Nashville (25th Anniversary Edition)

You really have to experience Nashville many times to get all the involved story lines weaving in and out of each other

When I got my first VCR over twenty something years ago I began to collect movies. One of the very first I got was Robert Altman’s Nashville. At that time it was in full screen and mono only. Now, DVD technology has returned this classic to the home in the only manner befitting such an epic.

It is difficult to explain the plot. You really have to experience Nashville many times to get all the involved story lines weaving in and out of each other. There are over 24 main characters in Nashville. The drift into and out of each other’s stories much as people come and go in real life. The overall effect is stunning. Central to the action is country music star Barbara Jean (Ronnee Blakley) who just recovered from serious burns is once again on the brink of a nervous breakdown. By her side is her husband/manager Barnett (Allen Garfield). Her fellow country star Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) is definitely the cock of the walk. He struts around always showing he has the power in that town. Long the way we see everything from a runaway wife (Donna Denton), a waitress that aspires to sing except she has no talent (Gwen Wells), a mother of two deaf children (Lily Tomlin) and a host of other (now) famous faces. While you may expect so many characters and storylines to come off as muddled Altman holds everything together perfectly. The stories compliment each other, they form a tapestry Americana in a way seldom seen in films. Although Nashville is now 25 years old this movie is as meaningful now as during its initial release.

Even with such a perfectly cast film as Nashville there are bound to be a few stand out performances. Tomlin’s first foray into a dramatic role is stunning. She brings such humanity to the role that the viewer can not help but to be deeply moved. Keith Carradine brings to his role of soft rock singer Tom a love hate relationship with the audience. Ever charming his Tom beguiles his way into the bed of almost every female in the cast. Yet the way he phones another woman while one conquest is still in the room is despicable. His self centered manner of life is in detail is thoroughly shown as a trap, a many that lives to bed the opposite sex and yet can never truly know love. Chaplin as the BBC reporter is so phony that you want to hate her yet you wind up having nothing but piety for this shell of a human being. Then there is Black as Connie White. Forever in the shadow of the much bigger star Barbara Jean she tries with what little talent she has to make and keep a name for herself. You will have to watch Nashville over and over to get all the nuances of the performances. Even with all these viewings you will not be bored.

Robert Altman is one of the truly inventive geniuses of modern film. Most of his early movies are genuine groundbreakers. Although not as creative today as in his heyday in the seventies Nashville represents the height of his creative impact on cinema. Among his triumphs are M*A*S*H and the cult classic Brewster McCloud. Sure he has had his failures, just look at Popeye, but with Nashville you get the cream of the cream. It was a genuine joy to see this film in the proper 2.35:1 ratio again! Each section of the frame contains well-timed action. The film runs the gamut of very dark comedy, drama and even slapstick. They way he has the long list of characters enter and leave each other’s world and yet all gather together for the climax is not only believable but as well choreographed as a ballet.

The disc is stunning. With almost an hour of music in the film, often overlapping the dialogue, you might fear the words would be drowned out but the crisp 5.1 Dolby lets you hear everything. The anamorphic print must have been freshly restored. There are no artifacts to be found a rarity for a 25-year-old film. The director’s commentary offers a glimpse into the mind of a genius reminiscing about a favorite child. Buy the Nashville DVD and witness the return of movie history.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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