Nashville, by Albert W. Vogt III

Nashville (1975) is not the worst movie on the American Film Institute’s (AFI) 100 Greatest American Films of All Time list, but it is darn close.  What saves it from being the most awful of the lot is the absence of gratuitous language and violence.  There is a nude scene, and an extremely degrading one at that, but it is blessedly short, which is saying something for a film that is only twenty minutes shy of being three hours long.  Other than that, it is a wandering ball of nothing that takes you through the country music capital of the world over the course of a couple of days.  There is no plot.  I am not saying that to be flippant or dramatic.  There is literally no plot.  I knew I was in trouble when I watched the preview for it before putting it on, and the voice over proudly proclaimed that there are twenty-four characters in it.  The trailer then proceeds to try to briefly give you a run-down of who is who or, more accurately, who is sleeping with who.  It is laughable, and I lost track of it after only a couple names.  Oh, and Elliott Gould shows up in it at one point as himself.  Why?  Who knows.  He is just there for a few minutes, has some awkward interactions with people at a party, and then is out of the picture, never to be heard from again.  Goodbye, Mr. Gould, we hardly knew you.  Somehow, AFI rates this mess as number fifty-nine on its list.

Because there are twenty-four characters in Nashville and no plot, I am not going to be able to give you a true synopsis. What I will attempt is a rough outline of the events.  There is an ever-present political campaign going on in the background, the efforts of one Hal Phillip Walker (voiced by Thomas Hal Phillips).  This is not an animated movie.  You never see Hal Phillip Walker, but there is a van that is constantly in motion around the title city blaring his credentials as a presidential hopeful from loud speakers mounted atop it.  Other than this vehicle showing up in nearly every location, there is also a lot of music.  This is befitting of the world capital of country music.  Sometimes the music is related to the campaign, sometimes it is not.  Nearly all the characters are musicians of the most popular genre in town, or they want to be.  I suppose I should mention the most famous one.  She is Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley).  I guess she is the most famous one, anyway.  All the other characters appear wherever she gives a performance until she is shot at a rally for Hal Phillip Walker at the end of the film.  Does she die?  Who knows?  She is carried off stage, and that is all we see.  Yet, the band strikes up a toon and Winifred (Barbara Harris) starts singing a song called “It Don’t Worry Me.”  It seems that this was a phrase used often in the making of this movie.  Hey, writer Joan Tewkesbury, should there maybe be a main character and some structure?  “It Don’t Worry Me.”  Um, excuse me, director Robert Altman, could I be given a clear sense of why any of this is happening?  “It Don’t Worry Me.”  It is not that I was worried.  It was that I could not see a point to any of what happened.  I doubt there was a script, too.  The numerous actors and actresses, I am guessing, were given their parts, virtually no direction, and when “Action!” was called, they were told to act.  This is how the movie comes off.  I honestly do not know what else to say to you about it.  There is the campaign, music, stock car racing, more music, a couple of stalkers, more music, and that is it.

One thing that I left out of my abbreviated description of Nashville are the church services.  The events of the film begin before Sunday.  At one point, Lady Pearl (Barbara Baxley), wife of country star Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson), starts telling British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) correspondent Opal (Geraldine Chaplin) about the anti-Catholicism in the United States.  I almost fell out of my chair because it was the last thing I expected to hear.  She goes on to explain how she loved the Kennedys and campaigned for them, tears glistening in her eyes as she does so.  Politically speaking, anti-Catholicism has long been a thing in this country.  It is a major reason why Al Smith of New York lost to Herbert Hoover in 1928.  While it did not stop John F. Kennedy from getting elected, the same sentiments definitely cropped up once more during the 1960 election season.  They lingered through his shortened time in the Oval Office with rumors that he was part of a vast papal conspiracy to take over the United States and the world.  Such ideas are absurd no matter what Dan Brown will tell you.  Anyway, this is all context for this one brief scene.  Yet, my shock was heightened when a few scenes later you see Lady Pearl, along with a couple of the other characters we have already met, at Mass in a Catholic Church.  It starts with a beautiful hymn that I wish I knew so I could relate it to you.  Otherwise, it has the statues, the priests, and parishioners holding Rosaries.  Amazing.  It is also the only part I liked about the whole movie.

Well, here is a rarity: this review of Nashville is not going to make it to 1,000 words.  That does not happen often on The Legionnaire, so I hope you appreciate it . . . the article, that is, not the movie.  That is a train wreck and should be avoided at all costs.


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