On the face of it, there are just too many reasons not to like Robert Altman’s “Nashville” from 1975:
It’s long (nearly three hours).
It has a huge cast and more characters than you can follow.
It has the dreaded country music.
The self-conscious guest stars.
There’s the overlapping dialogue that makes it hard to hear what’s going on.
There’s an unexplained assassination at the end.
And all of that is true.
If you haven’t seen it, here’s a very brief summary of the story: a group of musicians, agents and managers, reporters and assorted misfits and hangers on arrive in Nashville at the time of a political campaign. Each person has a story, and these stories overlap. At the end there is a big gala concert for the would-be politician.
First, let’s address the cast. Yes it is large, and somehow most of the characters get to tell their part of the story. The cast includes Shelly Duvall, Jeff Goldblum, Ned Beatty, Keenan Wynn, Lily Tomlin, Karen Black and many more. None was a huge name then, which is as it should be for an ensemble piece.
Yes, the visits by Elliott Gould etc are a bit cringeworthy.
Yes, it is a bit hard to hear exactly what is going on at times from the overlapping dialogue. This was a technique Altman liked as it kept the actors on their toes. It’s ike real life too. It also means that there is more to take in on repeated viewings. And it’s not that hard to hear what is being said, just don’t try so hard.
Standout from the film is Ronnee Blakley, who donated some of her songs and also played Barbara Jean. So many of the characters are based on real people. If you know your country music you may figure it all out.
There are many songs and they are not too bad. The outdoor concert at Opryland USA is a highlight, and there are many more songs in an intimate setting, including Oscar winner “I’m Easy” by Carradine.
It’s a commentary on America, a microcosm of the country. It is astonishing that the stories do intertwine and resolve. For many, it is one of the greatest films ever made. Yes, it does look dated now, and the Geraldine Chaplin character always was annoying, but it is still a massively enjoyable film if you have the stamina to watch it properly.
Is it in the top ten greatest American films of all time? Yes, it probably is.