CHAPTER 18

Nashville

*

Nashville (1975)

Pauline Kael, review in The New Yorker, March 3, 1975 (based on a rough cut of the film, before most other reviewers had seen it): Is there such a thing as an orgy for movie-lovers—but an orgy without excess? At Robert Altman’s new, almost-three-hour film, Nashville, you don’t get drunk on images. You’re not overpowered—you get elated. I’ve never before seen a movie I loved in quite this way: I sat there smiling at the screen, in complete happiness. It’s a pure emotional high, and you don’t come down when the picture is over; you take it with you. Nashville is a radical, revolutionary leap…. The funniest epic vision of America ever to reach the screen. Robert Altman’s movie is at once a Grand Hotel-style narrative, with twenty-four linked characters; a country-and-western musical; a documentary essay on Nashville and American life; a mediation on the love affair between performers and audiences; and an Altman party. … The picture says, This is what America is, and I’m part of it. Nashville arrives at a time when America is congratulating itself for having got rid of the guys who were pulling the wool over people’s eyes. The movie says it isn’t only the politicians who live the big lie—the big lie is something we’re all capable of trying for.

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ROBERT ALTMAN: While we were making Thieves Like Us I said to Joan Tewkesbury, “Go to Nashville.” I had never been to Nashville in my life. My idea when they said Country-Western music was hillbilly music. I said, “Go to Nashville and keep a diary. Just from the day you get off the plane start writing down what happens to you. And somewhere we’ll find a movie.”

Henry Gibson, as Haven Hamilton, onstage at the Grand Ole Opry

JOAN TEWKESBURY: So I went to Nashville with Bill and Taffy Danoff, who were singing with John Denver. We went to a museum and saw Patsy Cline’s hairpins and we went to the Bible printing museum. Bill and Taffy were terrific—but I said, “This isn’t the real deal.” So when we were shooting in Mississippi, I said to Bob, “I need to go there by myself and figure out what’s going on.”

Everything you see in the movie is what I saw. I was sort of like Opal. I just went there with a yellow pad of paper and wrote everything down. I rented a car and got on the freeway and there was a big accident and everything stopped. It became the opening of the picture—this great place for everything to converge on the highway, a jumping-off point for all these characters to begin bumping into each other and having near misses. I walked up and down the street and saw that a lot of older couples rented rooms to people who wanted to be singer/songwriters.

The most help I got was from a group of technicians. They were the ones who told me about the club, the Exit/In. I went there on their recommendation, and there was a radio station at the Exit/In that was broadcasting everything out onto the airwaves. There was a girl OD’ing on something on the next table. This black guy shoved a joint up my sleeve and said he had just gotten out of jail for premeditated murder. He was an interesting guy. He had gotten himself out of prison by going to the library. I don’t know if he was guilty or not, but he had a great appreciation for music and he told me a lot of bands to go to see. There were several people I had seen throughout the day. The city is built in a circle, so if I saw you in the morning and didn’t know who you were, I’d see you at least two times before the end of the day.

I walked outside after a couple of hours in this joint and I looked up and there was a full moon. I said, “Shit, everything runs in circles in this town.” I said, “Fuck, this is it. It’s all about overlaps and connective tissue.”

M*A*S*H was one of Bob’s greatest movies in terms of that kind of construct. You can pull all of these people together, there can be a very firm mathematical structure, like music. As long as you pulled them together at the end, you could do anything you wanted in the middle. Which was a perfect structure for him.

I came back and said, “I got it. It was a poem, for God’s sake. Your movie’s in there.” He said, “Well, swell.”

I turned in the first draft with eighteen characters, and Tommy Thompson read it first and then Bob Eggenweiler said it was terrific. Bob said, “I don’t know about this.” I thought, “That’s odd.” So, we rumbled around and he then talked about how somehow it had to be larger than music and Nashville. M*A*S*H has got a big event, war. So this would not be just another movie, a wannabe musical, about a place where people wanted to be musicians. The further that this went on, the more and more we talked about how ridiculous were the politics of the country. He started talking about a political line—“It can’t be about a girl killing herself at the end of the movie.”

