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SPECIAL SCREENING : 'Nashville' Is a Rally of Politics and Music

October 22, 1992|MARK CHALON SMITH | Mark Chalon Smith is a free-lancer who regularly writes about film for The Times Orange County Edition

Robert Altman's "Nashville" opened in 1975, on the eve of America's Bicentennial. Perfect timing for this sarcastic-funny, incisive, rambling epic about our American way of living.

Altman, who stuck it to Hollywood with this year's "The Player," works over the capital of country-Western music (and other things, including politics) in this, one of his most celebrated movies.

Nashville is just a symbol, though, for all the junk that finds its way into our culture, especially our popular culture. Nashville is a microcosm for a clueless and glueless society primed for easy manipulation.

The movie is a 159-minute mess, but a righteous one. Altman, known for his scattershot editing and freewheeling plots, links two dozen characters in a pseudo-documentary style that veers from one to the other like a tipsy reveler at a great party.

All are connected to the music business, directly or tangentially, including the performer-idols, fans, would-be stars, recording bigwigs, politicians and civic leaders. The big finale takes place at a presidential campaign rally in the Parthenon, a tacky, plaster-of-Paris replica made just for the Bicentennial.

Altman and cinematographer Paul Lohman don't let the camera settle on anyone too long, but some roles stand out simply because of their high-relief archness. Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) is the city's top male singer, a power-hungry faker who hangs out with Lady Pearl (Barbara Baxley), the J.F.K.-fixated owner of the Pickin' Parlor nightclub.

Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakely) is the frail queen of the music scene, but her fame is pursued by Connie White (Karen Black), the No. 2 female star. Then there's Tom Frank (Keith Carradine), the self-loving singer in the rock group Tom, Bill and Mary. Frank is good with the ladies and beds several of them. Pulling strings wherever he goes is John Triplette (Michael Murphy), the cynical campaign manager who arranges the rally.

While Altman's spontaneous style has lead to various disasters (his worst movies can be distracted and confoundingly obtuse), it's perfectly pitched for "Nashville."

The film voyeuristically hops around, giving a sense of impermanence and superficiality that underscores the main theme of America as a dizzying state of flux. In "Nashville," you're suppose to feel a little vertigo just trying to make sense and keep up.

What: Robert Altman's "Nashville."

When: Friday, Oct. 23, 7 and 9:30 p.m.

Where: UC Irvine Student Center Crystal Cove Auditorium.

Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (I-405) Freeway to Jamboree Road and head south. Go east on Campus Drive and take Bridge Road into the campus.

Wherewithal: $2 and $4.

Where to call: (714) 856-6379.

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