With songs galore throughout the whole film, we are thrown headfirst into America’s country music capital whilst witnessing the machinations of the presidential candidate elections.
Comebacks, showdowns, backstabbing and heartbreak are all par for the course in this all-singing, all-dancing epic that was actually shot on location in Nashville, inevitably bringing a strong sense of realism to the docu-style piece.
Robert Altman is the archetypal large-cast director and he seems to relish the task of introducing as many characters as the plot can physically handle, then giving them all the space to develop rather than having most of them blend into the backdrop as little more than extras.
With a title that is as much statement as insight, Nashville is an anomalous mix of music and politics; potentially strange bedfellows but ones that produce an exceptional film at the hands of this master craftsman.
Spread across five days, the film weaves together 24 players – from musicians to managers to hangers-on – into a series of loosely assembled vignettes. The themes – ambition, success, desperation, bitterness – loom large as Altman pokes his camera in and out of their lives.
The storylines interweave naturally, but the separate strands and relationships between them are too intricate to even begin to analyse.
It’s almost unfair to pick out favourite performers, such is the wealth of talent on show (everyone from Jeff Goldblum as a silent, bike-riding magician to Shelley Duvall’s star-shagging wannabe).
But it’s hard not to fall for Lily Tomlin, who won the only Oscar nomination of her career to date, making her big-screen debut as the gospel-singing married mother of two, Linnea Reese, being vigorously pursued by Keith Carradine’s womanising singer Tom Frank – a role that typecast him as a cad for years after.
The actors were encouraged to write and perform their own songs, which produces mixed results. Some are downright terrible; poor Gwen Welles – who plays Sueleen Gay – really “couldn’t sing a lick”, as Ned Beatty’s character (lawyer Delbert Reese, Linnea’s husband) puts it.
But some are good – notably the Carradine-penned I’m Easy which won him a Golden Globe and an Oscar (criminally, the only Oscar the film collected), and the film’s closing number It Don’t Worry Me, where wannabe country singer Winifred Albuquerque (Barbara Harris) takes the microphone after Nashville superstar Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley) is horrifically shot during a political-campaign rally.
Needless to say, everything comes together to form a toe-tapping story of great magnitude, where the characters are larger than life and dish up a real slice of America.
PFC Glenn Kelly
James Dan Calvert