POLLY PLATT: After the incident at the hotel in New York, he approached me to do Nashville. Joan wrote it for him and I thought it was great, and I figured he’d moved on and it would be okay, and it was okay. He never made any passes at me on the preproduction of Nashville.

I went to Nashville with Joan and the two of us were searching out locations, and he was with us. It was during the Watergate hearings and we could not get him out of the hotel to look at locations. It was infuriating at the time, but in the light of the pictures he later made, I thought, “Oh, I see why.” He was really fascinated with dirty politics.

JOAN TEWKESBURY: Bob and I were walking down Madison Avenue. There had been a horrendous storm, the night that Nixon was elected, you know, and all these umbrellas were turned inside out. And Bob said, “It’s a sign. You know, we’ve elected the wrong guy.” Bob was looking for an extreme, an explosive ending, in a way. And it sort of came out of that walk down Madison Avenue. And the discussion was about the fact that no one had assassinated a woman. And that people tended to stay away from entertainers.

ROBERT ALTMAN: We had a designer named Polly Platt. And she was the most renowned person at that time in our group. Polly Platt was better known than I was, or equally well, anyway. At a certain point I called Joan and Polly into my office and said, “Listen, I know what’s wrong with this. We’ve got to assassinate the wrong person.” And Polly hit the ceiling. Joan came in with her—they came to quit. And I said, “Well, quit. Because I think this is the strongest thing I got here.” Joan kinda changed and she stayed and worked with it. Polly quit.

POLLY PLATT: I fought him on it because the original script didn’t have the assassination. He added that, and I felt that it ruined the script. I still think it ruins the picture. I just think that it was a beautiful, delicate story of many lives intertwining. Everybody arriving at Nashville, and then this assassination—which obviously comes from his political fascination. It’s like a sledgehammer on this delicate, filigreed story of these people arriving in Nashville. I talked to Joan and she agreed with me, but she was afraid of him. She had a chance to get her script made, so you can see why she stayed.

JOAN TEWKESBURY: I disagreed at first, but I stuck around because I got it.

Bob decided that since everything else had happened to this woman, Barbara Jean, she should die at the end. I said, “So who do you want to do it?” Bob said, “I don’t care who kills her; she’s going to get shot.” At the time Kenny was the nicest character, so I simply made Kenny a little crazy.

On the set of Nashville with screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury in front of Nashville’s Parthenon, location of the film’s climactic shooting

ROBERT ALTMAN: I started casting it, and people would come in. I’d say, “Okay.” Then somebody else would come in—I don’t specifically know who—and I’d say, “God, we need a part for them. They want to be in the movie and they’re good.” So we would make up a part.

JOAN TEWKESBURY: It increased from eighteen characters to twenty-four, and I figured that the audience would be the twenty-fifth character. With every addition a little more sophistication, you know, a little more of the outside world would encroach into Nashville, which was exactly what was happening to Nashville at the time.

ROBERT ALTMAN: It gets back to poetry. What we’re all doing is basically haiku. You’re trying to make a short poem and get everything in. In the first place, in making a film, I have to figure out—I have to deal with the minds and the information that the audience already has. If the audience can’t keep track of all those characters, they give up and your picture’s over. So, I’ve got to get it down to size, to where they can embrace it. I think of all of these things like dinner parties. I go to a dinner party with twelve people and Kathryn and I leave and we’re going home, I’ll say, “Who was that blonde girl that was sitting next to so-and-so?” I may have met one more person, or two that I didn’t know before. But basically I walk away and I don’t even know the people I’ve had dinner with. I think a film is pretty much the same way. There’s that problem in Nashville. But because of being able to stop and see them sing, you learn who that person is because you’ve got that camera on them for a long time. And that singing is sort of a confession for them. It tells you a lot about that individual.

KEITH CARRADINE: Bob had one of his weekend parties and we were all gathered up there. It was a sunny day, and I had my guitar and I was playing songs. Joan was already researching Nashville. In the midst of her doing that, while we were shooting Thieves Like Us, Bob heard my music and Joan heard the music and they basically just incorporated it into the film.

