Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Breakdown - Nashville

All the hallmarks of Robert Altman's aural and visual styles are evident in Nashville - the overlapping dialogue, the life-like improvised roles and ensemble acting, multiple means of communication to connect the characters (phone calls, tape recordings, radio and TV, and P.A. announcements), a continuously moving camera, long takes, and imaginative sound and film editing.

Not only that, Ebert called this movie "a virtuoso display of narrative mastery." You can read the 1974 draft

As Miriam points out, the film has 96 scenes which are usually brief, over a minute in length, until you get to the last quarter of the film in which the scenes can be as long as 6, 7, 11, and even 12 minutes in length. Why some scenes are longer than others and how much Altman accomplishes in the smaller scenes, I'll leave for you to discover. However, I will say that I loved what Miriam wrote in her notes:

"He doesn't introduce people, but drifts into their lives. Even though there had to have been lights, booms, grips, sound men, and the myriad of people who have to wait and observe a shot as it happens, everything looks as if it is just taking place on the spur of the moment. Altman makes a well orchestrated film look like a documentary. The acting is very natural, with no melodramatic histrionics. Sean Penn's performance as the anguished father of the murdered girl in Mystic River is riveting, but it's staged. Linnea's quiet, subtle anguish as she falls a little in love with Tom is understated and real."

Great job, Mim. Best one yet.


1. 0:58 – This opening sequence imitates the old K-Tel commercials that were all over T.V. in the sixties and seventies. Under the guise of a frenetic commercial, all the major actors are introduced while clips of all the songs play in the background. 0:00:58

2. 1:03 – A garage opens and a van pulls into early morning traffic. It's a political van with speakers on top and HAL PHILLIP WALKER on the side. Walker's voice talks about his Replacement Party, which will lead politics in America into a brave new tomorrow. Music starts up: a patriotic beat. 0:02:01

3. 2:34 – In a recording studio, Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) does a take of 200 Years, which is an unabashedly patriotic anthem to the bi-centennial, which Nashville celebrates. The song contrasts with the Hal Phillip Walker message of change and Replacement. The titles are red and white with little blue stars. During the song, Opal from the BBC (Geraldine Chaplin) shows up. This character is blithely unaware of social graces except as they apply to other people on her behalf. Opal goes into the booth, where Haven's wife, Pearl (Barbara Baxley), and son, Bud (Dave Peel, who works mainly as a musician and wrote a lot of the music), are there. Most of the camera shots in the studio scenes show reflections in the glass, so that you can see the people in the booth and the people in the studio at the same time. 0:04:35

4. 0:45 – Haven asks Bud about Opal and tells him to get her out while Opal tries to talk to him directly. When he doesn't answer her, she assumes he can't hear her, not that he is ignoring her. Haven is used to getting what he wants. As Bud takes Opal away, Haven tells the producer they'll do another take and that he wants to "hear a little more Haven in this one." 0:05:20

5. 2:17 – Titles continue as Bud takes Opal into studio B. She gushes about how "sweet" and "little" it is. Linnea Reese (Lily Tomlin) is making a gospel recording with her group, who are mostly black. It is old-timey Southern black gospel with hand-clapping and dancing, and Linnea is boogying just as hard as everybody else. Opal tells Bud that the rhythm is "in their genes." If you close your eyes, you're in darkest Africa. Opal is a bit of a drama queen. 0:07:37

6. 0:43 – Back to Haven, who is not having a good day. He's a perfectionist. Now that Opal is out of the way, he doesn't like the piano player, Frog. The very small role of Frog is played by Richard Baskin, who is a musician and is also credited as a co-writer for many of the songs on the Nashville soundtrack. It's one of Altman's little jokes. 0:08:20

7. 0:27 – Titles conclude with the writer (Joan Tewkesbury) and director (Altman) over a shot in studio B of Linnea and her gospel group in a singing frenzy. 0:08:47

8. 0:39 – Frog is disgusted and deliberately flubs the music. Haven tells him to get his hair cut. He doesn't belong in Nashville. This is a nice bit of foreshadowing, because Haven has definite ideas about what does and does not belong in Nashville. 0:09:26

9. 0:39 – Scene starts with a huge sign that says "Welcome to Nashville." It's the airport, where a reporter tells us that we're waiting for Barbara Jean's plane to touch down. She's been in a burn unit and she's returning to Nashville. Barbara Jean is somebody important, because there's a marching band out there to welcome her, and crowds of people being held back by security guards. 0:10:05

10. 0:07 – During this seven-second scene, we meet Pfc. Glenn Kelly (Scott Glenn). I think Altman used the names of his actors for the names of their characters. Glenn stops by a magazine kiosk to ask about Barbara Jean. The girl behind the counter gives him directions. 0:10:12

11. 0:08 – Back outside to the reporter. He mentions that Haven Hamilton will be arriving to greet Barbara Jean. 0:10:20

12. 0:30 – Out in front of the airport, Jeff Goldblum (whose character name is "Tricycle Man," so we'll call him Jeff) arrives on his three-wheel chopper motorcycle, followed by the HPW van, preaching its message of Replacement. Jeff gets off his cycle and walks past Norman (David Arkin, who committed suicide when he was 49), a limo driver who is waiting with his limo. As he walks past Norman, Jeff changes a silk scarf from red to green. 0:10:50

13. 0:08 – Back to the reporter. The plane has touched down and we'll see Barbara Jean any moment. 0:10:58

