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Nashville: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray + DVD Dual-Format Edition Review

Nashville (1975) movie poster Nashville

Theatrical Release: June 11, 1975 / Running Time: 161 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Robert Altman / Writers: Joan Tewkesbury (screenplay); Thomas Hal Phillips (political campaign)

Cast: David Arkin (Norman), Barbara Baxley (Lady Pearl), Ned Beatty (Delbert Reese), Karen Black (Connie White), Ronee Blakley (Barbara Jean), Timothy Brown (Tommy Brown), Keith Carradine (Tom Frank), Geraldine Chaplin (Opal), Robert Doqui (Wade), Shelley Duvall (L.A. Joan), Allen Garfield (Barnett), Henry Gibson (Haven Hamilton), Scott Glenn (Pfc. Glenn Kelly), Jeff Goldblum (Tricycle Man), Barbara Harris (Albuquerque), David Hayward (Kenny Fraiser), Michael Murphy (John Triplette), Allan Nicholls (Bill), Dave Peel (Bud Hamilton), Cristina Raines (Mary), Bert Remsen (Star), Lily Tomlin (Linnea Reese), Gwen Welles (Sueleen Gay), Keenan Wynn (Mr. Green), James Dan Calvert (Jimmy Reese), Donna Denton (Donna Reese), Merle Kilgore (Trout), Carol McGinnis (Jewel), Sheila Bailey (Smokey Mountain Laurel), Patti Bryant (Smokey Mountain Laurel), Richard Baskin (Frog), Jonnie Barnett (Jonnie Barnett), Vassar Clements (Vassar Clements), Misty Mountain Boys (Misty Mountain Boys), Sue Barton (Sue Barton), Elliott Gould (Elliott Gould), Julie Christie (Julie Christie)

Songs: "200 Years", "Yes, I Do", "Down to the River", "Let Me Be the One", "Sing a Song", "The Heart of a Gentle Woman", "Bluebird", "The Day I Looked Jesus in the Eye", "Memphis", "I Don't Know If I Found It in You", "For the Sake of the Children", "Keep a' Goin'", "Swing Low Sweet Chariot", "Rolling Stone", "Honey", "Tapedeck in His Tractor (The Cowboy Song)", "Dues", "I Never Get Enough", "Rose's Cafe", "Old Man Mississippi", "My Baby's Cookin' in Another Man's Pan", "One, I Love You", "I'm Easy", "It Don't Worry Me", "Since You've Gone", "Trouble in the U.S.A.", "My Idaho Home"

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The Best Picture field for 1975's Academy Awards included the eventual winner One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the year's by far biggest blockbuster Jaws,
Stanley Kubrick's period drama Barry Lyndon, and the true heist tale Dog Day Afternoon. Joining those four was Nashville, a film that has come to be known as one of the best and perhaps the most quintessential directed by Robert Altman.

Altman, who made his feature debut on 1957's The Delinquents after years of helming industrial shorts, began regular directing work in the late 1960s. He established himself with M*A*S*H (1970), an acclaimed Korean War comedy that is not quite as well-known or beloved as the popular, long-running sitcom it inspired. The decade M*A*S*H* kicked off would be the most productive of Altman's career and it included a number of films celebrated around the globe both then and now. Released smack in the middle of the '70s, Nashville would become the director's most decorated effort and, contrary to IMDb's "Known for" section, one of the films Altman is best remembered for today.

Nashville serves as a sterling example of a Robert Altman film. It is a true ensemble piece which juggles, by its own count, 24 principal characters. Their paths tend to intersect here and there, as we move from one individual or group to another. The characters talk over one another at times, some of it clearly improvised by the actors. The cast includes a number of performers with whom Altman had previously worked and would work with again, actors like Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, and Henry Gibson, whom no other filmmaker has put to as good use.

Characters cross paths and talk over one another in Robert Altman's "Nashville."

The film serves up a slice of life from a fictional version of the music scene in the titular Tennessee capital. We spend time with an assortment of established and aspiring singers, including a trio comprised of a feuding married couple (Allan Nichols and Cristina Raines) and their promiscuous third wheel (Keith Carradine), a beloved songstress (Ronee Blakley) who collapses and is unwell, a sexy tone-deaf newcomer (Gwen Welles) who's asked to strip to make up for her lack of talent, a white leader (Lily Tomlin) of a black church choir with two deaf children, her organizer husband (Ned Beatty), and a corny, successful patriot (Gibson).