I wasn’t even supposed to be Tom originally. I was going to be Bill, who was played by Allan Nicholls. They wanted Gary Busey to play Tom, which was much more on the money in terms of Gary’s energy and his personality. It would have made much more sense on first blush. Then Gary passed on the movie because he took a pilot called The Texas Wheelers with Jack Elam. When that happened I brought Allan out and Bob moved me into the role of Tom, with which I was never comfortable. I never felt right. I didn’t like him. And that’s Bob’s genius. When we were doing the Exit/In scene, where all these women wonder who he’s singing to, I walked out and I said to Bob, “I’m really uncomfortable. I don’t feel confident about what I’m doing.” And he wouldn’t even talk to me about it. He just said, “Oh, you’re fine, you’re doing fine,” and walked away.

The genius of what he had done was he put me into that skin, and what you see in the movie is a guy who doesn’t like himself. It’s brilliant. It’s the truth. So I wish I could say I was such a good actor. It had nothing to do with acting. It was the genius of Bob putting me in a circumstance that made me really uncomfortable to have to fulfill the obligations of that character, and then you see that guy who is really creeped out by himself.

The fictional folk trio Bill, Mary, and Tom. In the foreground, from left, Keith Carradine, Cristina Raines, and Allan Nicholls

Later on I would meet women who had seen the movie, who had seen me in the movie, and who were expecting Tom Frank. It was so weird. There was something so amoral about that guy that some women like. It was a shocker to me. And when that wasn’t who I was, the disappointment in them was immediate and palpable. I’m sorry I’m not on the make.

LILY TOMLIN: Bob put me in the movies when nobody else in the world would. I was on Laugh-In and I was Ernestine to most people—the telephone operator. I can only guess that Bob either never saw Laugh-In or thought it was a typically unconventional choice, which he probably preferred. Just the idea of me getting to be in a movie was a big deal. And to be in an Altman movie was like over the moon; I couldn’t believe it. And when I read the script that Joan Tewkesbury had written, I thought, “Gee. I could play a lot of these different people.” But as I watched everybody come into town, and everybody was so perfect for what they’d been cast, I thought, “I must be more Linnea than I have any idea.”

GERALDINE CHAPLIN (actress): My version of it is I met Bob at a press showing of Images. Then we met again in Cannes and he said, “I’m thinking of a role for you.” He said, “Just imitate me. I want you to follow me around and act like me. Do everything I do.” Of course it didn’t turn out like that. He said, “To play Opal, the one thing you have to be is British.” I said, “I don’t know if I can do that.” He said, “Okay, you’re an American pretending to be a Brit.”

JOAN TEWKESBURY: We took Thieves Like Us to the Cannes Film Festival and we watched Geraldine Chaplin be devoured by the press. What Bob said to Geraldine [for Nashville] was terrific: “All you have to do is be them.” And she did it.

GERALDINE CHAPLIN: I was pregnant—I thought I’d be fired for that. Bob said, “That is just something Opal would do.” He’d said Joan was going to go with me to look for the clothes. In London I had bought all these layers and layers of clothes. As Opal, I was supposed to wear these tank tops. Bob says, “What a great idea! She has all the clothes she owns on her back.” He was so incredible in that way. If something went wrong he would make the most of it and something imperfect would stand out.

*   *   *

RICHARD SARAFIAN (director/actor/former brother-in-law): I was in Kansas City at his dad’s house. The next day was the funeral for his mother, and he was leaving that same day to direct Nashville. Backgammon is my road game. I skunked him, as usual. It didn’t matter how much I beat him out of—he wasn’t going to pay me. He had improved since the early days. He was playing in an unconventional way. But anybody who has had too much alcohol is easy prey. He finally surrendered and staggered into the bedroom and went to bed with his father. Crawled in with his dad, to comfort him. I thought that was a loving, touching thing to do.

