October 26, 2005

"Nashville" -- the Robert Altman movie.

For some reason, I never saw this incredibly highly praised movie when it came out. This was odd, since it was back in the days when I went to see a lot of movies, when it wasn't possible to say I'll wait until it comes out on video, and when I had been a big fan of the Robert Altman movies up to that point. "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," "Thieves Like Us," "Mash," "The Long Goodbye" -- I loved them. I don't know what it was about "Nashville" that kept me away. Was it just the popularity of it?

Many years later, I bought it on DVD, but it sat on my shelf for years. Finally, last Sunday, I started to watch it. After less than a third, I took a break. It turned out to be a very long break, as I didn't get back to it until Monday night, when I sat through maybe another half hour of it.

Last night, I meant to try to work my way through some more of it, but I ended up watching "Special Report With Brit Hume" and an old episode of "South Park" that I'd seen before that the TiVo happened to pick up.

What is it with me and "Nashville"? At this point, it's partly that I find the music intolerable. If you're going to imitate country music, you need good-sounding music to go with your satirical words. But that doesn't explain my avoidance of the film for three decades.


Ross said...

Amen on "Nashville." But do you find that "McCabe" still holds up, or do you simply remember being a fan back in the day?

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Coincidentally, I also didn't see "Nashville" when it first came out. I did see it at some point in the 80s or thereabouts -- I don't remember whether I saw it with you or by myself or what. But I've liked a good many Altman films -- "Thieves Like Us," "MASH," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean," and probably others -- and I thought "Nashville" was the most overrated, inept, pesuo-artistic piece of crap I'd even seen in my life. Boring, sloppily constructed, and banally satirical: a pothead's giggly self-congratulatory revelation of the supposed deficiencies of Middle America. Whenever I see it on lists of the best movies, I can't believe people's taste.

Ann Althouse said...

Ross: I've never rewatched McCabe. I think Warren Beatty would be weirdly obtrusive now, but he seemed charming and self-effacing then.

Verification word: Loxqox! Seems like a cool product, but what is it? Lox... but then what?

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

"The Long Goodbye" was another favorite Altman film.

And doesn't it seem that word verification uses the letters no one ever uses in real life? What's with all these q's?

Ann Althouse said...

Richard: Well, obviously it wasn't with me, since I still haven't seen the whole thing. But you're right that it expects us to laugh at Middle America.

Ann Althouse said...

Richard: What's with all those qs? I don't know, but they'd better stay out of Turkey.

Lonesome Payne said...

I saw it when it came out and I remember it bugged me. I didn't care for the implication that just about anybody can write and sing country okay. That was maybe the main thing. I don't really remember the music much, which itself says something, but I'd guess my dislike spins out from there. If you don't get that your new music is not just about as good as Nashville, in spite of what you're being told, what else aren't you getting?

Laura Reynolds said...

Never saw it, although it was a peak movie viewing age for me as well. I think the popularity and hype may have steered me away as you suggest.

Well if you were in Turkey, you'd just have to keep refreshing until the verification word came up clean lest you end up in Turkish prison doing a "Midnight Express" for commenting on Althouse.

Wow just seems like yesterday you passed 2 million on the site meter, now its closing in on 3!

Dylan said...

I feel the same way about most Altman. I've tried watching Short Cuts years later, and just can't make it. There is something about his style that just seems so dated.

Maybe that's it. Altman doesn't wear well. Even MASH is only watchable because it is iconic. Show it to a fairly film-literate person today, and I don't think they'll have the reaction that most did back in the day.

BrianOfAtlanta said...

When your dated movie (MASH) gets so badly upstaged by the timeless TV series - yes, that has to hurt.

Dave said...

Well, I like Nashville.

Ann Althouse said...

Paul: I think a lot of people in rock and roll were very respectful of the quality of the musicianship in country music. I think in particular of the Byrds, the Grateful Dead, and the Lovin' Spoonful ("Nashville Cats").

Well, there's thirteen hundred and fifty two
Guitar pickers in Nashville
And they can pick more notes than the number of ants
On a Tennessee anthill
Yeah, there's thirteen hundred and fifty two
Guitar cases in Nashville
And any one of them Texas guitars could play
Twice as better than I will
Yeah, I was just thirteen, you might say I was a
Musical proverbial knee-high
When I heard a couple new-sounding tunes on the tubes
And they blasted me sky-high
And the record man said every one is a Yellow Sun
Record from Nashville
And up North there ain't nobody buys them
And I said, but I will

Dave said...