There's also Opal (Geraldine Chaplin), who's supposedly a reporter from the BBC; Mr. Green (Keenan Wynn), an old man with a dying wife and his outrageously-dressing, thoughtless groupie niece visiting from California (Duvall); a runaway wife (Barbara Harris) with ambition; a black country musician (Timothy Brown) derided as a "marshmallow", and a couple of young obsessives, who seem to be an assassination waiting to happen. Altman alumni Elliott Gould and Julie Christie even briefly cameo as themselves.

Running through this depiction of personal and professional lives are the campaigning efforts of one unseen Hal Phillip Walker, a candidate who's running for President of the United States on "the Replacement Party" ticket, evidently aware of Tennessee's history of aligning with the nation's victor.

BBC reporter Opal (Geraldine Chaplin) soon grows tired of businessman Bud (Dave Peel) at a party attended by Elliott Gould. Tom (Keith Carradine) spends much of the film naked in bed, though rarely alone and never joined by the same woman twice.

A celebration of '70s styles, values, sensibilities, and music, Nashville is a fascinating snapshot of America that is much better than subject matter or synopsis would indicate.
Altman and his screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury, one of his collaborators on Thieves Like Us, give us all kinds of interesting material to sink our teeth into. Their large cast is comprised of identifiable personalities you quickly get to know in passing. Every character has a story and one you appreciate even in visits just a few minutes long every so often. The film runs a substantial 2 hours and 41 minutes with credits, but gives you more than enough to justify that length and moves quickly enough for you not to mind or even notice it.

That runtime affords Nashville plenty of chances to serve up music, which you are surprised to discover is not only all performed by the cast, but almost entirely written and composed by them too, with Altman and, bizarrely, Gary Busey (who is not in the film) also taking credits. The music runs a gamut and is not the challenge you might expect of a film so titled.

Though Nashville won just a single Oscar and a single Golden Globe, each for Best Original Song (for "I'm Easy", written and performed by Carradine), it was nominated for five of the former and eleven of the latter, which even bestowed two nominations each on Tomlin and Blakley, actresses making their film debuts, while classifying the film as a drama (back when true musicals weren't so rare).

One of three Altman films selected for preservation in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry, Nashville recently became the director's fifth admitted into the Criterion Collection. It enters the revered line carrying spine #683 and consisting of one Blu-ray and two DVDs that in the past would have been sold separately. They're bundled here per the boutique line's new Dual-Format Edition strategy for combatting the decline in physical media sales with cost-cutting that doesn't dramatically impact customer satisfaction.

Nashville: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray + DVD Dual Format Edition cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.35:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
BD: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: December 3, 2013
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 2 DVD-9s)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.95
Digipak in Cardboard Sleeve
Also available on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as Paramount DVD (August 15, 2000)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Criterion regularly performs dazzling restorations of older films, so it's not a huge surprise that Nashville, a mere 38 years old, looks terrific on Blu-ray. The 2.35:1 transfer upholds the visuals' selective focus and maintains a noticeable but fitting level of grain. Otherwise, the picture is as sharp, clean, and vibrant as it ought to be, showing off the period's gaudy fashions, often in crowd shots worthy of pausing and studying. Sound is offered in 5.1 DTS-HD master audio, an upgrade over the original 4-track stereo mix that, given the lack of an alternative, appears to have earned Altman's blessing at some point. The sound ever so slightly appears to be unsynchronized at times, but it's crisper and clearer than you expect it to be. In short, this presentation satisfies thoroughly and probably offers a significant improvement over Paramount's 13-year-old DVD.

Speaking in front of her multiple Emmy awards, Lily Tomlin is among those reflecting on "The Making of 'Nashville.'" Don't let the black bar give you the wrong idea about this 1975 "Cinema Showcase" interview of Robert Altman.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACAKGING and DESIGN

Criterion preserves the bonus features of Paramount's discontinued 2000 DVD release of the film and adds much to them.

First up comes an audio commentary by Robert Altman, recorded six years prior to his 2006 death. The director speaks consistently and engagingly regarding what's onscreen. He inevitably can't fill all the air, resulting in a number of dry spells that grow as this long film progresses.
Still, his memories of the production a quarter-century earlier and the people who shared it with him are vivid and fairly noteworthy.

On the video side, where quality is limited by source material but everything is encoded with full 1080p resolution, things begin with "The Making of Nashville" (1:11:09), a brand new, comprehensive Criterion-produced documentary that interviews a fitting assortment of relevant parties: actors Keith Carradine, Lily Tomlin, Ronee Blakley, Michael Murphy, and Allan Nicholls; screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury; assistant director Alan Rudolph and Robert Altman's widow. They all discuss working with Altman, their memories of production experiences, their contributions, specific aspects and scenes, and Gary Busey's involvement. Too bad Shelley Duvall wasn't part of this, as she's been unseen far too long since leaving Hollywood.

