Tennesseein’ Is Tennebelievin’

Nashville – I think the only Robert Altman movie I’d previously seen was Popeye. This is pretty different from that, but they’re both kind of slow. It has a lot of characters with their own subplots, which were often difficult for me to keep track of. Sometimes I feel my attention span has deteriorated in recent years, but maybe I’ve always been that way. I think part of it is that there isn’t a whole lot of intersection between stories, yet it’s presented as a whole, not a series of vignettes or anything. I was interested in several of them, but they didn’t go much of anywhere. It didn’t really gel. Maybe that was on purpose, though. From what I’ve heard, Altman tended to go for realism over traditional storytelling. And it’s not like it was not a badly made film. The acting was quite good, and the soundtrack is excellent. Several of the actors wrote and performed their own songs. Ronnie Blakley, who plays singer Barbara Jean, was a musician and songwriter before starting acting, so I guess it wasn’t a huge challenge to write stuff for the film. Actual Nashville session musicians played on the songs, which helped give them even more of an air of authenticity. Mind you, I knew Blakley as Nancy’s alcoholic mother in A Nightmare on Elm Street. The character had survived a fire shortly before the beginning of the story, but as far as I know it wasn’t part of her burning a child murderer to death. It’s weird how, when I don’t have a lot to say about a movie, my reviews often tend toward connecting vastly different roles the same actors played elsewhere. Lily Tomlin, who was on Sesame Street, sang a bit of “Sing,” which originated on the show. When I looked it up, she did the song with the lyrics in Sign Language for two deaf children on a 1976 episode, and that’s exactly what she did in the movie. I wonder which one was filmed first. Someone obviously had fun coming up with character names, as they include Karen Black playing Connie White, Thomas Hal Phillips (whose real-life brother ran for Governor of Mississippi) as the voice of independent presidential candidate Hal Phillip Walker, and Merle Kilgore as club owner Trout. Finally, can you imagine a movie being made now with Jeff Goldblum in it where he didn’t talk?

Well before I’d heard any of the actual performances of the songs in the film, I’d heard Carolyn Mark’s soundtrack tribute album that she did with her musician friends in 2002. According to the blurb on the sleeve, she was kind of bored and irritated by the movie when she first saw it, but ended up watching it a whole bunch of times and ended up liking it in what sounds like sort of a Rocky Horror kind of way, where she embraced the cheesiness and yelled out her favorite lines and such. The album includes renditions of the songs from, among others, Carolyn herself, Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, and Carl Newman of the New Pornographers (the latter being the only one who performed as the opposite sex, doing Karen Black’s “Memphis”). And I guess not really getting the movie on first viewing isn’t that uncommon. That said, I doubt I’d go out of my way to watch it again.

This entry was posted in Albums, Carolyn Mark, Kelly Hogan, Music, Neko Case, New Pornographers, Sesame Street, Television, VoVat Goes to the Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Tennesseein’ Is Tennebelievin’

  1. rocketdave says:

    Wait, a guy named Kilgore played a character named Trout? At first I assumed that that had to be a weird coincidence, but according to the imdb trivia, which I just looked up, it was a deliberate Vonnegut homage.

    I’m not familiar with much of Altman’s oeuvre. Out of the few movies of his that I have seen, Popeye is by far my favorite. I know it’s not for everyone, but even as a kid, I was impressed by the overlapping dialogue and immersive live action cartoon world he created. Some stuff that I enjoyed when I was younger loses its appeal when I revisit it as an adult, but my appreciation for Popeye is just as strong as ever, if not more so.

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