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This movie tells the intersecting stories of various people connected to the music business in Nashville. Barbara Jean is the reigning queen of Nashville but is near collapse. Linnea and Delbert Reese have a shaky marriage and 2 deaf children. Opal is a British journalist touring the area. These and other stories come together in a dramatic climax. Written by
Nashville couldn't understand "Nashville," and no wonder. Anyone who watches "Nashville" for insights to country music probably views "The Godfather" for tips about olive oil. Altman's 1975 film uses country music and the people who perform, listen to and produce it as a metaphor about America in the '70s, when, as Warren Beatty said in "A Parallax View," released a year earlier, "everytime you turned around, one of the best people in the country was getting shot." Anyone who has seen the film and visits the Parthenon, where the final scenes are filmed, may feel a sense of unease. Listen closely and you can hear Haven Hamilton pleading to the stunned crowd, "Show them what we're made of! They can't do this to us here! This isn't Dallas; this is Nashville!"
The ending is astonishing, tidying up some plot lines and leaving others open ended. A star is born when the Albuquerque character and a gospel group minus its leader belt out a Nashville standard, "It Don't Worry Me." The Sueleen Gay character, meanwhile, suffers one final indignity; Albuquerque, on the same stage and with the same ambitions, achieves the fame that might have gone to Sueleen, a waitress/stripper/wanna-be recording artist, had Sueleen gotten the microphone first.
We never know what caused the Kenny Frazier character to crack; perhaps like Mark David Chapman (John Lennon) he was obsessed with the Holden Caulfield character in "Catcher in the Rye," although we can feel fairly certain that he did not share John David Hinckley's (President Reagan) obsession with Jodie Foster since "Taxi Driver" would not be released for another year.
Watching "Nashville" for the first time, you may feel protective of Barbara Jean's character for reasons you can't immediately explain but will learn all too well. I feel the same urge to shout at the screen, warning her character of possible danger, that I experienced in "From Here to Eternity," knowing that Pearl Harbor was imminent and would change everything.
Characters transform before our eyes. Del Reese (Ned Beatty), bored with his marriage to a Nashville superstar and as a father to hearing-impaired children, cares enough at the end to lead a wounded Haven Hamilton to safety. Hamilton (masterfully played by Henry Gibson) would stomp anyone in his path to create a hit record but is the first to care for Barbara Jean in her moment of need.
Sure, some of the songs are terrible -- some country music is terrible -- but could anything be more poignant than Barbara Jean's rendition of "My Idaho Home" or Keith Carradine singing "I'm Easy" in a nightclub where four of his conquests look on equally with lust and bewilderment. Country singers, like stock-car drivers, inspire tremendous loyalty and jealousy among their fans, which Altman depicts beautifully when Scott Glenn, a devoted fan of Barbara Jean, leaves the Opry as Connie White appears to sing a tribute to her ailing rival. Hamilton's character is never better than when between songs he asks listeners to send Barbara Jean a card and "tell her that Haven told you to write."
Altman would rate among the greatest directors -- as the American Fellini -- if this were his only effort. Despite its convoluted plot structure, "Nashville" achieves greatness and searches for truth. If the 1970s shaped your life in any respect, this is a movie experience not to be missed.
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