14. 1:37 – Now we get to meet more characters. Each of these people will play a somewhat larger part and we get to see a little of each personality. It takes place in the airport diner. Mr. Green (Keenan Wynn) orders a butterscotch sundae, but has to settle for strawberry. We will see that this is the theme of his life: settling for something he didn't want. He orders it from Sueleen Gaye (Gwen Welles, who tragically died of cancer in her 40's), a sultry redhead with a pretty face, and tells her that his wife is in the hospital. Jeff is there and we get to see him do another magic trick. He pours the salt out of the shaker into his hand and makes it disappear. The busboy, Wade (Robert DoQui), sees the trick and gets Sueleen's attention to tell her about it. Sueleen takes it as an opening to flirt with Jeff (who never says a word throughout the entire film), and sings him a song that she wrote. She's a terrible singer. I should mention that Wade is black because it's important in the story later. Delbert Reese (Ned Beatty) watches her sing to Jeff. He seems to be interested in her, but it's probably not her voice that draws his attention. 0:12:35

15. 0:17 – Back outside to confirm that, yes, we are still waiting for Barbara Jean. Her plane has landed, but she hasn't come out.

16. 0:24 – Del Reese has come to the airport to meet John Triplette (Michael Murphey), who is Hal Phillip Walker's campaign manager. John turns out to be a very colorful character, so keep your eye on him. Mary and Bill deplane and walk around Del and John, but we aren't ready to meet them yet. Martha, aka LA Joan (Shelley Duvall) waits for something. She and Altman put her impossibly long, thin body into tiny hot pants and a halter top that looks more like a scarf wrapped around her chest. She certainly stands out in a crowd. Youthful HPW supporters mill around, distributing campaign materials. They are all dressed in red, white, and blue stars and stripes. They stand out also. 0:13:16

17. 0:38 – Still waiting for Barbara Jean. Haven, Pearl, and Bud arrive in their white jeep. Everything in Haven's life is white, including the milk he drinks. The marching band is going through their routine. 0:13:54

18. 0:30 – In the same location as scene #16, Mr. Green (who settled for the strawberry sundae) greets Martha, who tells him her name is now LA Joan. Mr. Green is Joan's uncle. He wants to take her to the hospital right away to see her aunt, his wife, but she wants to talk to Tom (Keith Carradine), the third member of Tom, Bill, and Mary. He's signing autographs and albums. She tells him he's Tom and he tells her stop the diet before she ruins herself. 0:14:24

19. 0:17 – We get to see a little of Bill (Allan F. Nicholls) and Mary (Christina Raines). HPW supporters plaster a bumper sticker across a poster of Connie White (played by Karen Black, another Altman joke), and Bill jokes that Hal Phillip Walker looks just like Connie White. 0:14:41

20. 1:30 – The crowd waiting for Barbara Jean is at a fever pitch and security has to hold them back. Barnett (Allan Garfield) deplanes, but he won't talk to anybody. He's a messy, overweight man who wears a bow tie like a scarf across his shoulders. He says, "I got no time," which is his mantra. There's trouble in paradise for Haven and Pearl, as he tells her to shut up, but a few minutes later he makes a nice speech for the cameras. Haven certainly knows how to play a crowd. While this is going on outside, drama abounds among the crowd inside. Tom stops to watch and tells a pretty HPW girl in stars and stripes hot pants that he don't vote for nobody for president. He sees Glenn, who looks a little lost and wistful (the soldier, remember?) if he's killed anyone today. Tom obviously doesn't like authority or rules. 0:16:11

21. 2:54 – Barbara Jean finally gets off her plane to thunderous applause. Ronnee Blakley did a wonderful job with this role. Barbara Jean always wears white, empire-waist dresses that make her look like a virgin. Her long, dark hair is perfectly coiffed to look long and free, when it's actually held in place with careful styling, pins, and plenty of pink ribbons. Barbara Jean looks so happy to see her fans. Bill and Mary are watching and Norman (the limo driver) interrupts them to say, "Hi, Bill," to Mary and "Hi, Mary" to Bill. Sueleen and Wade are there also. He wants to leave, but she wants to stay. Wade is Sueleen's only fan, so he does what she wants. Barbara Jean wants to go in and say hello to her fans, but faints after only a few steps. It's a rather dramatic faint. She throws her arms out and falls backwards. As Barnett and Haven flutter around her, the HPW groupies rush in with their bumper stickers. Glenn stands on the sidelines and watches. He looks more lost than ever. 0:19:05

22. 1:35 – Everybody gets into their cars and pulls out at the same time. Chaos ensues when the people in back try to get around the ones in front. All the cars come through the gate and the wooden arm goes up and down until it gets confused and tries to go down in front a bus, which snaps it off. The HPW van comes through last, blaring the message of Replacement. 0:20:40

23. 0:18 – Back with the reporter and the marching band, the reporter tells us what we already know; Barbara Jean collapsed and they're taking her to the hospital. A HPW girl sneaks in behind him and holds her campaign sign up for 15 seconds before a policemen rushes in to drag her off. 0:20:58

24. 2:42 - On the highway, a couch falls off a truck and causes multi-car collision and huge pile-up. Everybody screeches to a halt. Connie White's bus is there. The cute stars and stripes girls jump out of the HPW van and go nuts with bumper stickers. They don't hand them out. They just stick them onto every bumper they see. Before they know it, all the crash victims are HPW supporters. A bunch of guys gather around Wade's crappy truck to flirt with Sueleen, who is in the passenger seat. Wade tries to shoo them off. Sueleen thinks they are harmless, but Wade knows better. Linnea has Opal in her car. Opal is traumatized by the crash and goes on and on about the mangled bodies. She is sure she saw a leg sticking out. LA Joan, on the other hand, is completely unaware of what is going on around her. She just wants a rock 'n roll station. In the midst of all this, we meet a new character: Kenny (David Hayward). Kenny's car has overheated. While everybody visits and buys ice-cream from the vendor whose truck happened to be in the pile-up, Kenny's radiator explodes and he abandons the car. The only things he takes with him are his jacket and his violin case. 0:23:40