Whereas Paramount's DVD included one on-camera interview of Altman, Criterion provides three. The first and best, occurring shortly before the 1975 theatrical release, comes from a New York show called "Cinema Showcase" (26:36). He discusses his dislike of preparation, rejects the Auteur Theory and downplays his personal impact on his films. He also opens up about Nashville's cast, editing the film down, how he uses improvisation, young directors he admires (Scorsese and Bergman), and the influences he struggles to identify. He wraps up by touching on Nashville the city, the personal politics he refuses to share, his next and previous films, and his opinion of awards. This substantial chat is marred slightly by the curious presence of a black rectangle over the center of the entire broadcast.

Robert Altman is more than "adequite" in his 2002 interview reflecting on the film for critic David Thompson. Shelley Duvall appears to be having a good time in this faded Behind the Scenes footage from the filming of the highway traffic jam sequence.

Next comes the Paramount DVD one (12:30) conducted in 2000, which has the director recalling the film's origins, the politician character, casting and near-casting, used and unused cameos, and the climactic assassination.

Then, we get a 2002 interview (7:50) by British film critic David Thompson that considers once more the film's origins, conditions, evolution and casting, much of it by this point repeated.

"Behind the Scenes" (12:33) supplies silent, faded footage from the filming of the traffic scene and the Parthenon finale. It's a fascinating curiosity, if, for obvious reasons, not particularly illuminating.

"Keith Carradine Demo" (12:06) sets the actor's four performances of three songs ("It Don't Worry Me" twice, his Oscar winner "I'm Easy", and the unused "Big City Dreamin'") to film stills and production documents.

Nashville's theatrical trailer displays the title patriotically. America's colors are also applied to the packaging and this animated Blu-ray menu of The Criterion Collection's Nashville Dual Format Edition.

On-disc extras conclude with Nashville's theatrical trailer (2:12), which describes the 24 characters it considers its leads.

Criterion is one of the few studios out there who continue to give DVD viewers everything they offer to Blu-ray viewers, with the standard definition content adding up to enough to fill two dual-layered discs.

At Criterion, the bonus features never end there. Like the others, this one includes a substantial companion booklet. It provides all the information you could want, including a chapters list, film and disc credits, and transfer information.
More exciting than any of that, though, is the centerpiece, an essay. "America Singing", by New York author/critic Molly Haskell, does a great job of describing the film, acknowledging what makes it tick, and revealing how it came together and fits into Altman's career. It's an excellent read that enhances your understanding and appreciation of Nashville.

Criterion departs from their standard clear keepcases to give Nashville something special: a Digipak sliding into a side-opening slipcover, which holds the two DVDs and one Blu-ray, all given unique labels, on opposite pages while the booklet hangs loose. It's all wonderfully illustrated with red, white, and blue renderings of images from the film, like Opal surrounded by school buses.

The Blu-ray's top menu plays sound clips from the performances and from the pervasive presidential campaign while moving the cover's characters and graphics across a patriotic backdrop resembling the packaging. The DVD's menus are similarly-fashioned static screens featuring cast images, with the sounds laid over the main screen only. As always, Criterion authors the Blu-ray to both support bookmarks and resume playback, a perfectly fair trade-off for the slight delay it takes to play chosen bonus features and return to the menu afterwards.

In her first performance following a hospital stay, the beloved Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley) confuses and disappoints her fans.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Whether you look at it as an important achievement in filmmaking or simply a flavorful, engaging ensemble character study, Robert Altman's Nashville is worthy of your time and admiration. Criterion treats this highlight of '70s cinema and model Altman drama to the lavish, loaded set it deserves on both Blu-ray and DVD in this absolutely satisfying three-disc set.

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Robert Altman: 3 Women • The Player • Popeye
1970s on Blu-ray: Annie Hall • The Conversation • Chinatown • Jaws • Taxi Driver • The Muppet Movie • Love Story
Criterion Collection: Dazed and Confused • Slacker • Heaven's Gate • ‘Alambrista! | Ned Beatty: Physical Evidence • Toy Story 3
Barbara Harris: Freaky Friday • The North Avenue Irregulars • A Thousand Clowns | Shelley Duvall: The Shining
Keith Carradine: Our Very Own | Geraldine Chaplin: Doctor Zhivago • The Impossible | Keenan Wynn: The Shaggy D.A.
New: The Rutles Anthology • Mary Poppins • Frances Ha • Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy • Raiders of the Lost Ark • Oliver!
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest • Searching for Sugar Man

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Reviewed December 18, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1975 Paramount Pictures, ABC Entertainment, and 2013 The Criterion Collection.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.