Nashville Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

Nashville Criterion Collection Blu-ray ReviewWhether you love or hate the man and/or his work, one would have to agree that the oeuvre of Robert Altman makes for some unique viewing experiences. He experimented with uses of sound that included overlapping dialogue, a visual style better suited for a documentary than a fictional feature, random character encounters and a constantly moving camera. Techniques that became his trademarks, Altman was a maverick filmmaker who could care less about the business aspect of the movie business. All he really cared about was telling a story and being able to do so his way.

This maverick attitude certainly pissed off many a person in the film industry over the years. Ask Warren Beatty about his feelings toward Altman. On second thought, it’s probably better that you don’t ask him. And while Altman’s method of filmmaking yielded some outright brilliant films, it also did produce some productions best left forgotten. When he was good, we got The Long Goodbye and Short Cuts. When he wasn’t, we got Pret-A-Porter and Popeye. But when Robert Altman was fully in his element, we got The Player, M*A*S*H, and his 1975 masterpiece, Nashville.

The events of Nashville occur over the course of five days, during which two events are taking place. The first is appropriately enough a music festival and the second a countdown to a political primary that includes up-and-coming Replacement Party candidate Hal Phillip Walker (whom we hear from throughout the film but never see). As the week progresses, the lives of two dozen citizens and visitors to the “Athens of the South” intersect with one another. These encounters, some random and others not, give many the opportunity to express their hopes, dreams, frustrations and regrets. The multiple characters and story threads appear amorphous at first but eventually connect through an unexpected event that occurs at a fundraiser for Walker in the film’s final act.

Nashville Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

Through this ensemble, which is brought to vibrant life by a fantastic cast, Altman and screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury present a prescient look at the American Dream and just how superficial it can be, whether it is the pursuit of fame, the dangers of celebrity worship (in particular an event in the third act that predated the 1980 murder of John Lennon) or political gain. If one can overlook the dated fashions and hairstyles (I would love to know how much they spent on hair products), you will see that Nashville is an examination of American society that continues to (sadly) be relevant today.

The relevance of Nashville is a testament to Altman’s handling of the material and his cast, which includes Lily Tomlin, Keith Carradine, Michael Murphy, Ronee Blakely, Henry Gibson, Ned Beatty and Shelley Duvall (among many others). Improvisation is another major trademark of Altman and his films, which allows the cast to grow into their roles and make their characters more realistic. With Nashville, Altman took it one step further by having each cast member playing a musician write and perform their own songs. This was a risky move that could have backfired big time (it certainly didn’t sit well with the Country Music Industry). Instead, it helped make the characters more believable, so much so that Carradine snagged a Best Song Oscar in 1976 with his tune ‘I’m Easy.’

Nashville is a comedy, a drama, a musical and a wicked satire on American life. While it captures a particular time and place in America, the movie could easily have taken place anywhere at any time and still deliver the same powerful messages. It’s complex but never confusing. It has a lot to say but does so without talking down to its audience and it is a movie that is the personification of everything that made the 1970s one of the all-time great periods for American motion pictures. Nashville is simply unmissable.

Nashville Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

The High-Definition Presentation

Don’t let the scratched-to-hell Paramount logo at the start of Nashville worry you, this Criterion Collection Blu-ray transfer is rock solid. Colors are natural without being oversaturated, film grain is always present and there is no sharpening or noise reduction to be found. The picture detail is terrific throughout. I noticed a bit of crushing in the black levels, but it’s hardly cause for alarm and could very well be the result of the source material.

The 5.1 DTS HD-Master Audio track, taken from the film’s original 4-Track Stereo theatrical mix, is handled with great care as well. If you are familiar with Altman’s films, you know that overlapping dialogue is the norm and if it’s not handled properly, it can be difficult to hear. That is not an issue with Criterion’s Nashville. Dialogue is always clear as is the music and sound effects. I didn’t detect much rear-channel activity but the right and front left channels a thorough workout.

Beyond the Feature

Criterion has assembled a nice selection of supplemental material for their release of Nashville. Per the norm for the company, all of the video-based extras are presented in 1080p/i high definition.

Nashville Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

  • Audio commentary with Robert Altman – If you had the Paramount DVD from back in 2000 then you may have already heard this commentary track that was recorded by the late filmmaker. It’s full of information and is well worth your time.
  • The Making of Nashville (72 minutes) – A great documentary with a few of the cast (Keith Carradine, Ronee Blakely, Michael Murphy, Lily Tomlin and others) and crew (Joan Tewkesbury, Alan Rudolph) members. They discuss working with Altman and his unique filmmaking style, the screenplay, the production and the music. One wishes Altman, Karen Black and Henry Gibson were still around to contribute, but those that do help make this a great documentary.
  • Robert Altman Interviews (48 minutes) – Three archival interviews with Altman from 1975, 2000 and 2002. My favorite of the bunch is the 1975 interview from the TV series Cinema Showcase. Despite the presence of some sort of black rectangle in the middle of the screen that is blocking out something (a time code, perhaps?), this interview is a great watch as Altman talks bluntly about Hollywood, filmmakers and his own work. Interesting trivia bit: in the 1975 interview Altman mentioned a longer cut of Nashville for television, including a 20-minute version of the traffic accident scene. Not sure where that footage went to or if the longer cut ever surfaced, but I would have loved to have seen it or even some of the deleted footage included on this Blu-ray.
  • Behind the Scenes (13 minutes) – Silent archive footage on the shooting of two of the movie’s big set pieces: the auto accident in the first act and the rally that concludes the film. Not in the best of shape, but still worth a watch.
  • Keith Carradine Demo (12:06) – The Oscar-winning actor plays his three songs (It Don’t Worry Me, I’m Easy and Big City Dreamin’) from the film at Altman’s offices. The songs play against a collection of stills from the movie. The audio quality on the songs is excellent.
  • Booklet – Author/Film Critic Molly Haskell provides a great essay on Nashville entitled ‘America Singing.’
  • Theatrical Trailer (3 minutes): The film’s theatrical trailer that encapsulates the film’s massive ensemble cast and their character’s multiple storylines.

Robert Altman was a one of a kind filmmaker that we will never see the likes of again. The same can be said of Nashville, a film that could never be made in today’s film culture of politically correct prestige films, comic book movies, reboots and sequels. Multi-layered, smart as hell and still relevant after all these years, Nashville is one of the most unique and important films of the 1970s. Criterion’s Blu-ray release of the film looks and sounds great and is filled with a bevy of solid supplements. The Criterion Collection edition of Nashville is a must for any fan of the film.

– Shawn Fitzgerald

Shop for Nashville Criterion Collection on Blu-ray for a discounted price at (December 3, 2013 release date).

Nashville Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

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