25. 0:35 – First of a series of short scenes during the pile-up where we get to know people a little better. Opal, who never goes anywhere without her tape recorder, interviews Linnea, but when she discovers that Linnea's children are deaf, she brings the interview to a crashing halt and won't be comforted. She is terribly depressed that Linnea's children are defective. Everything in Opal's world is all about how it affects Opal. 0:24:15

26. 0:25 – Quick, let's meet another new character. This is Albuquerque (Barbara Harris). She is with her husband in his RED truck, nattering on about fly-swatters and patents and red dots. It has to do with the industrial revolution. I don't know either, but she's eccentric and cute. 0:24:40

27. 0:19 – Del drives and John (HPW's campaign manager) rides shotgun. John explains to Del that HPW wants country-western musicians to back him because movie stars are crazy and communists to boot. 0:24:59

28. 0:17 – Albuquerque's husband gets fed up with her incessant chatter and bolts from the RED truck. This turns out to be a mistake, because it was the opportunity she was waiting for. She grabs her big straw bag and ditches him. 0:25:16

29. 0:16 – Opal knocks on Tommy Brown's trailer and Tommy (Timothy Brown. Altman probably didn't spend much time naming this character) himself answers. It is important to the story to note that Tommy is black. Opal doesn't seem to recognize him and asks to speak to Mr. Tommy Brown. 0:25:32

30. 0:27 – Pearl and Haven get into a fight about whether it was "wonder, wanda," or "wunda, wander." She screeches that it doesn't make a difference, because it was a hit, then asks Buddy to settle it anyway. He pretends not to remember, which is his non-inflammatory way of settling his parents' arguments. 0:25:59

31. 0:06 – Albuquerque climbs up onto the street that crosses the highway and makes her escape. 0:26:05

32. 0:35 – Inside Tommy Brown's trailer with her recorder, Opal calls his entourage (who are all black) "you lovely people." I guess sticking the "lovely" in there takes the sting out of that phrase, or at least it does in Opal's world. Apparently she thinks Tommy Brown is white. He introduces her to his wife, saying, "This is his wife," and she is stunned. 0:26:40

33. 0:20 – Jeff gets his tricycle to the far side of the pile-up and takes off. The HPW van talks about people with disabilities between this and the opening of the next scene. 0:27:00

34. 0:16 – It takes a village to get Barbara Jean set up in her hospital room. One of her entourage shows her a ceramic bird and she says she remembers it. Barnett says he remembers that he almost threw it out, which draws a look of shock from the girl, but not from Barbara Jean. 0:27:16

35. 0:15 – Everybody's coming to the hospital. Mr. Green comes in with Joan and tells her to wait in the hall while Esther (his wife/Joan's aunt) fixes herself up. 0:27:31

36. 1:21 – Barbara Jean's room is full of people. Tommy comes in with his wife. Del and John come in to say hi. She greets them as if she is royalty, but seems genuinely pleased to see them. Opal stands outside with her microphone raised to catch the conversation. The guard tells her nobody from the press is allowed and she tells him she's not the press. She's the BBC. The nurse shoos everybody out and Barbara Jean slumps down as the smile slides off her face. 0:28:52

37. 0:35 – LA Joan discovers Bud, who is waiting for his parents, and flirts with him. Mr. Green comes out of the room to say that Esther is ready to see her. Joan tells him to wait a minute because she's talking to somebody. Just as with the sundae incident, poor Mr. Green takes it lying down, and slinks back into his wife's (Joan's aunt) room. Glenn comes down the hall with a small bouquet of flowers and we follow him while Joan continues to flirt with Bud Hamilton. 0:29:27

38. 1:08 – Albuquerque walks down the road with Kenny. She constantly checks behind her. She's full of big plans and he shoots down each one she comes up with. She starts to ask him why he's like that, but in the distance behind them, a RED truck pulls onto the street. "Don't say you saw me," she says and bolts into the bushes. Kenny at least does deny he's seen her when her husband asks, and then gets a ride into town with the man. 0:30:35

39. 0:28 – Sueleen practices her act in front of the mirror while she dresses. She is wearing the kind of dress I've only ever seen in a Frederick's of Hollywood catalogue. Part of her preparation includes stuffing two white gym socks into her bra. Poor Sueleen. Even her pre-act schtick is hokey and horrible. 0:31:03

40. 0:27 – At the hospital, Joan goes off with Bud, and Mr. Green comes back out of the room just in time to see her disappearing down the hall. He calls, but does not go after them. I feel sorry for Sueleen, because at least she's trying. Mr. Green just needs to grow a spine. 0:31:30

41. 1:16 – Here we are at the Old Time Pickin' Parlor, where the royalty of Nashville hang out. Outside the HPW groupies plaster bumper stickers onto cars. Inside, a slow pan establishes the club and who is there. Wade has wandered in. Haven is sitting with Tommy Brown and his wife while Pearl greets people. Bill and Mary are not enjoying themselves. Bill picks at Mary about not wearing the dress that matches his shirt and she looks away. When Kenny wanders in with his violin case and Pearl seats him at their table, Mary finally pays attention to Bill. It's probably so that Kenny won't talk to her. 0:32:46

