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Nashville [Masters of Cinema] [UK] Blu-ray Review

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The Film

[Rating:5/5]

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Long before the sprawling interconnected stories of more recent masterworks like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights and Magnolia, or Paul Haggis’ Crash, Robert Altman gave us this epic story centered on the lives of about twenty different people circling the music business in Nashville, Tennessee.

Altman’s Nashville (1976), from a screenplay by Joan Tewkesbury, is a genre defying epic that is both comedic, dramatic, and harshly critical in its summation of the fascination with fame and the corruption of political leaders in this post-Watergate era world (there’s a van for the never seen presidential candidate from the “Replacement Party”, Hal Phillip Walker, that periodically rails against the political machine).

Within the circle of characters there’s Albuquerque (Barbara Harris) a woman who runs away from her husband and dreams of becoming a country music star, Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) a veteran country music icon who has political ambitions, Tom (Keith Carradine) a womanizing folk singer who seduces the married gospel singer Linnea Reese (Lily Tomlin), and a pretentious BBC reporter, BBC reporter Opal (Geraldine Chaplin), who chases every star she can find to get a hot story. Altman peppers his interconnected story lines with numerous stars playing themselves, amongst them Elliot Gould and Julie Christie, only to emphasize the amount of starfu**ing desperately taking place. And to drive the point home, there’s the character Sueleen Gay (Gwen Welles), a waitress desperate to strike it big in the country music business, but her lack of talent leaves her in a humiliating live performance, and compromising herself to get ahead.

Like many of Altman’s films, Nashville has an easygoing, almost improvised feel to it that makes you relate to the characters and their plight or folly even more. Even when he is cutting with wit or obvious satire, Altman never forgets the humanism behind the the story, as much as he likes to push buttons, tackling everything from racial stereotypes, gender bias, and shallow excess. Take the scene with black country singer Tommy Brown (Timothy Brown) offered a slice of watermelon by Haven Hamilton as just one example of both a hilarious and deadly serious commentary on the socio-political state of America and the deep south in Altman’s Nashville. Or the ever-present “tricycle man” (Jeff Goldblum) who never utters a word, but is somehow in the mix of all the goings on, like some easy riding wanderer adrift in a sea of madness, a jester, a clown, a nobody or an everyman. Just one of the puzzling yet intriguing aspects of the ever-moving web that is Altman’s dramatic satire of the American dream.

Video Quality

[Rating:3.5/5]

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The AVC/MPEG-4 1080p encodement of Nashville offered by the Masters of Cinema series looks good, but not great. The picture is just a little bit gritty and dull, and the grain structure certainly tilts towards noise. That said, we do see a lot of detail, especially in close-ups and colors are reasonably natural in that ’70s sort of filmmaking vein. There are some issues with black crush, however and a bit of a lack of detail in the shadows, where things get just a little murky.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4/5]

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The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) perhaps echoes the original 4-track stereo soundtrack, but this multichannel remix certainly does not use the extra two channels to their fullest. The stereo imaging across the front, however, is superb – extremely wide – and we do get some subtle, yet noticeable ambience in the surround channels. Low end is slight at best, but not really necessary for this mostly dialogue-driven soundtrack. The said dialogue is, however, clear, if just ever so thin.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:4/5]

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  • Commentary – Audio commentary featuring late director Robert Altman recorded in 2000.
  • Robert Altman (2000) (1.33:1; SD; 00:12:25)
  • Robert Altman (2001) (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:10:15)
  • Joan Tewkesbury (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:24:28)
  • Michael Murphy (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:13:17)
  • Theatrical Trailer (1./85:1; 1080p/24; 00:02:12)
  • 28-page full-color booklet containing a new essay about the film by critic and scholar Adrian Martin in which he discusses the transiency of Altman’s settings, and rare archival imagery

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:4/5]

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The late Robert Altman’s interconnected dramatic satire of a country adrift in a an endless search for fame, riches, and beset by political corruption laid the groundwork for such intricate, multilayered films like Magnolia and Boogie Nights. And while it did not reach the box office heights it was expected to, such as its predecessor MASH, it did manage to garner Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress for Lily Tomlin. Now, thanks to Eureka! and their Masters of Cinema series, we can take it all in in a reasonable high definition effort with a fine lossless surround soundtrack on Blu-ray.

Additional Screen Captures

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