Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Nashville - A Movie Club Column

This season while watching Lost it occurs to me that they have written so many characters into the show that the writers have totally lost track of some of them.. leaving some of them off for weeks and weeks at a time.. Have we seen Bernard and Rose yet this season? And how about that “new” couple who were on the plane that were supposed to be a major part of the cast this season? With that in mind.. you really have to appreciate Robert Altman for the way he successfully weaves more than 24 major characters into his 1975 movie Nashville, while never abandoning them for lengthy periods of time. And that includes 2 prominent characters who are never seen! Speaking of 24.. I think Heroes may be better than 24 this season.. Memo to NBC: Just send a tape of last Monday‘s episode and the Emmy is yours! I like Claire’s dad’s flashbacks from 1997 and 1992... .. If they would have gone back 20 years you would have seen him when he was Gay Steven on “Dynasty”.

One of the things about the wiseguy playboy Sawyer on Lost.. is you wonder if he is somewhat modeled after Tom.. (Tom Sawyer?) from Nashville.… . Tom, played by Keith Carradine is part of a 3 person trio Tom, Bill and Mary.. Sort of like Peter Paul and Mary… except his rock group which happens to be traveling through Nashville are big time rockers not country music stars.. The 1975 Carradine strongly resembles the present day Josh Holloway and has sex with so many people, I almost expected to find Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband hanging around his hotel room!

Nashville starts out in the style where M*A*S*H left off.. With a spinning record disk announcing the cast (Like the in-movie cast announcements at the end of M*A*S*H) and a politician preparing for the ‘76 Tennessee primary driving around with a bullhorn that forces you to listen closely for amusing nuggets like the M*A*S*H loudspeaker.. Probably the funniest comment questions why The Star Spangled Banner is our National Anthem.. And of course like M*A*S*H, Altman again took on a movie with no real plot ..instead it’s a series of scenes that are very well edited together.

To further enhance your enjoyment of today's column, here is the 1975 trailer for the movie that actually does a good job explaining Who’s Who. Watching it will help you to better understand today’s column.

Like Lost, the Nashville story gets rolling with an airplane trip,…taking us to the Nashville Airport where so many major characters arrive, you almost expect to see them welcomed by Ricardo Montalban and Tattoo. Among those flying in are the country music starlet Barbara Jean, whose arrival on a chartered flight is covered in breathless play by play by local news reporter Bill Jenkins since this event is considered “Breaking News!” Also coming in on a plane are our rock and roll (and love) trio, a political strategist who is prepping for the TN primary, and a young girl played by Shelley Duvall who is there to visit a sick relative, but meets a new guy every five minutes and just walks off with him. Sorta like Anna Nicole Smith when she first came to Hollywood.

After the airport scene, virtually the entire cast gets stuck in a horrendous traffic jam on the highway near the airport. Too bad in 1975 they didn’t have WCBS's Chris Maget or WOR's Tom Note to guide them to a Shadow Traffic alternate route. Alberquerque played by Barbara Harris sneaks off from her husband and in a tender moment runs into Kenny who runs interference for her when her husband comes looking for her.. just long enough for her to get away. She escapes and he ends up hitching a ride with the husband.. Doesn’t this guy think before he picks up hitchhikers? But then again,. this nice guy did sweetly help Albequerque so how bad can he be?

Even though the film has no star, the most incredible acting performance in my opinion is delivered by Henry Gibson who to me was always a mousy kind of character on Laugh-In. Here, he plays a country music mogul among the universe of those who are country fans.. He doesn’t bat an eyelash when Elliot Gould of MASH playing himself shows up at a party, and considers him a “fellow star”. Gould and Julie Christie were in Nashville when the movie was filmed and cameo appearances were written for both of them…. The Julie Christie appearance is a truly hysterical moment watching 2 hicks react to a woman who was a big star at the time… which is almost as amusing as Ned Beatty’s embarrassment when he didn’t recognize Gould. He must have not seen M*A*S*H.

Gibson’s Laugh-In co-star Lily Tomlin is another key character playing a gospel singer who is married to an emotionally unavailable Ned Beatty (maybe still sore in the tuchis after filming Deliverance?) and is the mother of 2 deaf kids whose dad doesn’t seem to bother to learn sign language. And guess which aforementioned stud ends up doing the ol’ hocus mcpocus with Tomlin? None other than Tom who ends up singing a song called “I’m Easy” (which went on to win an Oscar) in a nightclub where at least 3 women in the audience believe the song is directed towards her. One of the other 2 women he hooks up with is Mary from his group who is married to the other guy Bill who actually resembles Weird Al Yankovic

Tom also hooks up with a wacko British woman who claims to be filming a documentary for the BBC... although she never seems to have a camera crew. Watching the BBC reporter’s breathless interviewing skills was like the media frenzy that jumped off the crazy diaper astronaut bandwagon to Anna Nicole Smith’s death the way our media did last month… The “BBC reporter” walks away from an interview with Gibson’s son while he is in the middle of a sentence…. the moment she sees the more popular Elliot Gould arrive at a party… She runs up to him and sticks her microphone right in his face expecting him to recognize her from an a film festival where they had allegedly briefly met. She refuses to meet Tomlin’s deaf kids because her shallowness just can’t deal with the concept of deaf children and she also rudely cuts off a local drivers polite offer to show her around Nashville with the classic line.. ”I never socialize with the servants!”

