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Blu-ray Review: Nashville

August 17, 2021

By John Corrado

Last week, Paramount released a new Blu-ray edition of Robert Altman’s 1975 classic Nashville on Blu-ray, which has been remastered from a 4K scan of original elements.

A mix of music movie, character drama and political film, Nashville serves a mosaic portrait of two dozen different characters whose stories intersect over five days in the title Tennessee city.

The characters include ailing country singer Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley) and her rival Connie White (Karen Black); Grand Ole Opry star Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) and his lawyer Delbert Reese (Ned Beatty), who is married to gospel singer Linnea Reese (Lily Tomlin); as well as Tom Frank (Keith Carradine), a member of a folk rock trio who is entangled with several of the female characters.

These characters, and a variety of others, float in and out of the picture. We also get appearances from Shelley Duvall as a young groupie visiting from L.A., Geraldine Chaplin as a nosy BBC Radio reporter, and Jeff Goldblum as an unnamed eccentric who rides around on his three-wheeled motorcycle. While some of them come into sharper focus, there is no one single focal point. The film is famous for Altman’s observational, at times documentary-like approach to following the characters, dropping us into the middle of scenes and conversations without much in the way of exposition.

The through-line of the film is the political campaign of a fringe presidential candidate named Hal Phillip Walker (voice of Thomas Hal Phillips), a figure prescient of both Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders who is running for the fictional Replacement Party on a populist platform with the slogan “New Roots for the Nation.” His rousing campaign speeches, which are being blared from a van driving around with loudspeakers on top, provide a sort of voiceover for the film.

We hear snippets of conversations that overlap on top of each other, with Altman establishing his unique approach to sound design on the project, recording the actors separately and mixing their dialogue so that it replicates the feel of people talking all at once. It adds to the unique, at times chaotic atmosphere of the film. The music is another key element. The soundtrack features a number of original songs that the actors mostly wrote themselves (alongside composer Richard Baskin), with Carradine winning the Oscar for Best Original Song for “I’m Easy,” one of the standout numbers in the film.

In addition to Carradine’s win, the film also received a pair of Best Supporting Actress nominations for Blakley and Tomlin, as well as nominations for Best Director and Best Picture. The film builds towards a compelling final scene that effectively brings several story strands together and builds a solid amount of tension with the way Altman cuts back and forth, crafting a compelling and haunting finale to his grand statement of a movie.

With a sprawling, slightly satirical touch, Altman explores a variety of different social, political and cultural themes in Nashville, covering a range of topics pertaining to country music, Americana, and the quest for fame by any means necessary. It functions as a bit of a cinematic Rorschach Test in this way, with different audiences finding different characters and moments that resonate most with them.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The disc includes a handful of bonus features, including a previously released commentary track and a new featurette. There is no digital copy in the package.

Commentary by Director Robert Altman

24 Tracks: Robert Altman’s Nashville (15 minutes, 56 seconds): This new featurette touches on the making of the film, from its early origins as a diary of what screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury actually saw over several days in Nashville, to the casting, characters, original songs, and sound mixing. We get archival footage of Altman himself, and it’s built around a new interview with his son Stephen, who talks about working for his father and getting his start on the film as a production assistant, including having to keep track of who was speaking on the audio recordings.

Theatrical Trailers: We get the original trailer for Nashville, followed by ones for Altman’s 1980 Popeye adaptation and fellow Paramount film Urban Cowboy.

Nashville (2 minutes, 12 seconds)

Popeye (1 minute, 56 seconds)

Urban Cowboy (3 minutes, 4 seconds)

Nashville is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 160 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: August 10th, 2021

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