42. 1:10 – Deemen's Den is darker and obviously a few cuts below the Pickin' Parlor, but Trout, the owner and bartender, is hosting an amateur night, which attracts both unrecognized talent and the truly desperate. Sheila Bailey and Pattie Bryant (these are their real names. Altman didn't look for any other ones) are the Smokey Mountain Laurels. Their dresses match in style, but are different colors, and have a framework of ruffles around their busts. Sueleen waits her turn while the Smokey Mountain Laurels, who are actually pretty good, perform. Opal has somehow wound up here, instead of where the beautiful people are. As she checks her equipment, she sees Tom. NOTE: Sueleen is here, while Wade is at the Pickin' Parlor, and Tom is here while Bill and Mary are at the Pickin' Parlor. 0:33:56

43. 1:08 – Wade makes a scene at the Pickin' Parlor by calling Tommy Brown "the whitest nigger in town." Haven and Pearl apologize to Tommy and Kenny confronts Wade, who throws him over a table. Pearl starts screaming that she has a gun. 0:35:04

44. 2:25 – Bud shows up at Deemen's Den with LA Joan, who excuses herself to go to the bathroom. Jeff is here and he has a great big grin on his face, just like some kid about to ride the roller coaster. Sueleen sings Let Me Be the One, which is a song she wrote herself. To say it's bad and that she sings badly would either be an understatement or very generous. While the camera lingers on her up on the stage, we hear voice over comments from various people in the bar about how terrible she is. She doesn't seem to hear them. Albuquerque comes in and talks to Trout about performing. Will she turn out to be an unrecognized talent, like the Smokey Mountain Laurels, or truly desperate, like Sueleen? We won't find out now, because her husband is there and she has to escape his clutches. After this little bit of drama, Trout gets a call… 0:37:29

45. 0:57 - …from Del Reese, who has brought John home with him. He introduces the two men, and then puts John on with Trout. John is looking for some talent for a "smoker" he's planning for Monday. It's some kind of fund-raising thing for HPW. Del leaves John on the phone with Trout and goes to talk to Linnea and the kids (the deaf kids). OMG! Del is married to Linnea. This is the first time we've seen them together. 0:38:26

46. 0:09 – Trout sets Sueleen up with John to be the talent at his smoker while she finishes her first song. Why would he do that when he knows how badly she sings? He calls her a sultry redhead and gives John her full name: Sueleen Gaye. 0:38:35

47. 1:22 – John says if she's half as provocative as her name, they're home free. In the other room, the Reese family are having their own private moment. Del wants to talk to Linnea and doesn't seem to notice that Jimmy is telling a story about his swimming lesson. Finally he notices his son and listens to the end of the story, which Jimmy tells with both sign and spoken language. 0:39:57

48. 0:43 – In Deemen's Den, the camera starts on Bud as Joan comes out of the bathroom in a wig. He doesn't recognize her, so she goes to sit with Jeff, who does a magic trick for her. While this silent exchange is happening, we hear Trout telling Sueleen about her big break at John's smoker on Monday. She's all excited. At Tom's table, he excuses himself from Opal to go make a call. 0:40:40

49. 1:31 – Tom calls Linnea. This is the second call between Deemen's Den and the Reese household. The camera stays on her while we hear Tom's voice over the phone. He reminds her that they met at the studio last time he was in town and asks to see her. She says he's welcome to dinner at their house and he can meet her family. He says that's not what he has in mind and says he finds her very attractive. She again mentions her family and then, very pointedly, her husband. He assumes she just can't talk and tells her he'll call back. 0:42:11

50. 0:52 – At the hospital, Glenn sneaks into Barbara Jean's room with his little bouquet, which is now quite wilted. She's asleep and his hand-picked bouquet can't compete with the huge flower arrangements she has received from her fans. He sits down in a chair and just watches her. 0:43:03

51. 0:24 – Jeff drops Joan off outside the hospital, where Mr. Green is waiting for her. She asks if she's too late. Ya think? 0:43:27

52. 1:00 – This is a Hal Phillip Walker scene. Albuquerque has spent the night in a car and is woken by the loudspeakers on top of the van. She walks toward the camera, but what's important takes place behind her. Two cars get into an accident and the drivers get into a fight while the HPW groupies plaster their smashed up cars with bumper stickers. The HPW commentary is about how he knows more about money than politicians in Washington because he grew up without it. 0:44:27

53. 1:32 – Kenny shows up at Mr. Green's house and rents a room from him. LA Joan is listening to music on headphones and bopping to the beat. Mr. Green introduces her and says, "She's from California," as if that explains her strange behavior and even stranger outfit. Perhaps it does. 0:45:59

54. 0:19 – The nurse comes in to wake up Barbara Jean and startles Glenn, who has fallen asleep. He bolts. 0:46:18

55. 0:24 – Continuing with everybody's morning, we go to the Reese house, where Linnea plays a teaching game with her kids while Del makes himself a hard-boiled egg for breakfast. 0:46:42

56. 1:02 – In his hotel room, Tom wakes Opal up with a whack on the shoulder, and the first thing she does is reach for her recorder to continue her verbal diary. Nowadays I suppose she would be a rabid blogger, but in 1975 all she has is her tape recorder. Tom has a reel-to-reel tape machine in his room that is playing his new, solo album. Right now the song is It Don't Worry Me, which will feature heavily in the final scene. 0:47:44

57. 1:12 – In this scene the camera stays on Del, who is in the kitchen, boiling his egg. When the phone rings, he picks it up at the same time as Linnea. He starts to put it down when he hears it's for her, but then listens to the whole conversation. Linnea tells Tom in no uncertain terms that she thinks he's despicable and never to bother her again. After she hangs up, she calls to Del to call the police if Tom ever calls back. 0:48:56

58. 0:28 – Mr. Green and Joan arrive at the hospital to visit Esther. Joan goes over to Glenn, who is still hanging around, and flirts with him. 0:49:24

