Nashville: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

December 3, 2013 13 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Nashville is the country & western music capitol of the world and within the city there is more music than you can shake a stick at, but there’s also much more to the city than crooners and cowboy boots. In fact there are a million people in Nashville with a million stories to tell and sometimes those people cross paths and develop even more stories to tell. As the election approaches we can see a campaign wagon rolling through the streets, broadcasting the message of an independent politician who never seems to show his face around town. But his message is memorable as he seeks to do some interesting things if elected, such as ban all lawyers from holding office. At the same time a British journalist is town on behalf of the BBC and while she does have some intriguing words, she never closes her mouth for long. With their marriage falling apart, Linnea and Delbert Reese attempt to find out what they have left while caring for their handicapped child. And once Barbara Jean was the female ruler of Nashville, but now her reign on top seems to be coming to end. These are just a few of the stories to be found in Nashville and as these and more people cross paths, we discover some even more interesting stories.

I know that synopsis seems a little vague, but since this movie doesn’t have a basic storyline I did the best I could. In most films you have a storyline that follows a certain path, but in Nashville we have several storylines that branch off all time so it’s harder to describe it without being too vague or giving too much away. And since I don’t want to spoil the movie for you, I chose to be vague. I told you about a few of the characters to be found in this film, but there are many, many more that you’ll meet when the movie starts. I’ve seen this movie more than a few times and each time I am surprised at how well Altman is able to bring all these stories together in the end. I don’t get shivers or anything like that, but it is powerful how it all gets sewn into a bigger picture before the credits roll. Since this movie several other efforts to imitate it have been done, but few can even come close. Even Altman returned to this concept and while Short Cuts is excellent, I still favor this one in the grand scheme of cinema. But I still think Short Cuts is well worth a look. If you’re a fan of this type of movie then do yourself a favor and take a look at Nashville, which I feel is the cream of the crop.

While Nashville is a powerful and well executed film in most respects, it is also very much a hit and miss operation with viewers. I know people who love similar films like Short Cuts and Magnolia, but just don’t click with this one in the least. I’m sure it helps to be a fan of Altman’s work, but I even know a few Altman die-hards who just can’t seem to find a connection with this one. I can understand that since I didn’t really start to appreciate the movie until after a couple times, so perhaps skeptics or lukewarm fans should give Nashville a second spin and see what happens. But then again I have a friend who has seen this one many times and still dislikes it, so who knows for sure. But I do recommend an additional viewing if you haven’t seen the movie in a while, especially now that you can see the original widescreen vision. This movie deals with fame, politics, and of course music but Altman never weighs the film down too much and the pace doesn’t seem to suffer at all. But don’t think you have like country music to like this movie, because I hate it and still love this film. I recommend this release highly, but when you watch this movie make sure you take the time to really watch, don’t just run the movie while you do other things. This film demands attention to be appreciated, so make sure you set aside some time to sit back and take it all in.

This film was directed by Robert Altman, who knows how to take an ensemble cast and branched storyline and create a powerful and memorable film. This film has a massive cast and Altman makes sure all of them garner substantial screen time, while I am amazed at how well he does that. This film has a central cast of twenty-four prominent characters and while it seems impossible to give them all enough screen time to tell their stories, but Altman delivers. He even makes sure the interactions are well balanced and executed, at no time does the storyline seem forced or rushed which again amazes me. This movie runs almost three hours in duration, but with all the characters and stories unrolling the pace never becomes too slow. If you have a short attention span though or need explosions to stay interested, Nashville is not the film for you. Altman’s work here demands full attention from the audience and if you leave for too long, you’re bound to miss something you need. I think this one of Altman’s finest works and with his resume, that’s a compliment and a half to this film. If you want to see more of Altman’s movies I recommend M*A*S*H, Short Cuts, and The Player.

As I mentioned above this movie is loaded with a terrific ensemble cast and while all turn in solid performances, a few of them shine a little more than others. I think Geraldine Chaplin steals several scenes as the British chatterbox Opal and while some find her annoying, I think she provides some vital comic relief at times. Chaplin (Doctor Zhivago, Cousin Bette) seems so at home in this role and that natural presence is what makes her character so effective. Also in fine form here is Lily Tomlin, who manages to give a solid overall performance and even seem at home in singing scenes. Tomlin (All of Me, Tea With Mussolini) commands the screen in her studio sequences and I wouldn’t have minded if Altman chose to linger longer at those times. I also found the work of Ned Beatty (Radioland Murders, Deliverance) and Ronee Blakley (A Nightmare On Elm Street) to be impressive, both bring a lot to the film. The rest of the cast is also very good and includes Karen Black (Stripping For Jesus), David Arkin (The Long Goodbye), Keith Carradine (The Tie That Binds), Shelley Duvall (Roxanne), Henry Gibson (The ‘Burbs), Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park), Barbara Baxley (Sea Of Love), Elliot Gould (American History X), and Timothy Brown (Frequency) among many others.

Video: How’s it look?

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down and watched all 161 minutes of Nashville, so I was excited when I learned that Criterion would be releasing this title as their work is usually top notch.  For this inaugural Blu-ray release, Criterion has given the film a new 2K HD transfer and it shows. The 2.35:1 AVC HD encode literally breathes new life into what was once a pale and somewhat dingy-looking movie.  Granted, the majority of the film has a bit of a muted color palette to it, but that’s the way Altman wanted it.  I found the colors to be richer, depth to be a little more pronounced and the detail to be a little more focused.  I’ve seen the movie on multiple formats and I don’t think I have to say that this is, far and away, the best this movie has ever looked.

Audio: How’s it sound?

Admittedly I wasn’t expecting a lot out of the newly-minted DTS HD Master Audio track, but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised at what the movie had to offer.  Winner for Best Song (“I’m Easy”), the movie isn’t so much “in your face” as some of today’s modern soundtracks, but rather this is a rich, lustful and rather robust mix that brings out the best the film has to offer.  Vocals are deep and pronounced, surrounds offer a bit more ambiance than I’d originally expected and the film is free from any hiss that’s plagued previous releases.  Granted this won’t challenge your system, but then again – it’s not supposed to. A nice effort.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Nashville comes to Blu-ray in a dual format edition courtesy of Criterion. This is one of their recent dual format titles, so both the Blu-ray and DVD are in one package.  The previous standard DVD contained minimal extras, but Criterion has unearthed some nice little gems. Let’s take a look.

  • The Making of Nashville – The most robust feature on the set is this newly-produced 70 minute documentary featuring interviews and behind the scenes footage with some of the stars. Sadly Altman passed away a few years ago, but his legacy lives on and this contains just about everything you’d need to know about the film.
  • Robert Altman Interviews – Three archived interviews are shown, one from 1975, one from 2000 and another from 2002.
  • Behind the Scenes – We get some archived footage with the crash and the final scene at the replica of the Parthenon.
  • Keith Carridine Demo – As the name entails, Keith Carradine sings three of the film’s songs in Altman’s office.
  • Audio Commentary – This is the same audio commentary that was on Paramount’s standard DVD that was released back in 2000.  I’m glad this made the leap to the Criterion version and it’s well worth a listen.
  • Booklet – As with all Criterion releases, this contains an illustrated booklet and this features an essay by Molly Haskell’s entitled “America Singing.”
  • DVD Copy – This contains the standard DVD of the film as well.

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