Nashville: Robert Altman’s Epic Musical Satire

Nashville. Courtesy of Paramount.

Robert Altman’s Oscar-nominated epic musical satire, Nashville, is among the recent films to join the Paramount Presents line.

The film is the 24th title to join the Blu-ray line following a new remaster from a 4K scan. Appropriately enough, this film follows some 24 different characters over 5 days in the Tennessee capital prior to a concert. With so many characters, it also means numerous storylines. To put it so simply, there is a lot going on in this film. I’ll forgive you if you can’t keep up with the plot especially with a run time shy of three hours. Nashville contains over an hour’s worth of music–the city’s country musicians did not take kindly to it at the time. Anyway, I’m not going to rehash the film’s plot here because I cannot stress enough just how much is going on.

Instead of using actual musicians, Altman works with actors playing musicians. Bill, Mary and Tom are a stand-in for Peter, Paul, and Mary. There is a real-life inspiration (or two or three) for every musician in this film. Connie White (Karen Black) and Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley) represent a classic Nashville rivalry. It’s not much of a surprise to see how angry Nashville country musicians were at the time. This film is a satire and Altman shot it using actors on their turf so their feelings are very understandable. Granted, things have evolved over the years but it’s so fascinating to look at how a film gets received in its era. Joan Tewkesbury’s script may have drawn on her own experiences but Altman added improvised scenes into the final film.

Speaking of actors, there is a star-studded cast in this film. I recognized Henry Gibson immediately in his role as country superstar Haven Hamilton. Fittingly, he’s recording a song in honor of the nation’s Bicentennial prior to a gala concert celebrating Replacement Party candidate Hal Philip Walker (Thomas Hal Phillips). You have a young Jeff Goldblum in one of his earlier film roles before he truly became the star he is today. Ned Beatty, Lily Tomlin, Geraldine, Chaplin–the list goes on and on.

The film’s finale had people talking then and certainly has people talking now. Kenny Frasier (David Hayward) takes out a gun and shoots up the stage. Barbara Jean is bleeding and unconscious when she gets carried off the stage. At this point in time, it had not yet been twelve years since the JFK assassination in Dallas. Does the film take things a bit too far? Certainly. A few years later, Taxi Driver would get the blame during an attempt on Ronald Reagan’s life. But before that, John Lennon was shot dead right outside of his apartment building. For what it’s worth, the death is not in Tewkesbury’s original script. It’s one of the many Altman contributions.

Robert Altman uses this film to take a critical look at how Americans are obsessed with celebrity and power. The film’s political subtext might not come off as strongly but it’s there. Don’t forget that this film doesn’t take place long after Vietnam ended. Between Vietnam and Watergate, the American mood was different. The end result is an epic classic. When you think of 70s classics, Nashville is right up there with the likes of Jaws and Star Wars. It’s a different film but but this is the beauty of cinema. Still though, it isn’t hard to imagine what Nashville would look like in the present era. Instead of Hal Phillips Walker, the film would probably have a Donald Trump-esque candidate. No matter the decade, the celebrity obsession never seems to change.

Nashville took home Best Original Song at the Oscars while earning nominations for picture, director, and a pair of supporting actresses. It truly is one of the best films in cinematic history. Days after its release, Jaws would change cinema for all time but that’s a story for another day. Case in point: Nashville earned $10 million at the box office against a $2.2 million budget.

Robert Altman’s Nashville has withstood the test of time in part because of the commentary on celebrity and power–and of course, the soundtrack.

Bonus Features

  • 24 Tracks: Robert Altman’s Nashville
  • Commentary by director Robert Altman
  • Theatrical Trailers

DIRECTOR: Robert Altman
SCREENWRITER: Joan Tewkesbury
CAST: David Arkin, Barbara Baxley, Ned Beatty, Karen Black, Ronee Blakley, Timothy Brown, Keith Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Robert DoQui, Shelley Duvall, Allen Garfield, Henry Gibson, Scott Glenn, Jeff Goldblum, Barbara Harris, David Hayward, Michael Murphy, Allan F. Nicholls, Dave Peel, Cristina Raines, Bert Remsen, Lily Tomlin, Gwen Welles, and Keenan Wynn

Paramount released Nashville on June 11, 1975.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.