59. 8:17 – This is Haven's place: a very modern log cabin. Jeff shows up with Opal and Albuquerque, who go their separate ways. Albuquerque is there for the buffet, and immediately fills a plate. She's looking a little road-worn, having been on the run from her husband for twenty-four hours. Wade is there. He's been hired as a waiter. John talks politics with Haven. He's trying to pull together a political rally disguised as a concert and, of course, wants Haven to perform. Pearl sits in on their conversation and this is when we learn that she's a devout Kennedy fan. She gets all choked up when she talks about John. For some reason, Altman asked Elliot Gould to step into this scene and play himself: a hotshot Hollywood actor. Linnea is there. Altman keeps cutting away from Haven and Pearl to Linnea, who is telling somebody the story of a friend of hers who bumped her head and ended up losing a leg or something. It's one of those stories you always hear at parties. Opal is talking to Bud, probably because they already spent some time together. She gets him to open up and admit that, yes, he would like to be a singer like his father. It's a very vulnerable moment for him, and Opal interrupts him to squeal about Elliot Gould being there. She rushes away and flits around Elliot until somebody pulls her off and shoves her away. 0:57:41

60. 3:00 – Here we are at the Grand Ole Opryland Goo-Goo show (Goo-Goo candy sponsors it). It starts with Tommy Brown singing The Bluebird, and we finally find out why Opal thought he was white and why Wade made the comment that he did in the Pickin' Parlor. The Bluebird is pure country with not a hint of soul or blues or gospel. In the audience Jeff sits alone, but content, and Joan sits with Glenn. She just hops from one guy to another. Kenny is there, and alone, but not content. Albuquerque tries to get back stage, but the guard grabs her arm and holds on. 1:00:41

61. 0:31 – Dressed in a robe over bra and panties, Sueleen practices I Never Get Enough at her place while listening to the show at the Opry on the radio. She finishes up with a bump and grind with her hand behind her head. It's innocently provocative. Then she slumps in frustration. Even she doesn't like her act. 1:01:12

62. 6:13 – Haven comes out for his act and has to lower the microphone. Del and John are in the special seats at the back of the stage and John whispers a joke to Del about how short Haven is. John doesn't really have anything nice to say about anybody. Then Haven performs For the Sake of the Children, a poignant song about a man breaking off an affair because he doesn't want to leave his kids. Backstage, Connie White says a few kind words to Albuquerque, but Albuquerque wants her to tell the guard to let her go. She's probably lucky the guard is such a stickler for the rules because her husband is patrolling the audience, looking for her. Haven finishes up his first number, then launches into Keep A Goin', a desperately upbeat number that claims even death can be cheated if you just keep on a goin'. Connie waits in the wings, intently watching for her cue. When a photographer raises his camera, she flashes a practiced smile. 1:07:25

63. 0:11 – In her hospital room, Barbara Jean paints her nails while she and Barnett listen to the Goo-Goo show at the Opry. 1:07:36

64. 0:24 – Haven finishes up and asks the audience to join him in sending warm wishes to Barbara Jean in the hospital. 1:08:00

65. 0:12 – Haven continues over the radio while Barbara Jean listens. Haven tells them she cried real tears about not being able to perform. 1:08:12

66. 0:25 – Back at the Opry, Haven announces that Connie White will stand in for Barbara Jean. Connie comes out on stage, fluffing her dress. Glenn gets up and leaves. 1:08:37

67. 0:04 – Barbara Jean puts down her nail polish and sulks. 1:08:41

68. 3:06 – John makes a joke about Connie's dress. She crouches down at the edge of the stage and signs autographs for some kids, making them feel at home. She sings Memphis, and then One More Time. 1:11:47

69. 3:23 – Barbara Jean wants the radio off. Apparently she and Connie have some kind of rivalry going on. Barnett says he has to listen because he needs to know what she sang when he goes to King of the Road later to hobnob with them. She has a little hissy fit and complains about how she's stuck in the hospital while he gets to go party. He yells at her not to tell him how to run her life, because he's been doing a pretty good job so far. This scene is sweet and sad and Altman totally underplayed the drama to heighten it. Barbara Jean doesn't throw her flowers. She moves them next to Barnett. He doesn't yell at her, but he handles her clumsily. We can see that he loves her, even though he doesn't know how to tell her, and that she thinks he doesn't care. The chemistry between them is more dramatic because it's completely real and understated. 1:15:10

70. 7:22 – At King of the Road, Haven and Connie visit and hobnob. Bill is there, but Mary and Tom are notably absent. Bill complains to Norman that Mary is late, but his subtext is, "I think I'm losing her and I don't know what to do." Julie Christie shows up just like Elliot Gould did at Haven's home, says a few words, and then leaves. Haven drinks milk. Pearl tells John about how much she loved John Fitzgerald and cries. Barnett shows up and tries to give Connie a gift from Barbara Jean. Connie says that's sweet, and thank you, but doesn't take the gift. In fact, once she says her thanks, she pointedly ignores him. The announcer says they have a celebrity in the house and maybe can get a performance. Haven starts to stand up, but it's Connie they want. She sings Rolling Stone, which for some reason, distresses Opal. John tells Haven he wants both Connie and Barbara Jean to perform at the political rally, and Haven has to explain to him that those two don't ever appear on the same stage together. We finally go back to Bill and Norman, who is telling Bill that, no, Mary is most definitely NOT having an affair. 1:22:32

71. 1:07 – Mary is in bed with Tom. And it gets worse. He's asleep and she's murmuring, "I love you, I love you," over and over. Everybody loves Tom, but all he wants is Linnea. 1:23:39

