir and he is working with the Hal Phillip Walker Replacement Campaign to get the best talent in town for a grand shindig on the final day. Even so, this is all just theorising based on a rudimentary theory, cases could equally be made for another four or five players within this mass tapestry of character, colour and music.
With numerous uninterrupted songs, Nashville could be thought of as a highly convoluted musical, with strong numbers nicely penned and performed by the cast. Regrettably it’s all classically realised country music. In Nashville, Country music sits on the highest of all pedestals, a genre that hasn’t made too much of an impact internationally – country is a purely American pastime.
While easy to appreciate the craft, the ability to stay away from that omnipotent fast forward button becomes much more difficult. Listening to a solid hour of music that one cannot connect with on an emotional level makes the film a much more arduous task than it would’ve been otherwise. The irony upon irony still is the film wouldn’t work without this brand of music as a film couldn’t effectively represent this face of Nashville any other way. Of course, that conclusion comes from a very personal place; musical broadmindedness is as varied and interesting a topic. Of less subjective stock is the utter delight Nashville is otherwise.
The characters and their respective actors all define themselves through distinctive performances and characterisation. Any truly great film hits that target, so that alone isn’t too impressive an accolade but when you consider that most characters receive 10-15 minutes screen time [at best] as a consequence of the labyrinthine construction, just comprehend each individuals will and quirks becomes a massive testament to Joan Tewkesbury’s script work. An achievement which passes on equally to the music enigmatic dialogue light roles, specifically Jeff Goldblum’s “Tricycle guy” and Shelley Duvall’s groupie L.A. Joan.
With all these unique constituents competing with one another it’s a miracle that the result isn’t just coherent but moving, funny, enlightening and intoxicating. Only the obvious statement remains, Altman (et al) bullishly present one of the most staggering triumphs of the New Hollywood era.
The on-disc extras are predictably minimal, limited to interviews (albeit exhaustive) with the major players. The best extra content, again predictably, comes from the booklet material that has seen Eureka’s global superstar reach such starry heights. The films presentation doesn’t make the film look brand new as many of these visual updates tend to, instead something even greater is achieved the powers at MoC have been restored Nashville to day one quality – looking as good as it ever has.
SPECIAL DUAL FORMAT (BLU-RAY + DVD) EDITION
• Gorgeous high-definition 1080p presentation on the Blu-ray, progressive encode on the DVD
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Feature-length audio commentary by director Robert Altman, recorded in 2000
• Two archival video interviews with Altman
• Video interview with screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury
• Video interview with actor Michael Murphy
• Original theatrical trailer
• 28-PAGE FULL-COLOUR BOOKLET containing a new essay about the film by critic and scholar Adrian Martin, and rare archival imagery