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Film / Nashville

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"Twenty-four of your favorite stars!"

"You get your hair cut; you don't belong in Nashville."
Haven Hamilton

One of Robert Altman's most acclaimed films, the 1975 comedy-drama Nashville boasts an ensemble cast of 24 — count 'em, 24 — principal characters, whom it follows around the country music capital of Nashville over the course of the five days leading up to a concert being staged on behalf of a third-party candidate for the U.S. presidency.

There is no exact definition of who is and isn't a main character, but here are the ones that get the most screen time:

  • Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley), the darling of the country music world. She is frail, lonely, and worn out both physically and emotionally, but tries to keep a smile on anyway. She is also responsible for more than a few of the film's best musical moments. Blakley's performance earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
  • Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson), an aging, egotistical country music legend with his own political aspirations.
  • Barnett (Allen Garfield), Barbara Jean's emotionally abusive manager/husband. A Col. Parker type, he's more interested in his wife's career than her crumbling sanity.
  • Linnea Reese (Lily Tomlin), a middle-aged gospel singer/housewife stuck with her inept husband Del (Ned Beatty) and two deaf kids. She is torn between loyalty to her husband and the advances of a charming womanizer. Tomlin also got a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role.
  • Tom Frank (Keith Carradine), the most famous third of the folk-rock trio Bill, Mary, and Tom. A self-loathing womanizer, he has several trysts over the course of the film. Carradine won the Best Original Song Oscar for "I'm Easy", which he performs as Tom in-universe.
  • John Triplette (Michael Murphy), an operative for dark-horse presidential candidate Hal Phillip Walker, whose slick, smooth-talking recruitment tactics to attract big-name singers for the concert stands in stark contrast to Walker's folksy, homespun image.

The screenplay was written by Joan Tewkesbury, who'd collaborated with Altman on Thieves Like Us one year earlier.

This film provides examples of:

