Altman's classic satire

by Teresa Harings | 10/21/98 5:00am

The diehard reporter, the grassroots politician, the runaway wife, the wannabe starlets, the jaded celebrities and the average, middle-class, dysfunctional family. Sound familiar? The 1975 film "Nashville," directed by Robert Altman, is a "mockumentary" that plumbs these 1970s stereotypes to their very shallow depths.

Long camera shots and the lack of main characters give this film a documentary feel, but its feigned seriousness only adds to its humor; it is a satire in the finest sense.

Although "Nashville" starts a little slowly, it begins to move quickly once the threads of its various story lines begin to intertwine.

Brought together for one weekend during a Nashville music festival, the lives of 24 characters, portrayed by Shelly Duvall, Lily Tomlin and Keith Carradine among others, intermingle in a complicated and coincidental series of events.

For example, they all become involved in a multi-car crash, they all attend the same church on Sunday and they all, for various reasons, frequent the local hospital.

Besides the characters' tendency to be in the same places at the same time, the recurring themes in each of their lives are that they are self-obsessed, desperately unhappy and in need of therapy. "Nashville" is proud testimony to the fact that life, discounting fashion, hasn't changed much in 23 years.

Those looking for fame and not finding it are miserable, while those that have it are even more miserable.

The son of a well-known singer enters business to please his father but dreams of his own singing career; a waitress without talent searches for her spot in the Nashville limelight; a famous singer has a nervous breakdown; a young wife runs away from her elderly husband in search of fame; and three women, unbeknownst to themselves, are in love with the same man (Keith Carradine).

Throughout it all we are bombarded with relentless propaganda on the "evils of lawyers" from a third-party presidential candidate. He is never seen but always heard blaring from the speakers on his little white van.

And in an ironic twist, a reporter from the BBC desperately tries to break into the big time with her own documentary. But she, like everyone else in the film, is obsessed with the rich and famous -- the ordinary people don't merit discussion. "What was your name again?" she asks a young man talking to her. "I make it a point not to socialize with the servants."

There are several interesting musical sequences in this film. But don't run out and buy the soundtrack, unless you are a fan of the type of old time folk and country/western that redefines "warbling."

However, the music is proportionate to what one would expect from a music festival, and it adds character. Here and there are slight oases; Keith Carradine sings his Oscar-winning ballad "I'm Easy," which is an apt portrayal of his character in the film.

"Nashville" is showing in Spaulding tonight at 7:30. It is a film dripping in symbolism and sarcasm -- a thesis paper waiting to be written. If you want to have a good laugh while debating the culture of America and reminiscing on the 70s, this film is a definite must.