72. 0:29 – Now it's Sunday. Wade and Sueleen belong to a nice church, and so does Pearl. Sueleen sings in the choir. She wears a baby-blue lace scarf that clashes horribly with her hair. 1:24:08

73. 1:04 – Haven belongs to some big, commercial church, and sings in the choir. Del is a member of this church and the kids are part of a small section of the choir that sings in sign language. Del helps them with the words. 1:25:12

74. 0:34 – Linnea sings in the choir at Tommy's church. She's one of the few white people there, but this is her gospel group from studio B. 1:25:46

75. 1:36 – In the hospital chapel, Barbara Jean sings In The Garden for some nurses, a few patients, Mr. Green, and Glenn. Glenn is trying to listen to Barbara Jean. This is the first time he's heard her "perform." But Mr. Green wants to tell him about his and Esther's only son, who they lost in the South Pacific. 1:27:22

76. 2:14 – Opal prays into her recorder in a junkyard among the dead cars. She equates the rust to dried blood. Opal is always looking for a clever phrase. Then she talks about the elephant's burial ground and drops into French. Just as she's winding up to a grand finale, she runs into Kenny and his violin case. She thinks he's a musician and gets all excited. 1:29:36

77. 0:26 – On Sunday afternoon, everybody goes to the Speedway. Haven and Tommy have their own cars. The Asian singer on stage is wearing a black version of the dress the Smokey Mountain Laurels had on. I think Altman fell in love with this dress. It's got exactly the right combination of style and absurdity. Haven and Pearl have a Southern picnic. Haven offers Tommy watermelon and Pearl slaps his hand. Tommy doesn't want watermelon, but he will take a salad. Albuquerque follows the Asian singer in the black dress, but we can't hear her over the roar of the cars. 1:30:02

78. 4:02 – In their hotel room, Bill wakes Mary by yelling at her, "Do you want to talk about last night?" In a comeback that fits his request, she calls him a fucker. They yell at each other and throw things around until John knocks on the door. Bill lets him in and really gets into his Replacement spiel. He says Tom, Bill, and Mary would be a nice rock 'n roll break from the local yokels in the rally. He's got an insult for everybody, doesn't he? Mary says they can't help because they're registered Democrats and says HPW is a little crazy. Bill counters that they are only because her father is. She says that Tom is also a registered Democrat, which stops the conversation cold. 1:34:04

79. 1:20 – Norman comes to ask Tom if he's mad at Bill. Tom tries to score pills off him and then gives him his guitar while he goes to make a phone call (can you guess who he calls?). 1:35:24

80. 0:31 – The HPW van goes down the road talking about how HPW wants to tax the churches. Kenny stops to listen. His own picture is on his violin case. 1:35:55

81. 1:04 – Opal has abandoned the cars for school buses. She talks to her tape recorder about little black children and little white children and their yellow nightmares. As she comes around the end of one bus, she runs into Jeff and his tricycle. He's shaving and shirtless. 1:36:59

82. 2:08 – At the hospital, Del and John talk about some stage. Barbara Jean comes out in a wheelchair with her entourage. She's being released and she's so happy. She's greeting people like the queen that she is (she really is very gracious) and making each one feel special, because it makes her feel special. They need two big rolling racks for all her flowers. She sees Mr. Green and asks about Esther. They discuss vitamin E. Glenn is there, but he gets lost in the shuffle. While Barbara Jean gets on the elevator and Glenn watches with stars in his eyes, a nurse tells Mr. Green that his wife died and she's so sorry. Glenn is in a talkative mood after seeing Barbara Jean and tells Mr. Green that his mother pulled her out of the fire. He doesn't notice that Mr. Green is staring in shock and grief. Then he says, "Give my best to your wife," and hurries off. Mr. Green is left alone – all alone. 1:39:07

83. 0:26 – Somehow Opal and John have ended up together. This is an important little exchange because she explains her theory on assassins to him. It's people like Pearl who create assassins. They stimulate the innocent to pull the trigger. 1:39:33

84. 1:19 – At Mr. Green's place, Kenny calls his mother and tries to talk to her while Joan dances around him in the tiniest pair of see-through panties imaginable and a short tank-top. Nothing is left to the imagination. His mother rags on him and rags on him until he hangs up on her. But, to keep Joan from knowing, he depresses the cut-off button and continues to talk to nothing and nobody. 1:40:52

85. 12:34 – This is a great scene. Barbara Jean finally performs in front of an audience, and she just lights up to be there. Del is trying to talk to Barnett into having Barbara Jean perform at the Parthenon, and Barnett is just trying to make sure she gets onto the stage okay. He's worried about her. He tells Del they're not into politicizing. Opal shows up. She must be done with vehicles. Glenn is there and now we know why he's been following Barbara Jean around. She opens up with Tape Deck in His Tractor, a rollicking good country song about loving a cowboy. All of Ronnee Blakely's songs are truly a cut above the rest in quality and singability. There's a liveliness and a passion in them that's missing in the rest. Then she launches into Dues, a sad song about two people breaking up even though they're still in love. She puts everything into this song, quite literally, because after it's over she can't seem to get going again. She starts off with a story about something she heard on the radio, and then just goes on and on with weird stories about her granny clicking her teeth and calling the chickens until she's babbling. Barnett has to come get her, and then has to placate the crowd, who just want to hear her sing, by promising that she will perform at the Parthenon. Now he's committed to the political rally he didn't want to have anything to do with. 1:53:26

86. 0:41 – Linnea's at home when Tom calls. Even though he has all the dialogue, the camera stays on her while she stares into space and listens to him. Something is taking place inside her, but we don't know what. At the end, she says, "um." 1:54:07

