Nashville works on so many levels. It's a comedy; a musical; a showbiz satire; a political exposé; a state-of-the-nation address; an allegory; a soap opera. Multiple viewings shift its thematic emphasis, betraying the film's amorphous nature. It can be as specific or as general as the audience wants it to be. To some viewers, it will be the man singing a song to the married woman he loves in a bar full of phonies. To others, it will get to the heart of America. What truly elevates Nashville is the way it blends the personal trajectories with the political. All the small dramas and affairs happen in the shadow of the forthcoming presidential primary and, specifically, the candidacy of unseen populist Hal Phillip Walker. Walker is the centre of the story; he's the storm waiting to wake them all up. His campaign is ubiquitous throughout the picture, with vans driving around town projecting his propaganda.
Indeed, while we never actually see Walker first-hand, his unmistakable voice drifts in and out of Altman's famously democratic sound design, underscoring unrelated dialogue with a sense of foreboding. He's the undoubted pull of the film, drawing all the characters together, reluctantly or unknowingly, to the event that will inevitably come to define them. With its astonishing display of directorial control and rich thematic textures, Nashville is an undisputed masterpiece. Add to that the biting comedy and knockout musical sequences and it's certainly tempting to make the claim for Altman's all-star gem being the best American film of the 1970s.
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