Nashville Robert Altman 1975 USA : script: Jane Tewkesbury: cast: Ned Beatty, Karen Black, Shelly Duvalle , Keith Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin,
Viewed Tyneside Film Theatre 26 7 06 ticket price £6-00
Voices of the Disembodied…
I had forgotten what a terrific assemblage Nashville comprises. A series of interfolded action strips and situations, and vignettes all encapsulated within the idea of documenting American society in the throws of undergoing the transformations that were visible in the 1970’s but are now in the 21st century, virtually complete. So we see in Nashville a society which is being taken over by disembodied entities. A society being colonised by political parties and large corporations and the social interests that they front. A society in which personal values are dying and replaced by amoral greed and materialism disguised as fake sentimentality. . A society in which people no longer represented by themselves but images of themselves. A society in which the people no longer exist.
Giles Deleuze notes, “ ….that if there were a modern political cinema, it would be on this basis…the people are missing.” Epic American cinema in the tradition of Ford Capra or Vidor testifies to the existence of a people, in hardships as well as in ways of recovering and rediscovering themselves. In Nashville, the home of the C and W music a form which had its roots in the folk traditions of the Appalachian country regions, whose initial articulation and expression stemmed from these roots, the people as a dynamic are constrained and marginalised into a passive fulfillment of desire by the mechanisms of power. Deleuze continues, “…if the people are missing, there is no longer consciousness evolution or revolution, it is the scheme of reversal which in itself becomes impossible.” Nashville is an epic film exposing the social mechanisms that have lead to the disappearance of the people and the appearance of the consumer. . A society in which people no longer represent themselves but are represented by images of themselves.
At the heart of the film, from the beginning of the first sequence proper at the airport, (There is an opening title sequence during which the BBC reporter in Nashville visits the recording studio where Karen Black and Ned Beatty are both cutting records) we hear the voice of a disembodied political message from the truck mounted loud speaker calling on the people to vote for the Replacement Party. The truck mounted loudspeaker with its political message is a constant presence folded into each segment of the film as a subliminal message, bland yet insistent calling on the people who are always absent in this voided city, to vote for change by going back to a past, a mythic past that is the invention of the advertising industry and public relations industry. Although of course the Replacement Party message, subliminally inserted into the body of the film eventually leads us to Altman’s kitsch denoument of assassination, its real function seems to be to say that underlying all aspects of life in the USA today is a disembodied mechanical political imperative: the reality of who owns America and the interests of greed and accumulation that they represent. With this disembodied and remote reiterated political message continually issuing from the sound system, it is difficult to hear and understand what is being said. There seems to be a meta message that is actually in play that says simply that things are and will be OK. The political voices, the corporate voices use words in a particular way. They are common words yet like ivy they twist themselves round commonplace ideas and notions and strangle the life out of them through a process of steady banal misrepresentation of meaning. The political voice pervades Nashville but no one heeds it. Increasingly no one is there.
In Nashville, Altman documents his cast as they parade through various locations: airport, car crash, hospital, diners, clubs, home, church, hotels, bed, performance, political rally. Often these situations comprise sequences that are captured in one long choreographed shot. As Altman moves the players through these situations it is clear that some people belong to the past and that some belong or are conditioned for the future. The casualties the old man whose wife is dying, Sue Ellen the Madonna like Country star have decency and a direct truthfulness of being that condemns them to be victims of the processes of the times. For the rest some survive with the necessary accommodations but it is the representatives of the disembodied who materially thrive, those whose future it is to be ciphers of the image, whether their own or of a large corporate body.
The final act of Nashville is pure comedy. As Sue Ellen is led away bleeding to death, the massed black choirs assembled for the rally sing the final song of the film.
“You tell me I ain’t free: I don’t care, I don’t care…”
This refrain is sung over and over again until the words becoem totally meaningless in their repetition. This is the final political message delivered by Altman, the blacks fronted by a trashy white wananbee sing out the message the real message of the black revolution, that they are disappearing - along with everyone else in the USA, and that they don’t care.
Adrin Neatrour 11 Au8 06
Giles Deleauze - Cinema 2 pp216 University of Minnesota Press