"I think a lot of people in rock and roll were very respectful of the quality of the musicianship in country music."

More than "a lot." Like, say, all genuine rock and roll musicians.

Just happened to see the Band's last concert (the Scorsese documentary) on DVD last night, and there was a very interesting interview between Scorsese and one of its bandmembers, in which the guy explained all of the Band's musical influences.

He made a roundabout point: virtually all rock and roll music finds its heritage in country. (Blues for this guy developed from country, etc.)

Interesting theory, and I suspect there is something to it.

Lonesome Payne said...

Ann -

I may have written unclearly. I was talking about the people in and behind the movie "Nashville." The implication, if it's there, that they could themselves write and sing songs just about as well as standard Nashville signals, at some level, a basic misunderstanding and disrespect.

I think. Even though I know there was some surface-level respect for the genre even in the movie.

"Here's the best, here's Vassar" -isn't that a line from the movie? I remember that made my toes curl, it was so self-consciously hip to the "pureness" of a guy like Vassar Clements. "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" had come out and absolutely everybody was hip to the "real" country, as opposed to the spiritually empty enterprise commerical country represented.

Oh, except for Jerry Lee Lewis's country, and Merle, and George Jones, and Marty Robbins and Buck Owens and the Statlers and on and on and on.

For a long time I assumed Roy Nichols, guitar player in Merle's band The Strangers, and has there ever been a better name for a band, had spent some time listening to Jerry Garcia. Then I figured out it was the opposite.

reader_iam said...

I've liked most Altman films I've seen, including those mentioned, and also 3 Women, a weirdly fascinating, odd little movie.

But, Nashville's a different story.

Ann, my inital reaction when I first read your post this morning but didn't have time to comment was, "Ah, I'll bet it's the mean-spiritedness."

That seems to be in the thread of some of the other comments, with which I also agree. The thing is that satire, done well, is a wonderfully wicked thing; but if done poorly, it descends into being mean-spirited, which ends up saying a lot more about the satirist than the target. And watching (or reading, or whatever) that sort of thing is distinctly uncomfortable.

Loxqox--ewwww. Sorry, but it makes me think of some sort of weirdo, yucky salmon disease. Must be all of the flu news recently that's getting me to think pathology.

Lonesome Payne said...

In short, if I'm right that the movie was trying to make a case that pure country had become hollowed out and was now just a product, etc. etc., here's the problem wiht the theory: the mid-70's was a golden age for commercial country.

Altman's view of country music (if I have it right) is just one version of the left's constant refrain about the country in general. And what the left keeps not getting about the country and what Altman evidently missed about commercial country music seem similar. Okay, it's sickening. It's also amazingly great.

But it's been 28 years or whatever. I may be not giving Altman enough credit for something more ambiguous in his attitude about commercial country. In which case, never mind.

Pat Patterson said...

Haven't heard Nashville Cats in a while, at the time only the Lovin' Spoonful and the Grateful Dead were using banjos on rock albums. However to the other Nashville, another in a long line a maddening, oddly edited and ultimately
boring Altman films, except for M.A.S.H. I went to see most his films during this period, even saw his version of Planet 9 from Outer Space, Quintet. I had given up on him until I found out that he had directed or written many of my old favorite TV shows. 77 Sunset Strip, Combat and my all-time favorite Peter Gunn, but I still hate Nashville.

Also my apologies if this shows up as my 2nd comment of the day on the same subject. The 1st comment seems to have disappeared into Limbo.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm just looking at the lyrics for Nashville Cats I cut and pasted from a lyrics website. "And any one of them Texas guitars" -- shouldn't that be "And anyone that unpacks a guitar"?

Lonesome Payne said...

It's gotta be right, it was on the internet.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

And do you remember this one?

"Noshville Katz," by the Lovin' Cohens.

Noshville Katz-- he runs a kosher deli!
Noshville Katz-- the only place in town!
Noshville Katz-- it's not like you're in Brooklyn.
Noshville Katz-- the only one around!

