Movie Magazine International

The Nashville Chronicles: The Making of Robert Altman's Masterpiece - by Jan Stuart

Jan Stuart - Simon and Schuster

Book Review By Larry Carlin

Ten years ago yesterday I did my first movie review here on this show. To celebrate this anniversary, instead of doing a film review, I am going to do something a little bit different - a book review. Usually movies are made from books that have already been published, but in this instance the situation is reversed. This book is about the making of Nashville, one of my all-time favorite films.

The Nashville Chronicles: The Making of Robert Altman's Masterpiece, by Newsday film critic Jan Stuart, was written 25 years after the movie Nashville was released. Nashville premiered in 1975, and it's one of director Altman's best films, right up there with M*A*S*H*, The Player, and Short Cuts. The setting for Nashville is the city with the same name, and the film is a satirical look at the country music scene in the mid-seventies during the campaign of a right-wing political candidate whose presence is everywhere but whose face is never seen. The film was unique in many ways, the most prominent being a cast of 24 actors, most of whom interacted with one another. It featured the debut screen performances of comedienne Lily Tomlin and singer Ronee Blakley, and showcased the songwriting and singing of Henry Gibson (of the Laugh-In TV show fame) as well as Keith Carradine, whose song I'm Easy won an Oscar in 1976.

Before Nashville was originally released it got a glowing review from film critic Pauline Kael, creating an uproar within the media because she got to see it before everyone else. Also, the city of Nashville and the music community there got excited for the grand premiere of the film, and after it was over most of them fled from it in horror and disgust. Still, Nashville was nominated for many Oscars, but it got beaten at the awards ceremony by One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, and at the box office it was devoured by the smash hit Jaws.

The Nashville Chronicles is a detailed study about the entire making of a movie. Writer Stuart talked with almost every major player who had something to do with Nashville, and the book is a fascinating look at what goes on before, during, and after a movie is made. He takes you behind the scenes and follows the actors on and off the set. You'll see how Altman likes to stray far from the written script, and how the actors themselves produced much of what you see in Nashville. Altman is also a major manipulator who knew how to get better performances out of his actors. It is amazing how this movie -- with its many personalities, budget restraints, and Altman's improvisations -- all came together, and it still stands the test of time 26 years later.

At the end of the book Stuart tells us what happened to the actors and Altman's assistants. Some have gone on to bigger and better things, some never made another movie, and some have gone on to that big casting call in the sky. Robert Altman is still making movies, but it is doubtful that he'll ever make another masterpiece like Nashville.

For film buffs, for Nashville cats like yourself, and for all of the Robert Altman fans on your gift list this holiday season, The Nashville Chronicles is a must read, and for Movie Magazine, I'm Larry Carlin.

© 2000 - Larry Carlin - Air Date: 12/12/02

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