Beatty’s character is probably the glue that brings the whole cast together. He plans a whole big shindig along with the out of town political operative (Michael Murphy from M*A*S*H) to help promote a politician running for President in the 1976 Bicentennial election which was of course was won by Mr. Anti-Israel Jimmy Carter. By the way, after the Oscars, do you get the opinion that Al Gore is kind of popular? Anyway, Beatty and Murphy reach out to all the music stars to appear at an event which is the climax of the movie featuring the troubled but loveable Barbara Jean, played superbly by Oscar nominee Ronee Blakley who comes to face to face with a life changing event .

Coincidentally, poor Barbara Jean’s misfortune ends up as Albuquerque, the wanna-be’s lucky break in a truly stunning musical performance by Harris.. That contrasts another political fundraiser from the prior evening featuring Sueleen Gay.., the vocally challenged singer descends from a stage that comes down from the rafters only to show that her singing is incredibly awful. The all male crowd Cowell-ingly boos her… to the point where she turns the crowd to her favor by humiliatingly performing a strip tease where she removes ALL of her clothes! By the way the American Idol fans now have a site called Vote For the where they organize a campaign to vote for the worst person. I see they did the same thing for the last two Presidential elections!

When you have a movie like this with so many characters and no plot per se.. it really is only worth it when there is a big payoff at the end. In this case there is.. Because while you see all the major characters interact, (and realize that the minor characters aren’t so minor after all) you realize that Nashville, like Hollywood is where people go to make dreams come true. You also see a lot of shallow people who in a moment of crisis turn out to have good hearts that just don’t come out under ordinary circumstances.

Nashville shows that stardom isn’t what it’s cut out to be..… Barbara Jean arrives in the airport at the beginning of the movie after having been hospitalized out of state for a lengthy period due to injuries sustained in a fire. Now fully healed physically, she arrives at the airport only to injure herself while collapsing as she walks over to greet her fans, and that leads to another hospitalization where a stalking fan sneaks into her hospital room … not even having the guts to take credit that it was his mom that saved her from that fire. Maybe being a star isn’t such a great thing after all… and maybe Albequerque and Sueleen Gay might have been happier had they kept their more simpler lives? Or maybe the deaf kids are better off in their silent world than the BBC reporter who lives in her noisy planet of shallowness.

The helpful hitchhiking Kenny always shows up at these Barbara Jean appearances.. Forced to perform the day she leaves the hospital. BJ has a meltdown when her band starts to play but she just starts wandering off into some bizarre monologue reminiscent of Frank Sinatra at the Emmys. Finally, BJ’s husband/manager strolls onstage and leads her off seeing full well that she is just not mentally ready to perform on stage.. That is of course until the very next day for the political rally. Kenny appears again.. and I actually thought he was another musician waiting for his big break.. waiting for another long pre monologue BJ silence to start, so he could pull out an instrument and begin to sing. Instead Kenny provides the key moment in the end of the movie that gives Alberquerque her moment in the sun. I think it would be unfair to those who might want to see the movie to reveal the plot twist even though the movie has been out for more than 30 years. I didn’t see it coming, and the shock greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the movie.

Overall the story has a great beginning… a middle dragged down by too much country music and a fantastic ending. The final song will ring in your brain for days after you see it. Some of the actors are pretty good especially the Oscar nominated Ronee Blakley who was cast as Barbara Jean at the last minute, and as mentioned before, Gibson who I never would have imagined in this role. You also have to give Altman credit for managing all of these characters and achieving a sense of balance for a rather complex storyline, On a scale of 1 to 4 bladders meaning how less likely you would be to leave in the middle to go to the bathroom… the 2 hour 40 minute Nashville gets 3 bladders.

Time for The Clip of the Week: The husband in that rock trio looked like Weird Al Yankovic.. here is a clip from his TV show!

1 comment:

Sherpat said...

Note from Nate: The following message from Sherpat has been “slightly” edited and modified to fit your screen…

Ok, reading about movies and/or TV shows is about as rivetting to me as a lecture on the mating habits of gay molluscs. But when I saw you had inserted a comment about Shadow Traffic reporters Chris Magett and Tom Note, I sat up and took notice. How DARE you lump Tom in with radio legend Chris Maget? Tom wouldn't recognise a jam if you spread it on toast and rammed it up his nose! The only reason they keep him on here is that he's the station bookie, and we all owe him. BTW, did you know he's also a member of Hamas? It's true. When he does reports for all-Jewish stations, he purposely gives false stories so that listeners are late for work in the diamond district. Not like me, who gives false information to EVERYONE, regardless of race or religion. *I* have a sense of ethics, thank you very much. (Did you know he's German, too?)