Well, there's thirteen-hundred fifty-two different restaurants in
And you can eat anything from a hominy grit to a Contac time pill.
But there's only one place to get a half-sour pickle or a corn beef
sandwich in Noshville,
Just ask anybody how to get to Katz's if you're looking to eat well!

About a year ago it was impossible to find a kosher delicatessan.
And the people said, "Mr. Katz, won't you open up a place where the
people can fressin'?"
Well, it was a good idea for a Brooklyn boy to bring a kosher deli
to Noshville.
And his bubbah asked him who would eat his food
He said, "The Tennessee folks will!"

So, they call him
Noshville Katz-- he runs a kosher deli!
Noshville Katz-- the only place in town!
Noshville Katz-- it's not like you're in Brooklyn.
Noshville Katz-- the only one around!

Have a Yiddishe dish
A potato knish
Or a bagel and cream cheese.
A little chicken soup or gifilte fish
With some carrots and green peas.
If you can get through that,
Have a little chopped liver or some herring in wine sauce.

And you can wash it down with a Dr. Brown--
It shouldn't be a total loss.
Eat, darling, eat!

Noshville Katz-- he runs a kosher deli!
Noshville Katz-- the only place in town!
Noshville Katz-- it's not like you're in Brooklyn.
Noshville Katz-- the only one around!

We also cater bar mitzvahs.

(I found the lyrics here. Scroll down to Message 24. And there's an M3 at http://mywebpages.comcast.net/iddiot_tree/
Scroll down to the photo of Mickey Katz.)

Anonymous said...

After paying good money to be tormented by Prêt-à-Porter in 1994, I developed a permanent dislike for anything Altman until Gosford Park, 2001 which I enjoyed.

X said...

Wow, guess I'm in the minority here in loving Nashville (and prefering it to pretty much everything else I've seen by Altman). I'm not even sure just how much it's expecting us to laugh at Middle America specifically-- 'Opal from the BBC' and 'LA Joan' are the only characters I remember as being cast as wholly ridiculous. Much of the music is pretty artless, but that works in the dramatic context in a lot of places (two of the scenes that have made the biggest impressions are on-stage nervous breakdowns), and I think that the final 15 minutes or so is one of the most thrilling musical scenes I've seen in any film. It is rather sloppy and ah, anti-confluential, but I've always liked movies like that (kind of a stoner).

knox said...

"Gosford Park" is one of my all-time favorites.

Ann Althouse said...

Richard: Yeah, I remember hearing that on the radio not long after "Nashville Cats" came out.

chuck b. said...

Along among art film directors, I find Altman's movies too slow to take in one sitting. They work much better for me in 30-60 minute chunks. An unnatural way to watch a movie perhaps, but who's to say.

Nashville's not one of my favorites, but I do like ensemble pieces and short scenes have lingered in my mind over the years. (Not that many years: I was too young to see it when it came out and saw it sometime in the 1990s). I esp remember the parts with Lily Tomlin and Shelly Duval (sp?) (two women the camera loves). And Karen Black! And poor Sueleen!--whoever she was. Too funny.

As for Gosford Park, I couldn't understand a single word of it and everyone looked the same to me. I couldn't tell who was who. I wish it came subtitled.

And as for country music, I think it was perfectly reasonable for Hollywood to satirize its pretentious claims to authenticity by the 1970s. Rock musicians like the Byrds, the Dead and the Lovin' Spoonful honored the memory of country music made in the 60s and before, not the 1970s. Which is not to say that the 1970s didn't produce great country music (Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, etc), but by the 1970s lots of people were getting rich making shitty country music. And they still are.

And tak about dated...I just recently watched Blazing Saddles...now that's a dated movie.

Beth said...


I loved Gosford Park in the theater, but had the same problem you did. I later rented the DVD and turned on captioning; it was a whole new movie! I often have to do the captioning with BBCA programs, and it would be nice to have such a thing in real life. I once had to ask directions of a mechanic in a small Yorkshire village, and though we were both speaking English, we were reduced to body language, and laughter.

Lonesome Payne said...

Chuck -

You observation about people getting rich and making shitty music applies to the 50's and 60's too.

You could put together a hell of a list of albums and singles that came out the few years preceding "Nashville." The best was still awesome and there was still a lot of it.

The early to mid-1970's was obviouly not "the" golden age. But it was still in it, I believe.