ALLAN NICHOLLS (actor/music director/screenwriter/associate producer/assistant director): The night before the first day of shooting, there was the kickoff party. It was a big barbecue and Bob made ribs. During that party I got a call from my brother saying my dad had had a pretty serious heart attack and was in the hospital, and that it was fifty-fifty and it looks like I’d have to go home. So I was like, “Oh God, this is my first film, I’m going to have to tell someone.” So I told Tommy Thompson. I said, “You should probably write me out or whatever you do, and I don’t want to tell Bob ’cause he’s hosting this party, but I’m telling you.”

So the next day was the first day of shooting and it was at the airport, with mass confusion. And we all show up for our call time, which was pretty early in the morning. And Bob’s out there and it’s hot as hell. I see him and he was like choreographing the twirlers and the band and stuff. He catches my eye and pulls me over and he takes me aside and he says, “I know what’s happening with your dad, and I’m treating it as if it’s happening to me. You’re not going to have to go home, you’re not going to have to do anything. Just don’t worry about anything. You’re in this movie.” My father ended up getting better, and I didn’t need to go home. But needless to say, that was probably the thing that locked our friendship from then on.

*   *   *

MICHAEL MURPHY: He said, “I’m going to start this picture on the fifteenth of July, but I’m having a Fourth of July party and I want everybody down here [laughs]. So he’s got this log cabin–esque but very, very nice big house, and we’re all out there meeting each other on the Fourth of July. So now we have eleven days before the picture starts, and he doesn’t rehearse or anything, so we’re all hanging around this motel together, one of those double-decker motels. It was the cleverest thing because by the end of those ten, eleven days, you knew everybody. We all had interesting relationships. Some guys would be fighting with their wives, some guys would be doing yoga, some guys would be doing deep breathing. Some guys would be learning their lines. But we all had this funny bonding thing that went on and we all got to liking each other.

GERALDINE CHAPLIN: We all arrived together and we had a party at Bob’s. He had little condos for everyone and he had a beautiful big house and he had us all over. He said, “Have you brought your scripts?” We said yes. He said, “Well, throw them away. You don’t need them. You need to know who you are and where you are and who you’re with.” I remember thinking, “I can’t do this.” I thought I was going to be fired. My first scene was with Lily Tomlin after the car crash. I knew I would get fired and it just came out and he started laughing. He said, “Be serious and don’t try to be funny and you’ll be hilarious.” I never worked this way with a director before. He was an incredible audience. It was like being onstage with a full house every second. All the circus acts you had inside your body you’d do just for him.

*   *   *

RICHARD BASKIN (composer): I was a young struggling songwriter in L.A. and had gone to USC film school and was writing songs and playing music around town. I had heard from my sister that Gwen Welles, who was somebody I knew from an acting class, needed somebody to write her some songs for this movie she was going to be in. She told me about the project and I badgered her to get me a script. I read this screenplay, which was phenomenal, and got very excited about the project. I told her I’d write her the songs under the condition that when she presented them to Robert Altman I would get to come in with her. I wrote her the song “One, I Love You,” and we had our appointment to go in and see Bob. When I got my moment with him—I was twenty-three or so at the time—I said, “I think you should hire me to do the music and you should do it live.” Which got his attention. He kind of looked at me like, “Who are you, kid?”

I gave him this whole plan to do it live. He said, “Well, who would you use?” I said, “I’d like to come back and lay out a whole plan for you.” Truth is, I’m a Jewish kid from the Valley. I don’t really know anything about country music. I think he recognized my audaciousness and saw some kind of intelligence there.

I called up my friend Curt Allen, the son of Rex Allen, the cowboy singer. He gave me a list of the best players. I wrote them down and went back to Bob and said, “This is who I’d use.”

Bob was rather extraordinary in his way of letting people do what they did. He trusted you to do what you did and therefore you would kill for him.

A couple of days later we were on a plane to Nashville. I was the musical director. To me it was an incredible break and an incredible thrill. To him it was a great deal. He paid me five hundred dollars a week, which I thought was a fortune. I didn’t realize at the time how cheaply he got me.

