Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Masters of Cinema - NASHVILLE on Blu-ray ""

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Masters of Cinema - NASHVILLE on Blu-ray

NASHVILLE (1975; Robert Altman)
While NASHVILLE is not my favorite Altman film, it is certainly a staggering work of ragged genius. Both this film and M.A.S.H. exemplify what you might call "The Altman Touch" if you like. The loose sprawling narratives, the enormous ensembles, the overlapping dialogue - it's all part of the canvas on which he paints. "The Altman Touch" is probably not a description that the man himself would have approved of as he was nothing if not a mighty collaborator. He was a director in a different sense than most in that he created an environment in which the film could begin to take shape. He called upon his actors to often write their own parts and gave them what is perhaps the most pure and implicit trust I've ever heard of in almost all of filmmaking history. His methods, as odd as they might sound to us today, certainly begot some pretty remarkable movies. When you watch one of them, especially the ones from his incredibly fertile 70s period, you can immediately identify it as an Altman - just as you might ID a great painter from his brushstrokes.
I think NASHVILLE was one of my earliest exposures to Altman. As I was unaccustomed to his style and was more in the mode of straightforward narratives, I seem to remember finding it a rather perplexing animal. I kind of had to train my brain to watch his films in a different way than other movies. Instead of looking for one or two lead characters and being frustrated when I couldn't find them, I started to learn to absorb them as the glorious tableauxs that they are. It's funny that some Altman-esque techniques have become incorporated into the filmmaking mainstream these days. The films of Judd Alatow and his peers though they are much more "written" than Altman's have absolutely found a place for some of the improvisation that was a mainstay of his movies. It's a different kind of improvisation of course, one that seems more focused on finding the best jokey moments in a scene, but it would seem to nonetheless be an outcropping of Altman iconography and style.
I don't mean to make Altman's brand of cinema sound like some sort of magically conjured meandering dynamos. They certainly have some structure to them. But they are light years from the high concept, simplistic tentpoles that we've come to see overrun our local theaters these days. I cannot even imagine the sheer bewilderment of the pitch meetings if something like one of the great 70s Altman features was attempted on a large scale in recent years. Watching 70s Altman now is always such a refreshing palette cleanser for me now. I love his movies so much and I've seen most if them so I will occasionally go a while in between rewatches. Boy it is pleasant to return home to Altman-land though. I always wonder why I stayed away so long.

Special Features:
-This disc includes two interviews with Robert Altman - one from 2000 (12 mins) and another from 2001 (11 mins). In the 2000 interview, Altman briefly runs down the genesis of the NASHVILLE and then runs through the cast. In the second interview, Altman looks back on his career and how he got started making films and focuses on NASHVILLE.
-a commentary track from Altman on the film (ported from the DVD release).
-an interview with writer Joan Tewkesbury (25 mins). This is a nice retrospect talk with Tewkesbury wherein she talks about first becoming aware of Altman and how she came to collaborate with him.
-an interview with actor Michael Murphy (13 mins). Murphy is one of my favorite actors so it was great to hear how he first started working with Altman in TV and moved on to features with him. It is fascinating to hear one of Altman's biggest stock company actors talk about his process. Some great insights here.

1 comment:

Will Errickson said...

I share your views on Altman! NASHVILLE is very good, and I even saw it on the big screen last month, which was fantastic, but my fave Altmans are LONG GOODBYE, CALIFORNIA SPLIT, and 3 WOMEN. My first Altman was seeing his "comeback" '92 film THE PLAYER several times in the theater, but it was years before I truly *got* him and his style. Now I can't imagine '70s movies without him.