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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 9/14/00

1975 (2000) - ABC (Paramount)

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Nashville Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/C

Specs and Features

160 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered (layer switch at 1:36:24, in chapter 11), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, interview with director Robert Altman, audio commentary with Robert Altman, film-themed menu screens, scene access (17 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Close Captioned

There's a huge disparity of talent working in Hollywood. This is by no means a new revelation, but it's so painfully obvious at times, that you can't help but take notice. Some directors struggle their way through a ninety-minute film and can't manage to pull a decent performance out of three or four major characters, much less a two hundred-foot CGI character. Other directors - really exceptional ones - seemingly walk their way through their films with what looks to be little to no effort and achieve greatness again and again and again. There seems to be scores of this first type of director in Hollywood, and only a handful of the really exceptional ones. Robert Altman is of the latter type and, in my opinion, he is one of the greatest American directors. Nashville is one of his best films (certainly his most influential), and I am glad to see it finally released on DVD.

Nashville shows several days in the lives of 24 characters, whose lives all intersect at one point or another. Their meetings are not forced or arbitrary, but are believable encounters of people who loosely hang out in the same circles. Here's a quick rundown of a few of the major players. There's Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson), an established Nashville star whose demeanor is as fake as the hair on top of his head. Linnea Reese (Lily Tomlin) is a local gospel singer who's in an unhappy marriage with Delbert (Ned Beatty). Ronee Blakely stars as Barbara Jean, a much-loved and well-respected singer in the tradition of Loretta Lynn. Keith Carradine is the sleazy Tom Frank, the lead singer for a pop group, who convinces all the women he sleeps with that he's written a special song for them. LA Joan (Shelley Duvall) is the most awkward and colorful character of the group, who prances around in glittery halter tops and multi-colored platform shoes, wishing she were someplace more exciting.

Each one of these characters is as well written as the next, and is drawn against a separate subplot involving a presidential election. We hear the politician giving his campaign speech, saying what people want to hear him say. We see his campaign van making the rounds in town. We see people rallying to support him, but we never actually see the politician. There's a whole lot said in Nashville, without ever directly stating it, about the blind-sided nature of the politics/show business relationship. Nashville is painted as a town that is steeped in politics and a traditional mindset that is at odds with the younger, liberal-minded generation of the mid-seventies, trying to make some change.

The fact that Altman and writer Joan Tewkesbury are able to keep all of these characters absorbing and distinct is a feat in and of itself. Keeping the viewer's attention over an almost three-hour span is another, and Altman accomplishes both with a perfection and style that is unmistakably his own. Part of his unique brand of filmmaking is the freedom he allows his actors. They don't speak perfectly - they fumble their lines, stumble over the words and talk over each other as we would in day to day life. His films are always a polished blend of improvisation and the scripted word. Nashville is a terrific, well-written film, one that is a true collaboration between the director and stars. What separates a good film from a great film, in my mind, is the effect it has on you after you finish watching it. Much of Nashville is very sad and all too true (Lily Tomlin is especially heartbreaking), and an equal part of it is comical and odd. I find more to like about this film each time I watch it, but the impression is still the same - I love this film.

Paramount has done a good job in restoring this film to its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Given the age of the film, the anamorphic treatment looks fine. That is not to say the transfer is without a few minor flaws, because there are some. Slight grain is evident during many parts of the film, and it's a bit lacking in fine detail. Some of the scenes that take place in smoky clubs look a little hazier than they should. This is due mostly to a source print that seems to be a little untidy and has a few nicks here and there. There is also some noticeable artifacting as well, but as far as transfer-related picture issues go, that's about it. On the other hand, colors and flesh tones are executed faithfully and black levels are accurate. There's a lot of color in Nashville (mostly red, white, and blue that showcase the pageantry of the American bicentennial), and never does it seem oversaturated or blurry. Like many films from the 70s, Nashville was filmed documentary style, with a lot of natural light, and the DVD presentation captures it nicely without overdoing it. This is without a doubt the best the film has looked on home video.

The new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is also adequate, but when compared to more recent releases, it comes up short. Dialogue levels are always clean and clear, and lack the hiss that appeared in older releases of the film. The music sounds good, but little use is made of the discrete surround channels. Sound, for the most part, is confined to the front of the sound field, and the new mix lacks the full-bodied range of more current films. Still, there is a fair amount of depth to the mix and it never sounds inadequate. It's just not as good as it could have been. As is the case with the video presentation, even the weaker parts of the mix are miles better than any previous release of the film.

I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed with the features. I always like listening to commentaries on DVD, and it's a pleasure to hear Altman discuss his craft. But I can't help but notice how one-sided the track is. Nashville is a huge film with a big cast and big subject matter, but you only get part of the story with this DVD. There's no denying that the Altman track is informative, but input from other cast members and especially the writer would have been a welcome addition. That said, the commentary track all but cancels out the video interview with Altman that also appears on the disc. Most of the information he gives in the interview, he also gives in the commentary. The theatrical trailer (in widescreen anamorphic) is also included here, and tops out the features on the disc.

Nashville has received a great deal of attention lately, due in large part, I'm sure, to Magnolia. Both are long, comic-tinged dramas with big casts, surprising endings and (coincidentally, I assume) both feature Henry Gibson. Chances are that if you like one, you may like the other. Nashville is a film for cinema lovers. Though I don't think this new DVD is a perfect disc, the sheer impact of the film itself is worth owning. This is a great way to experience a classic American film from a fantastic director.

Dan Kelly
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