87. 6:13 – Tom has invited Linnea to see him perform at one of the local clubs. Opal is drinking with Bill, Mary, and Norman. LA Joan flirts with Tom before his set. Wade is in the back, drunk on beer. Linnea sneaks in and sits in the back. She is dressed in a PTA-mom outfit that makes her look out of place. Wade sits with her and offers to buy her a beer, then rubs shoulders with her. He wants to make a pass, but he's either too drunk or too innately polite to manage it. Tom gets up and explains how he used to be with a group called Tom, Bill, and Mary, but now he's solo. This is the first they've heard of it. He sings It Don't Worry Me and Wade, sitting next to Linnea, sings along off key. We actually don't get to hear the lyrics because of all the conversations taking place. Tom invites Bill and Mary up to sing a song and Mary pleads for his love with her eyes. Back at the table, Norman offers to show Opal things about the town that will surprise her. She tells him she makes it a point never to gossip with servants. Ouch. 2:0020

88. 1:59 – At John's "smoker," Albuquerque peeks out from behind a red curtain and watches as Sueleen descends from the ceiling with her piano player on a little platform. She's wearing a shade of green that doesn't go with her hair, but the dress is slinky and the room is full of men, so she gets a big round of applause. She's accented her outfit with long, opera gloves, a half-cape, and a ballroom mask: the kind on a stick you hold up to your face. She tells them she's going to start with a song about a girl who never gets enough (I Never Get Enough) and launches into it. The guys hoot and whistle. Sueleen has no idea how inflammatory her "act" is. She also has terrible posture. Altman and Welles obviously had a great time creating this character. We are fortunate not to be subjected to the whole song, but the opening line is, "I never get enough, I never get enough, of the love I'm hungry for." 2:02:19

89. 3:37 – Back with Tom and Linnea (Del is with John, so the kids must have a babysitter), Tom dedicates a song to "a very special person." Opal, Joan, and Mary all smile, blush, and bat their eyes because each of them is sure that she's the special person. Linnea stares ahead with her eyes half-closed. Tom sings I'm Easy, which is a sweet romantic song that's totally at odds with the rude persona he's displayed so far, and suddenly we realize that Tom is a deeply troubled man who is only acting out because he's in pain. He sees Linnea and they hold each other's gaze while he sings. Slowly, Opal, Mary, and Joan all realize he's not looking at them with this longing. Linnea is in anguish, but she can't look away. The camera lingers over a slow zoom to her face as she breaks down inside and realizes what she's going to do. Altman and Tomlin pulled this off beautifully, because her features hardly do anything. It's the most subtle, tragic break-down I've ever seen. 2:05:56

90. 4:49 – This is Sueleen's big moment, but it's not the one she's been expecting. She removes her half-cape because she's hot and the men go crazy. This is what they've been waiting for. She starts to sing again (a Barbara Jean song called One I Love You) and they turn boo and hiss. They thought she was finally going to do her strip-tease, which is surely what they've been told will happen, and she has no idea what's going on. The men start to throw money at her and her singing trails off. She hurries up the steps to Del, who has to cajole her into going down and finishing the act that everybody except her expected. He promises that she can sing with Barbara Jean at the Parthenon, which is almost like what happened to Barnett when he had to promise that Barbara Jean would be there. Albuquerque is stealing food, but takes a moment to watch Sueleen's humiliation. Poor Sueleen goes back to her little stage and starts to take her clothes off. She's crying and scared, but nobody cares. Even her piano player betrays her by playing burlesque stripper music and kicking his foot in the air to punctuate the climax. She tries to be a good girl and spins each item of clothing before tossing it to the crowd. The most poignant moment of this scene is when she takes each white gym sock out of her bra and twirls them before throwing them to a couple of men who are happy with any souvenir at all. It's the perfect combination of humor and tragedy, which was a hallmark of Altman's work. 2:10:45

91. 3:55 – More thwarted expectations. Tom and Linnea share pillow talk after lovemaking and he finally shows his tender side. She has to get back to her family. In his disappointment, he resorts to what has always worked for him before; he calls a girl. He talks on the phone while Linnea gets dressed and retrieves her panties from between the sheets. Apparently Tom and this girl had some kind of fight because she couldn't accompany him to Nashville. He tries to get her to drop everything and come down, but she can't. As soon as Linnea leaves, he cuts the call short rather rudely, and then sits alone in bed. 2:14:40

92. 2:44 – Del brings Sueleen home and then tries to put the moves on her outside her apartment building. Wade, still a little drunk, overhears them and comes to investigate. He is her knight in shining armor, but she doesn't realize or appreciate that. She confesses that she had to do her a strip tease and he tells her she can't sing. He's been meaning to, but never got around to it. She denies it and mocks him. She says they promised her she could sing with Barbara Jean at the Parthenon. 2:17:24

93. 2:01 – Scene starts on a television set and moves out to the Parthenon, where HPW's people are setting up for the big political rally with country singing talent (and Sueleen). The announcer recaps everything we know so far about HPW. He wants to eliminate subsidies for farmers, tax the churches, abolish the electoral college, change the national anthem to something that's easier to sing, and remove lawyers from government ("Have you ever asked a lawyer the time? He told you how to make a watch, didn't he?"). 2:19:25

