Nashville (1975)

Review by Glenn Heath Jr @MatchCuts

Directed by

Robert Altman


Karen Black Keith Carradine Ronee Blakley


Robert Altman’s masterpiece gets the 4K restoration treatment.


A stunning, epic layering of music and delusion.

In Retrospect.

Still a hauntingly relevant satire about America’s obsession with access.

Robert Altman’s show-stopping musical mosaic returns to UK cinemas in a sparkling new 4K restoration.

“We must be doing something right to last 200 years.” Nashville opens with this bitterly ironic chorus sung by country music legend Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson), whose melodic championing of American democratic endurance purposefully ignores the cultural, political and racial tensions that at this point had been ripping the country apart for nearly two decades. This is, after all, a film almost entirely concerned with façades, and the ways in which art can be used as a smokescreen to hide humanity’s more complicated issues.

Sprawling and meandering, Robert Altman’s 1975 musical mosaic never loses sight of the core conflict between reality and delusion, and how it shapes careers, relationships and political movements. One of many pseudo narrators, a tenacious BBC reporter named Opal (Geraldine Chaplin) stalks celebrities (including Elliot Gould playing himself ) and other locals hoping to capture the essence of American life. Her often insensitive exploits collide with the local power brokers, musicians and industry types of a town founded on performance.

Many characters in Nashville have already reached their breaking point in this regard. The film’s most heartbreaking role belongs to Ronee Blakely, whose fragile superstar Barbara Jean is attempting to make a comeback after experiencing a terrible on-stage accident. Extreme stress and anxiety relegate her to wheel chairs and hospital beds, and Altman showcases her as the dying spirit of something that was once genuinely joyful.

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Gospel singer Linnea Reese (Lily Tomlin) is also struggling to maintain the act of being a faithful wife to Delbert (Ned Beatty), a lawyer who’s been hired by a political fixer (Michael Moriarty) to set up a benefit concert for third-party presidential candidate Hal Phillip Walker. These narrative threads, and many others dealing with betrayal, heartbreak, and jealously, swirl around in lengthy set pieces where dialogue and musical interludes overlap.

Altman’s aesthetic style involves so much layering of sound and shifting perspectives that it calls attention to how distracted people can become when consumed by their own needs and desires. We see and hear what we want to, and more importantly, what the powers that be want us to. While there are countless conversations that occur in the film, it often feels like no one is really listening to one another. Nashville also examines America’s toxic obsession with access in scathingly funny and satirical ways that are unmatched by any film of the period. It’s a theme Altman would go on to explore with The Player, Gosford Park and many others, but here it feels especially bleak.

No other character embodies this motif more than the hopelessly terrible aspiring singer Sueleen Gay (Gwen Welles) who, despite being conned, ridiculed, and exploited during a private burlesque performance, still thinks her sacrifices will ultimately help her career. Ultimately, she witnesses the tragedy of Nashville’s violent climax firsthand, and how quickly the baton of opportunism can be passed on to the next lucky American contestant.

Published 22 Jun 2021

Tags: Nashville Robert Altman


Robert Altman’s masterpiece gets the 4K restoration treatment.


A stunning, epic layering of music and delusion.

In Retrospect.

Still a hauntingly relevant satire about America’s obsession with access.

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