  • Assassination Attempt: The closing scene.
  • Award-Bait Song: "It Don't Worry Me" counts. Ironically, it was the other song Keith Carradine contributed to the soundtrack, the folky "I'm Easy", that ended up winning an Oscar.
  • Big Brother Instinct: The relationship between Wade and Sueleen has shades of this, especially after Sueleen does her strip-show - Wade, knowing she's been manipulated and is just going to be manipulated more, tries to convince her that she doesn't have the talent, to protect her. It doesn't work.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Barbara Jean has been shot, likely fatally, but Winifred's gotten her big break, and the crowd rallies admirably to refuse to let the assassin 'win'. Furthermore, this MIGHT have just derailed Hal Philip Walker's Replacement Party, a group that's wound up seeming more ominous as the film's gone along.
  • Breaking Speech: Wade tries this unsuccessfully on Sueleen after she's manipulated into doing a strip-show, telling her that she doesn't have what it takes to be a star.
  • Break the Cutie: After being manipulated into a degrading strip performance on night four on promises of performing alongside Barbara Jean, Sueleen is despondent, visibly disturbed and a little unstable. When Wade confronts her after the fact, in their final conversation, and outright tells her that she can't sing, doesn't have talent and will never be a star, she just disregards what he tells her and shuts the door on him, suggesting all she's really got to look forward to is being manipulated more, without any success.
  • The Cameo: Elliott Gould and Julie Christie appear as themselves in different scenes.
  • The Casanova: Folk rock singer Tom has a way with the ladies.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Elliott Gould and Julie Christie appear as themselves, but Gould had already appeared in several Robert Altman films, and Christie co-starred in Doctor Zhivago alongside Geraldine Chaplin (Opal, The BBC documentarian).
  • Chekhov's Gun: Kenny's violin case which turns out to hold a gun.
  • Cloudcuckoolander:
    • Opal, who may or may not actually work for The BBC as a documentarian. Her train of thought during her "narration" frequently derails, leaving her spouting nonsense bordering on word salad.
    • The Tricycle Man casually performs simple sleight-of-hand tricks to the bemusement of onlookers and appears to be camping out, if not living, on the grounds of a school bus depot when he is not driving about the city from venue to venue as an audience member. He has an airy, dreamy nature and absolutely no dialogue, furthering the enigma.
  • Creator Breakdown: Barbara Jean suffers this in-universe, in her first public performance after her accident. invoked
  • Creator Cameo: Richard Baskin, the film's musical director and co-writer of a bunch of the songs, plays long-haired session keyboardist Frog (as possibly the same character, he's also seen playing guitar in a club when Albuquerque shows up wanting to perform). Robert Altman himself is the voice of the Record Producer in the studio sequence, and screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury is the voice of the woman on the phone with Tom while Linnea gets ready to leave his room (she's also the voice of Kenny's mother on the phone).
  • Credits Gag: The film opens with a fake commercial for its own soundtrack album, with the cast members' names ("Twenty-four of your favorite stars!") being rattled off by a motormouthed voiceover announcer in the manner of an old K-Tel spot.
  • Cult of Personality: The Replacement Party seems to function as this for the enigmatic Hal Philip Walker.
  • The Ditz: Opal and Sueleen.
  • Dodgy Toupee: Haven Hamilton's toupee comes off during the chaos after Barbara Jean gets shot.
  • Domestic Abuse: Barbara Jean's husband/manager Barnett emotionally belittles her and micromanages her career. This seems to be playing a part in her ongoing mental decline—which tends to make him more controlling and abusive.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": Singing hopeful Winifred prefers to be called Albuquerque, while Mr. Green's niece Martha insists her name is really L.A. Joan.
  • Eagleland: Haven Hamilton's song "200 Years" is Type 1, and not unlike "real" songs of the mid-'70s that tied into the Bicentennial.
  • Ensemble Cast: The film centers on 24 characters, and balances screentime between them fairly evenly. John Triplette has the most actual screentime, but he's mainly just interacting with the others and doesn't have much of a character arc of his own.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The story takes place over five days.
  • Fan Disservice: On the night of day four Sueleen performs at a campaign event, but gets booed off the stage, and is then manipulated into doing a strip-tease for the crowd, resulting in an extremely uncomfortable nude scene.
  • Fictional Political Party: The Replacement Party is a third party, whose actual politics are kept vague and slightly ridiculous, making it rather hard to identify with any existing political group.
  • Hidden Depths:
    • Haven Hamilton's son Bud is briefly shown to be a pretty good singer himself. Dave Peel, who played him, had a few minor Country Music hits in real life.
    • Averted with Norman the limo driver. He gets a chance to play a guitar but only knows a couple basic chords.
    • In the final scene we discover that Winifred/Albuquerque is an incredible singer.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Sueleen Gay.
  • Ice-Cream Koan: Hal Philip Walker seems to use these when he isn't dispensing home-spun wisdom—one that stands out is the question 'Does Christmas smell like oranges to you?'.