94. 3:47 – A procession of cars arrives at the Parthenon and we know we are about to see how everything wraps up. We've met everybody and gotten involved in their lives, learned what they like and don't like, and even found out how mean, or petty, or hypocritical, or shallow some of them can be. They are all just like us, in one way or another. And now, just like the rest, John Triplette shows his true colors. He promised Barnett there would be no politicizing and no banners, but there is a huge HAL PHILLIP WALKER banner across the entire back of the stage. Barnett yells about it and John yells back. He gets really nasty about it too and reminds Barnett that if he reneges on the deal, the crowd will get really pissy about not seeing Barbara Jean perform. Barnett has no choice but to give in. 2:23:12

95. 0:24 – At Esther's funeral, Mr. Green suddenly becomes enraged that Martha (LA Joan's real name) isn't there to pay her respects to her aunt. He leaves the small ceremony and Kenny chases after him. When he is unable to persuade Mr. Green to return to the graveside ceremony, Kenny accompanies him on his quest to find Martha. Kenny brings his violin case. 2:23:36

96. 11:19 – Yes, this scene really is eleven minutes long. I could have tried to break it up into smaller segments, but I think it's meant to play as one section. Haven helps Barbara Jean open her set by singing One I Love You as a duet. This is the song that Sueleen tried at the smoker. Sueleen is standing at the back of the stage in a pink dress (the moment she turns into a caryatid, as MM pointed out). It's a very sweet moment and you can see that Haven has a lot of affection for Barbara Jean. As they sing we see that everybody is there. Wade, Opal, and Glenn are in the audience. Albuquerque's husband is looking for her. He hasn't noticed that she's up on stage.

Mr. Green is searching the crowd for his niece with Kenny in tow, trying to calm him down. She is now with Bill, who has probably figured out that Mary is having an affair and decided to get back at her, or just get laid.

Up on stage, Haven and Barbara Jean finish and Haven hands the stage off to her. She performs My Idaho Home, which is a wonderful song. Obviously each song was written and placed within the context of the story for a reason and this one just takes your breath away. It soars and swoops with passion and tenderness and love. It's about all the things that Barbara Jean has left behind and longs to get back to, no matter how much she loves her fans and enjoys the adulation.

Down in the audience Kenny is enraged by her performance. It may be the song itself, or it may be her, but whatever it is, it makes him finally decide to unlock and open his mysterious violin case that he hasn't let out of his sight even since his car blew up.

Barbara Jean finishes up to thunderous applause and Haven brings out an enormous bunch of roses. This is her moment and she's as happy as she ever can be these days.

We cut to a medium long frame that takes in most of the stage, so when the shot rings out and Barbara Jean flies back we see it as somebody in the crowd would, not close up.

Kenny has shot Barbara Jean. He had a gun in his case. Glenn tackles him and wrestles the gun away from him, but it's too late. Haven runs out and cries out, "This isn't Dallas. It's Nashville." Remember right at the beginning when Haven had definite ideas about what does and what does not belong in Nashville? Shooting beloved singers does not belong in Nashville. Haven's toupee has flown back and hangs down his neck. And one of the bullets grazed his arm, but he's more concerned with Barbara Jean.

And he wants somebody to sing, goddamnit. Sing. Albuquerque hesitantly steps forward. Haven shoves the microphone at her and goes to help Barnett, Tom, and Buddy carry Barbara Jean off the stage.

Down in the audience, Mr. Green finds and grabs LA Joan. He berates her for being disrespectful. After tagging along after everybody all weekend with her tape recorder in search of a story, Opal has missed everything and is desperately asking anybody and everybody what's going on.

Albuquerque starts to sing It Don't Worry Me, the song Tom wrote: the one we haven't really heard yet. At first her voice is unsure, wavering, but then she hits her stride and really starts belting it out. She picks up the remains of the bouquet Haven gave Barbara Jean just before she was assassinated and tosses them into the audience. Linnea and her singers back up Albuquerque until Del comes to get her.

Glenn leaves. There's nothing more for him here. The camera pulls back, way back, tilts up to the sky, and then we face to black.


Nashville has 96 scenes that average 1 minute and 37 seconds long. Some of these can be considered intercut scenes, but I assumed a new scene whenever the location changed. It was easier that way. And many times, it is how the story flows.

Altman makes his points by observation. He simply aims the camera, creates the scene, and lets you interpret it for yourself. In this way, he makes his statement gently.

He doesn't introduce people, but drifts into their lives. Even though there had to have been lights, booms, grips, sound men, and the myriad of people who have to wait and observe a shot as it happens, everything looks as if it is just taking place on the spur of the moment. Altman makes a well orchestrated film look like a documentary. The acting is very natural, with no melodramatic histrionics. Sean Penn's performance as the anguished father of the murdered girl in Mystic River is riveting, but it's staged. Linnea's quiet, subtle anguish as she falls a little in love with Tom is understated and real.

There is no three-act structure, per se, but each character's story has its own beginning, middle, and end as it intertwines with the other stories. Because of this, the entire film arcs naturally from start to finish. It is no wonder that every Altman film is a classic.


Mim said...

Oh thank you, MM. I love the pictures you picked out for the post. They punctuate the story perfectly.

This movie has always been one of my favorites. You can watch one scene and learn so much about film-making and story-telling.

Mystery Man said...

Words aren't enough to praise your work here. Just a sensational job all around. I enjoyed sequences like scenes 13-15 in which we're waiting for Barbara Jean, sweep through restaurant, introduce 4 new characters in over a minute and then we're back outside where they are still waiting for Barbara Jean. Reading about sequences like that is really inspirational.

I loved it.


Carl S said...

I've never seen this film but it sounds great. Once again, Mim, fantastic work.

Mim said...

Thanks very much to both of you. It's nice to know that I have a small, but devoted, fan base.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I am so grateful for this careful breakdown. I've seen this film innumerable times, and have learned here things I hadn't seen or realized before. Thanks.

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