Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Mon 16 Jun
Robert Altman / USA / 1975 / 160 mins
Even as it goes the way of VHS, DVD can hold a few surprises. This is the first time Robert Altman’s Nashville has been available on home video in the UK, which, for a film this important, can be seen as a massive lapse on the part of every other distributor save for Eureka (who have put together an excellent disc). Now that’s rectified, one thing is clear. The hype around Nashville isn’t bogus – if anything, years of commercial obscurity have had a preserving effect. Everything that was great about this movie in 1975 is still great about it now.
Nashville is where Altman’s style crystallises. Taking place over five days against the backdrop of a Presidential campaign, it follows a large cast of characters – at least 24 strong – directly or peripherally involved in the city’s country music industry. The canvas, then, is vast, but the stakes are often tiny. Altman favours width and depth, emphasising the futility of these bathetic figures, from imperious country singer Haven Hamilton to marginalised wannabe Winifred. He also derives great impact from the editing, inexorably cross-cutting between each of the cast until finally they’re all united at the political rally that ends the picture. This is the absolute that none of them avoid.
Ultimately, the film remains fresh because it has an unassuming quality. Unlike his later films, with their complex tracking shots, Altman seems to enjoy pitting his characters against each other. They’re not particularly deep in themselves but the film achieves depth through its progressive sense of layering. This approach has been purloined by others but at no point in Nashville does it feel like Altman is announcing the fact of his innovation. He simply gets on with it. Nearly forty years on that approach is as relevant as ever.