Altman films always seem to be an experience to get through, so I was curious how I would do when I sat down to view this one as a follow-up title to Rules of the Game, from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book.
Altman has a knack for overlapping dialogue, weaving a huge cast of characters around, and seems more about making an experience than a cohesive film. This time out, was no different. This film takes us to Nashville, Tennessee, as a political rally gets underway, as well as folks hoping to find stardom at the Grand Ole Opry.
Boasting a huge cast, the film is set over the course of a few days as lives are ruined, careers are made, and secrets are revealed, all against the backdrop of a forthcoming election and lots of country music.
Included amongst the cast is Ned Beatty, Jeff Goldblum (who I swear has almost no dialogue, but seems quite happy to roam around on an enormous motorcycle), Scott Glenn, Karen Black, Shelley Duvall, Lily Tomlin and Henry Gibson.
There are great songs, there are terrible songs, and woven through it all is some great dialogue and moments, often funny, and sometimes heartbreaking. My favorite sequence features a performer, Tom (Keith Carradine) dedicating a new song (which he won an Oscar for!) to someone he hopes is in the audience. You can tell that a few of the women, who he’s had relations with, are smiling and grinning and hoping it’s about them, and then there’s a shot of Tomlin’s character, who knows it’s actually for her, it’s a truly touching moment.
While a script was in place, large portions of the film’s dialogue were improvised by the actors who were to not only know the ins and outs of their characters, but had a hand in writing and performing all their own songs! And unlike most films, this movie was shot almost entirely in sequence.
It is an interesting film to get through, and serves as a microcosm of the times (the 70s) and the place. All of the characters dance around one another, all of them connected to each other in some form or another.
Ronee Blakley was nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar for her turn as Barbara Jean, a character based loosely on Loretta Lynn. Barbara Jean is a troubled character right from the off in this film, and you know things aren’t going to end well for her, she collapses, is hospitalized, upon her release, she seems to have a breakdown on stage, and that’s just the start! I spent the entire length of the film trying to figure out where I knew Blakely from, I rarely pull out IMDB while I’m watching a movie, I’ll wait until after… she was Nancy’s mom in Nightmare On Elm Street!
While not my favorite Altman films, those would be MASH and The Player, this one was enjoyable, and I can now move it to the ‘Seen It” list.
What’s your favorite Altman flick?