ROBERT ALTMAN: For actors, I had two salaries: seven-fifty and a thousand dollars a week. They were sort of arbitrary. Better-known people got a thousand. I paid Lily a thousand a week. She had not ever been in a picture before, but she was known from Laugh-In. Henry Gibson I think I paid a thousand dollars. For the killer I hired Michael Burns, who’d been in Cold Day in the Park. He came back from West Virginia, or Virginia, or wherever he was teaching. He had long hair. He went and got his hair cut for the part. When he found out that I had him on the seven-fifty list, he said he wouldn’t do it. He wanted a thousand. And I couldn’t give it to him, I felt, because I had already published that list to my other cast members. He left. Got his hair cut and went back to West Virginia.

ROBERT DUVALL: Yeah, he asked me to be that guy, Haven Hamilton. Something didn’t click with me. Was it money? I don’t think so. I can’t quite remember. Something didn’t click.

LILY TOMLIN: We were in Nashville for two months. And it was in the summertime. It was really hot. And most of us were living in this old singles apartment that hadn’t been finished yet. And the yards were all muddy, and the décor was all heavy acrylic carpets, and very heavy, dark furniture. So we all kinda started complaining because we would be there for two months. And Karen Black came in to do a part. And she was only there for about five days. And most of us started protesting, and saying, “Well, why does Karen Black get to come in and just be a week? And we have to be here day after day after day, in this hot weather and in this awful place to live?”

And Bob would say, “You’re not supposed to like her.”

JOAN TEWKESBURY: Karen Black was not allowed to come until the week she was filmed. She was moved into this really nice hotel—given all the perks all the rest of them weren’t getting. Everybody was pissed off at her and it was perfect.

HENRY GIBSON: The whole scene was like a beehive. Certain bees would be over here rehearsing because they weren’t scheduled to shoot a scene for four, five days. And Barbara Harris was breaking her ass, working out scenes, improvising things. Always with the advice of Joan and the consultation of Joan. I know that Barbara Baxley and I tried to evolve backstories of our relationship. There were certain facts that were given us by Joan. And then we used our imagination and explored those. And out of that would come possible contributions, which you would run by Joan. At least that was the polite thing one did at that time.

JOAN TEWKESBURY: As we began to shoot there was no time for rehearsal, but the actors and I would get together three days before the shoot. And if they wanted to go over stuff we would go over that, and Bob would rehearse them before he shot. Like the day we shot all the love scenes. It was one day in the crappy motel. Keith just stayed in bed and we brought in a different girl every hour. But contrary to popular belief the whole movie was not improvised.

HENRY GIBSON: There’s a tremendous misconception. And this exists in film departments at respected universities. “Oh, but it was all improvisation, wasn’t it?” Bullshit. Improvisation in some actors’ minds or some performers’ minds is a “gotcha” thing that you take credit for. And Altman doesn’t play gotcha because the only person that can play gotcha in an Altman film is Altman—to his audience. And that’s part of his magic and part of his trimming what is absolutely unnecessary, of letting his camera seek out as he wants the audience to seek out something in the background of the frame. Even while the performers, right in your face, are reciting dialogue. And he tempts you—“Wait, hold there, what’s that? Jesus, look.” I love that.

He told us if we walked on a tightrope he would be the net to catch us. And that sustained us. And implicit in that promise was, “I will not let you appear foolish. You will not be made fun of.”

What always bothered me a little bit was, some cast members when they were interviewed would describe it as a lark, a wonderful party—“Oh, it was just fun all the time.” It’s really denying the fact that this was work. The fun, the party, the drinks, they were not even secondary. These were little things that he invented to make life easier for you, but that wasn’t it. Some of the press was responsible for that, too. They would describe it as an orgy of booze and drink and drugs and Altman teetering. They turned him into a Falstaff and he’s not Falstaff, he was never Falstaff. He may have had a Falstaffian beard at times, but that’s as close as he ever fucking was to Falstaff. I hated when people did that. No, working on an Altman picture requires tremendous concentration, tremendous focus, and I felt a heightened obligation because of the trust that he placed in you.

