WHY make a film about-and full of-country music, if you don’t like it? I ask this not as any devotee of country music myself, well over nine-tenths of what I’ve heard of it striking me as a pile of lachrymose slop. But any film crammed with some 25 country-music original numbers ought, statistically, to hit on one that’s better than pathetic. Even a nonentity like W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (whose principal characters are involved with a country-music band) manages to pull one attractive original tune out of its hat for its finale.
Nor do I ask the question rhetorically. There is a reason to make a movie about country music when you don’t like it (and don’t like the people who create it, and don’t like the people who like it), and that reason is exemplified in Robert Altman’s Nashville. It’s a reason for which even a knowledge of the country-music milieu isn’t required: Altman has himself admitted he wasn’t familiar with the Nashville scene before he decided to do this job on it (his method of remedying his ignorance consisting of dispatching a henchperson, Joan Tewkesbury, to Nashville to write the script, and then casting almost all the singing roles with non-musicians who were allowed to compose their own songs). For it’s not the music that this country-music epic is after; what it’s after is the country that’s microcosmically revealed in America’s (at least, Middle America’s) “music capital.” (“You get your hair cut! You don’t belong in Nashville!” one of Nashville’s leading citizens barks at a young musician early on.) The true locale and subject of this film-which begins with a song declaring, “We must be doing something right/ To last 200 years,” and ends with a crowd singing, “You may say, I ain’t free/It don’t worry me” following an assassination-clearly isn’t Nashville but nothing less than America itself: America as it really is, stripped of myth and idealization, on this eve of its bicentennial celebration.
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