Robert Altman’s “Nashville” (1975) is about
events taking place during a five day country and western musical
festival in Nashville, Tennessee during the summer of 1976. The
film follows 24 individuals throughout that festival. Nashville
is the home of the Grand Ole Opry, the epicentre of American
country-western music, were musicians, producers, promoters and
people from all over the country come together to celebrate the
western American music. “Nashville” is not one long story; it’s
an interweaving of many shorter stories about people. The film
observes how these people, living in a very conservative and
surreal society, interact with each other. It follows the lives
of diverse people who are forced to coexist in the town of Nashville.
In a more insightful look on the film, it is a two and half hour
study of American culture, show business, leadership and politics.
All the characters are brought together into a random fashion,
either for the music festival or the political rally that takes
place during the event. All the characters express their hopes, intentions, dreams, and frustrated
lives in this lonely society. All these characters are consisted
of the residents of Nashville, civic leaders, politicians and
their front men, music stars and their managers, wannabe stars,
reporters, fans, drifters and misfits. This entire cast of characters
move through various places, events and festivals, including
the airport, recording studios, motel rooms, hospitals, nightclubs
and concert halls. All individuals have come to this town for
different reasons. Robert Altman states that ‘Nashville, the
town was the Hollywood microcosm of its time and the film is
a culture panorama with a reflective American sensibility and
“Nashville” has two major backdrops: the first
is the city and its rich musical legacy and the second is one
of America’s most favourite ‘game’, politics. The film takes
place in the days preceding the Tennessee presidential primary.
A nonconformist candidate, Hal Philip Walker of the Replacement
Party, has taken hold of the city. He stands for everything rejected
by the major parties, for example changing the National Anthem
and removing all ‘dirty’ lawyers from the Congress. This is in
a post Vietnam War, John F. Kennedy assassination and Watergate
scandal era, were the American Politics and Society face a major
crisis and doubt. This political rally somehow invades the whole
film and during, constantly, vans with loudspeakers, banners
and stickers, people supporting Walker appear on screen.
“Nashville’s” ideal spectator has to be naïve,
vulnerable and observant, a participant observer. Robert Altman’s
unique directing style enhances the sense of realism in the film
and allows the audience to follow the complicated plot of 24
different characters. Creating the sense of realism is essential
to the audience since it elucidates the messages and ideas about
Helen Keyssar in the book “Robert Altman’s America” (1991) says:
‘Robert Altman recognizes that we [the Americans]
enjoy our despair in who we are. Altman’s films describe a culture
and its inhabitants stuck like a top in the mud and prevented
from sinking only by the force of its self-perpetuated spinning’.
The viewers of the film “Nashville” are exposed
to scenes that include corruption in American politics and show-business,
racism, sexism, and extreme violence. Most films in Hollywood
‘are easy to forget’ and as well as their messages. On the contrary,
“Nashville” and all of Altman’s films are not easy to forget,
precisely because they renegotiate the Americans’ detachments
and attachments to American culture. All these themes are portrayed
in a very realistic and documentary-like way; this reinforces
the sense of truthfulness. Altman’s strongest point of the film
is that show-business people and politicians are indistinguishable
from each other.
Altman shows the problems of America, its
heroes and its villains. He tries to warn and alert the people
of America that something has gone wrong along the way. Through
his masterpiece, viewers are carried in a journey of music and
politics, and of people’s stories. It glorifies and disparages
America. In times of troubles and wars he tries to show in what
state American society is and where it’s heading too. The ending
montage of arbitrary people of Nashville singing along with the
new star Albuquerque the song “It don’t worry me” allows the
viewer to link the words of the song with the people singing
it. Parents, young kids, teenagers, old people are singing along.
The song never actually ends, but the sound fades out and the
camera pans to the sky in an indication of reflection and continuance
of the situation.
“Nashville” is nothing more than a political
campaign with an entertainment value. All the themes that are
explored in the film, portrayed in the unique fashion and structure
of Robert Altman’s directorial signature are simply life itself.
As Altman says in one of his interviews it is just a way of melding
a whole view, his view, of that political climate in America
of 1975. Instant success, violence, women in despair, war, loneliness.
As a conclusion for what the film truly asks from the viewer
I quote Gibley from his book “It don’t worry me”:
‘The movie’s yours: free your mind; renounce
your Old Hollywood ways’.
By Konstantinos Vassilaros
ROBERT ALTMAN’S “NASHVILLE” (1975)