JOAN TEWKESBURY: What he did for his actors—this is what he did for everybody on the set—was to engage everybody’s imagination enough that you’re all rowing the boat in the same direction. And yet he was insightful enough to get exactly what he needed. I think that came from his days of flying airplanes in the war. He knew what to target. He knew how to get along in situations where he had to survive. When you stop and think about all of those older movie directors, a lot of them had been in a war.

MICHAEL MURPHY: Bob said, “Now you people know your characters much better than I do. I’ve got all my money in film stock on this picture, so take them as far as you want to go.” But, he says, “Remember, I’m shooting a lot of stories simultaneously, so if you bore me I’m going to just go to somebody else.” He’s laughing, you know. Those of us who spent time with him knew that he was really talking about paraphrasing and a little bit of improvisation. But I remember Barbara Baxley handing me ten pages of single-spaced dialogue. I’m going, “What the hell is this?” But Bob looked at it and said, “We’ll shoot it.” So we did and there were some really great moments in it, about the Kennedys and the assassinations. Bob knew that would work.

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JOAN TEWKESBURY: I had danced in a nightclub, and Gwen Welles’s character, Sueleen, was a compilation of a couple of dancers I had known who thought they were going to set the world on fire. One of them agreed to pose for Playboy because she didn’t think she would have to take her clothes off. It was nuts.

Gwen had taken socks out of the drawer and stuck them in the dress. That tells everybody she hadn’t expected to strip. The whole object of this is to show how far we’ll go for fame, or how much of ourselves we’ll give up for it.

MICHAEL MURPHY: In the striptease scene, all those guys were like from the Lion’s Club. They were like pillars of the business world and everything. You’d think they’d come in there, Southern guys, and say, “I don’t know if I want to be seen doing this.” Bob knew just how to handle it. He said, “Now, this girl is going to come down out of the ceiling and you guys get off on it.” And they’re going, “Ahhhh.” And they got with it. He was very good at taking people who had never worked and putting them in front of a camera and making it happen, making it real, you know? With very little explanation. He always gave you credit for having a brain. That was what I think he did with these guys. He knew they were smart enough guys. Also, he’d been around that behavior. He’d been around those guys in Kansas City when he was young and he knew how they would respond. And they went ape shit, those guys.

Gwen Welles as Sueleen Gay before her reluctant striptease

JOAN TEWKESBURY: When we get down to shooting the striptease, the first thing after the dress comes off, the socks come out of the bra. And I just thought, “Oh my God, you’re a genius, girl.” And she took off every stitch of clothing and walked offstage. And those men stood—it still makes me very emotional—and they gave her a standing ovation.

It was the emotional core of the film. She is every person in that movie. Every person in that movie believes that if they just do that one thing, it won’t matter, everybody will forget and they will get famous, or get the job, or will get to sing the song, or they will be the front-runner in the campaign. Everybody in this movie compromises at some point or another. It was also calculated that every person in this movie has a point where they really redeem themselves. Gwen’s character was really calculated from beginning to end to have her arc, and at the end of the day she still has the balls to go stand up onstage at the end of the movie and sing her song.

*   *   *

GERALDINE CHAPLIN: His vision, the way he saw things, was so out of sync with the established way of thinking. He would laugh at things—if you tell a story that you think was tragic, he would see the humor in it. It wasn’t cruel. It was the way he would read something and see it completely different. That reminded me of my mother. She had a sense of humor even bigger than my father’s, I think. My father probably would have enjoyed his films. Because they’re funny. They’re funny in the right way. Funny in a critical way—of what the world is and the world we live in. They were both geniuses in their way. They alter your experience of reality. They have their world and they have their humor. That humor is so rare. Would they have gotten along? Probably not. But Bob and my mother got on great. They fell for each other.

ALLAN NICHOLLS: So Julie Christie arrives on the scene. And I think about seventeen of us realized we were in love with her. Well, Michael Murphy was already in love with her from McCabe & Mrs. Miller, probably.

JULIE CHRISTIE: I remember not wanting to do it at all. “What has he got me doing now?” I just walked through it not knowing what the hell I was going to be doing. I didn’t realize that we were there as scapegoats. If I had, I might have been able to have more fun with it. I was cross, actually, because I really didn’t want to do it. My reticence was not listened to at all. Robert by no means got his way by being sweet all the time. He could be manipulative.

