17 August 2005


Sometimes Victor gets on my case for all the arty and foreign movies I order from Netflix. Admittedly, sometimes they are hard to watch. We couldn’t get through even fifteen minutes of Last Year at Marienbad, and Breaking the Waves almost had us throwing things at the TV. But other times the “good for us” stuff is better than we could have expected.

Nashville is one of those. I added it to our list because I’d seen it referred to as a classic, but I wasn’t anticipating anything great. Seventies country music, southern city, Karen Black… Didn’t seem like a very promising combination.

Boy was I wrong. Nashville—which tells the stories of at least a dozen characters in its 160 minutes—is terrific, managing to capture not just the essence of Nashville, TN (having never been there, I’ll have to take that on faith), but the essence of the 70s.

The multiple stories are connected by proximity, yet they highlight the absurd self-involvement of most of the characters. A BBC documentarian (sans cameraman), played by Geraldine Chaplin, tries to insinuate herself into the country music scene (with little success). A soldier on leave (Scott Glenn) indulges his obsession with a great country singer (Ronee Blakeley) by stalking her (she doesn’t notice). The third wheel of a folk trio (Keith Carradine) is such an incorrigible womanizer that he’s picking up the phone to call his girlfriend before his lover of the moment (Lily Tomlin) has walked out the door. A third-party politician we never see is running for president on a platform that decries the National Anthem (nobody can sing it) and the demographics of Congress (too many lawyers). His advance man (Michael Murphy) shrewdly maneuvers apolitical musicians into performing at a rally for the candidate. A music industry lawyer (Ned Beatty) pines for a first-time stripper who is really a waitress who wants to be an Opry star (Gwen Welles). Only she can’t sing.

Nashville tells many more stories, but one of the amazing things about this movie is that—while they unfold coherently—the stories never quite link up or lead anywhere. Hollywood trains you to expect them to—the young wife (Barbara Harris) who abandoned her husband to come to Nashville and get famous ought to hook up with…someone; the grieving uncle (Ed Wynn) ought to teach his feckless niece (Shelley Duvall) a thing or two about love and responsibility; the grinning, self-effacing son (Dave Peel) of the country star Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) ought to come into his own somehow.

None of these things happen. Instead, the movie ends with an explosion of violence smoothed over by music.

Which feels exactly right: American, seventies-ish, and 100 percent Country.

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