  • Improv: While there was a solid script written by Altman and Joan Tewkesbury that dictated all the actions of all the characters, the dialog was largely improvised by the actors.
  • Innocent Bigot: Opal obviously sees herself as the sophisticated, open-minded lady of the world traipsing through the racist South—however, it's just as obvious to the viewers that she's more racist than most of the Southerners in the film, all of whom are too polite or too baffled to call her on it.
  • Jerkass: Haven Hamilton pretty much acts like a pompous, arrogant narcissist for most of the film.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Haven is pretty supportive of his son. Also, his actions at the rally after he and Barbara Jean are shot speak for themselves, as he re-takes the stage after having been shot in order to calm the crowd and prevent a riot.
    Haven Hamilton: This is Nashville! This ain't Dallas, this is Nashville! They can't do this to us here in Nashville! Come on, sing! Sing, somebody, sing! I'm fine, I'm fine. You sing!
    • Likewise, Tom sleeps with a lot of women and treats them indifferently (except for Linnea; see Ladykiller in Love below), and acts rudely towards Bill & Mary, but he's one of the first to help Barbara Jean after she's been shot.
  • Just for Pun: When Haven meets with John Triplette (Hal Phillip Walker's campaign manager) at his party, Lady Pearl, Haven's companion, tells Triplette Haven breeds Tennessee Walker horses, to which Haven says, "Mr. Triplette knows all about Walkers." Triplette chuckles at this.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Tom falls in love with Linnea, but she rejects him after they sleep together and leaves.
  • Musical World Hypotheses: A prominent example of a purely Diegetic musical.
  • Newscaster Cameo: Real life ABC News correspondent Howard K. Smith gives a commentary about Hal Phillip Walker.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Several of the characters are thinly-veiled expies of real life country music stars of the era: Barbara Jean (Loretta Lynn), Haven Hamilton (Roy Acuff), Tommy Brown (Charley Pride), Connie White (Lynn Anderson), and Bill, Mary & Tom (Peter, Paul & Mary).
    • There's also a fair bit of Hank Snow and Porter Wagoner in Haven Hamilton, and Word of God from screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury is that Conway Twitty and Tex Ritter inspired some elements of the character as well.
    • Hal Philip Walker seems like a strange combination of George Wallace, George McGovern, and the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.
  • No Name Given: Jeff Goldblum's Tricycle Man, a local(?) eccentric who rides through the film on his three-wheeled motorcycle, blithely oblivious to everyone else. (He's the sole significant character who has no dialogue.)
  • One-Book Author: In universe, Bill, Mary & Tom have only released one album but seem to be on the verge of breaking up.
  • "Pan Up to the Sky" Ending: The camera tilts up past the Parthenon as the performance of "It Don't Worry Me" fades out, and the film ends with a shot of an overcast sky.
  • Pet the Dog: Kenny clearly has... issues, but he gets along with Mr. Green better than the man's own niece, Martha He even attends the funeral of the man's wife, something Martha conspicuously fails to do.
  • Phoney Call: Lily Tomlin's character receives a booty call from Tom while having dinner with her husband and kids. She first presents to be talking to someone else and after the caller has hung up she speaks a few more lines into the speaker to make the conversation sound less suspicious to her family.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: Del Reese doesn't recognize who Elliott Gould is at first when the latter shows up at Haven's party.
    • Similarly, at Opryland later, when Julie Christie shows up, Connie thinks everyone is putting her on when talking about Christie being a star.
  • Really Gets Around: Tom, who once again has a way with the ladies. And Martha (aka "L.A. Joan"), who's visiting Nashville to see her ailing aunt, and never gets around to it, finding plenty of other things to keep her busy.
  • Red Herring: The soldier who serves as Barbara Jean's ominous apparent Stalker with a Crush. Turns out his mother is the one who saved her life from her earlier accident, and that she wants him to keep an eye on her. (Though he is a rather starstruck fan.) He even helps get her likely killer at the end.
  • Staged Populist Uprising: The Replacement Party shows sign of being the democratic equivalent of one—while Hal Philip Walker takes great pains to paint himself as an honest man of the people out to save the nation, his underling John Triplette is a standard Sleazy Politician, and what we see of the Replacement Party's machinery seems closer to a cult than a political party.
  • Stepford Smiler: Barbara Jean is a serious case of Type A, and the mask is slipping badly.
  • Stylistic Suck: Many of the songs intentionally emulate the bombastic, overproduced style that many mainstream country artists were adopting in the mid-'70s.
  • The Voice: Presidential candidate Hal Phillip Walker. His one on-screen appearance is shot from long distance so we never see his face. For the record, his portrayer Thomas Hal Phillips looked like this. Altman had Phillips reprise the role a decade later in O.C & Stiggs, showing Walker giving a few speeches on TV. We get a better view of Walker but still not a crystal-clear image.
  • Word Salad:
    • Opal's "journalism" frequently passes through Purple Prose to wind up here.
    • More tragically, Barbara Jean's stories during her onstage Creator Breakdown are filled with this, becoming increasingly incoherent as she talks.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: Sueleen is pressured into doing a striptease while singing at a Walker fundraiser.