HENRY GIBSON: On the last day of shooting, the assassination, the clouds were as ominous as that scene, when you see the progression of black cars with the lights on. You just have to underline that with organ music, you know? A crowd was assembling with promises of hot dogs and crap. And all of these extra camera operators had been flown in from all over. And the equipment, we were top-heavy, and the film is scheduled to close. There was no more money. And there was an orchestra. Oh, they put tarps over the instruments and over the stage in case it was going to come pouring down. It got darker and darker and darker. He looked up and said, “STOP!” He was his own safety net. He was going to hold up the clouds if he could [laughs]. And they obeyed! All I could think of was, “And the Red Sea parted.”

ALLAN NICHOLLS: After that, some attributed to him godlike characteristics. But I think he knew he wasn’t.

KEITH CARRADINE: In Nashville he was looking at us, he was looking at our culture, he was looking at America. And how prophetic that movie turned out to be. From Jimmy Carter, who came after, to the assassination of John Lennon, which came after, capturing the zeitgeist that was actually ten years hence. Truly extraordinary. The great artists are the ones who see who we are becoming more so than those who see who we are. And Bob was one of those. It’s a better movie now than when we made it. That’s saying something. I think it’s a towering achievement, that movie. Just everybody that was involved in that, Bob tapped into something. He tapped into the American psyche so absolutely directly, and it ain’t pretty.

ALAN RUDOPLH: When he was cutting Nashville, especially, you’d see the same film—well, not the same film, but different versions—ten or fifteen times a week. I think that was Bob’s greatest thrill. It’s the fresh-blood thing. If you’ve seen it you know what’s happening, so he’d throw all of his attention to someone who hadn’t seen it. He knew what he had was like a new language to a lot of people, so to watch them redefine the experience of watching a film and knowing that they would, in some way, never be the same again was a great high for him. That’s how he got energy.

LILY TOMLIN: When we went to the Oscars for Nashville, it was my first Oscars, and so I dressed up as what I thought of as a fifties movie star. I wore a tiara and big faux fur and I was going to have big Harlequin sunglasses. And Lee Grant won for Shampoo. I was going to say, “Some of you will say I’ve gone Hollywood.” That kind of thing just pleased Bob. Anything that’s a bit outside he got a kick out of.

RICHARD BASKIN (composer): There were two sets of reactions. When we were making the movie it was real pleasant and convivial. People I don’t think understood the outsider context of it until they saw the movie. Once they saw the movie, they said, “This isn’t really Nashville.” And it wasn’t Nashville, they were right. The songs were musically correct, but they were character driven. There was a consciousness to them that wasn’t entirely of Nashville. I think people were responding emotionally to what was quite an intellectual film.

JOAN TEWKESBURY: There were a lot of tried-and-true Country-Western people that just hated our guts and hated the movie. Thought it was terrible. Thought that we were making fun of people. But basically no, because it became a microcosm of a kind of change that was happening in the United States.

Robert Altman, from DVD commentary: A few years after Nashville had come out, when John Lennon got assassinated, I got a call immediately from The Washington Post and they said, “Do you feel responsible for this?”

And I said, “What do you mean, ‘responsible’?”

And they said, “Well, you’re the one that predicted that there would be an assassination of a star.”

And I said, “I don’t feel responsible.” But I said, “Don’t you feel responsible for not heeding my warning?”

The statement here is that these people are not assassinated because of their ideas or what they do. They’re assassinated to draw attention to the assassin.

*   *   *

ROBERT ALTMAN: It didn’t make any money. It wasn’t a mainline movie. But the critics treated it well. It didn’t have any stars in it. Maybe that’s why that picture’s so good. Maybe my reputation comes from just being right about the casting.

Ronee Blakley as doomed singer Barbara Jean

M*A*S*H, of course, changed things the most. But I was perceived differently after Nashville. It just verified in the critics’ minds that I had some sort of value, and that M*A*S*H wasn’t just an aberration.

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