Although he made a splash with MASH, it took Altman another five years to craft what many consider to be his masterpiece. Nashville focuses on a mammoth twenty-four characters and is set over a period of five days. The film’s major emphasis is on the country music scene as we meet all of Nashville’s players including the has-beens, the up-and-comers and the never-weres all of whom are attempting to enhance their careers in some way.
Characters we meet during the film include legendary Haven Hamilton, who has political aspirations of his home and whose fame is fading fast. Barbara Jean is one of the most popular country singers around but suffers from exhaustion and spends most of the film in hospital. As the country music business is a fickle one, Barbara Jean’s manager eventually replaces her at several events with the inferior but beautiful Connie White. We also meet Tom Frank, a womanising member of a country music trio who attempts to break out on his own throughout the course of the film. Then there’s Sueleen Gay, another aspiring country singer who has no talent what to speak of and gets exploited in one of the film’s most memorable scenes. The film’s climax brings the majority of the characters together at the aforementioned rally and sees one of the characters attempt to shoot two of Nashville’s biggest stars. Despite this tragedy occurring Winifred, another aspiring country singer, takes to the stage and finally gets her big break. Although all the characters in Nashville are all fictional the majority of the musical acts are based on real-life figures. Some of the inspirations for the characters include Peter, Paul and Mary, Kris Kristofferson and Loretta Lynn.
Having enjoyed the way Altman set out his narrative structure in MASH, I thought I’d appreciate Nashville in much the same way. However I was slightly dismayed when this wasn’t the case. I believe part of the reason for this is that Nashville is primarily a drama rather than a dark comedy and therefore Altman’s structure doesn’t work as well her as it did in MASH. The use of twenty-four characters meant that you never really got to know anyone that well and therefore it was hard to sympathise with any one person. Learning that producers had wanted Altman to make Nashville into two films made a lot of sense as I found this final version dragged at times. Although half of Nashville was made up of various musical sequences, I believe that the two-and-half hour running time was still too long. That being said some of these musical performances were incredibly entertaining and really gave Nashville a sense of place. In fact one of its more positive features is how it immerses the viewer in the culture and style of Nashville; including the religious nature of all of its inhabitants seen in the scenes set at various church services. There were some brilliant performances amongst the ensemble most notably from Lily Tomlin, Ronee Blakeley and Henry Gibson. Tomlin, Blakley and Altman all received nominations for the film whilst Keith Carradine won an award for his original song ‘I’m Easy.’ However, after watching Nashville, I’m still questioning if it deserved a Best Picture nod and additionally why it’s still regarded as a classic by a lot of film critics. Whilst I did enjoy parts of Nashville, I found it hard to connect with any of the characters and at times I thought it was incredibly dull.