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'Nashville' Intersections

Altman's landmark film about 24 intertwined lives gets lavish DVD release.

August 17, 2000|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Robert Altman's 1975 masterpiece "Nashville" is finally making its DVD debut (Paramount, $30). And this sprawling dark comedy about America is just as sharp and provocative today as it was 25 years ago.

Written by Joan Tewkesbury, "Nashville" follows the intersecting lives of 24 people in the country music capital over a five-day period, culminating at a rally for a third-party presidential candidate. Lily Tomlin, Henry Gibson, Ronee Blakley, Keith Carradine, Karen Black and Ned Beatty are among the stars. Carradine won an Oscar for his song "I'm Easy"; Tomlin and Blakley received supporting actress nominations; and Altman was up for best director.

The Paramount disc includes a restored wide-screen transfer, cast and crew bios and a very funny trailer. Altman, now 75, is featured in a short interview.

Altman discusses how United Artists was originally going to make the movie but balked after reading Tewkesbury's script. Susan Anspach was set to star as the fragile country music star Barbara Jean, but her asking price was too high for the film's small budget. Altman had bought two songs for the movie from Blakley, then a backup singer, and ended up casting her in the role. A young Jeff Goldblum's silent role as a gonzo cyclist was actually based on a grip who had worked on Altman's "Thieves Like Us."

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Director Lasse Hallstrom ("My Life as a Dog"), novelist and screenwriter John Irving and producer Richard Gladstein offer the tasteful and low-key commentary on the digital version of "The Cider House Rules" (Miramax, $33).

The drama based on Irving's bestseller follows the adventures of a young man named Homer (Tobey Maguire) who was raised in an orphanage where he was mentored by the establishment's doctor, Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine). Irving won an Oscar for his adaptation, and Caine picked up his second best supporting actor Academy Award.

The disc includes a typical behind-the-scenes featurette, cast and crew bios, a wide-screen transfer of the film, and several deleted scenes.

In the commentary, the Swedish-born Hallstrom admits that the opening sequence of a train pulling into a station is actually a mistake. The crane shot was supposed to reveal two passengers getting off the train--but the train missed its mark, so viewers don't see the departing passengers until the train leaves.

Irving talks about spending 18 months doing research on orphanages of the '30s and '40s. After Hallstrom came on board the project, he asked Irving to reestablish several scenes from the novel--including Homer's early years at the orphanage--which Irving had excised from the script.

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Unfortunately, there is no separate audio commentary track from director Steven Soderbergh on the digital edition of this spring's big hit, "Erin Brockovich" (Universal, $27), starring Julia Roberts as a legal researcher who helps an attorney (Albert Finney) win a huge lawsuit against a utility company. The DVD features a wide-screen transfer, cast and crew bios, the trailer and a short documentary that includes interviews with the cast as well as the real Brockovich and her boss, attorney Ed Masry.

Soderbergh finally does pop up to offer his two cents in the deleted-scenes section. He says he ended up excising so many scenes because the first cut ran more than three hours and he needed to quicken the pace and get into the story. Soderbergh even cut out a whole subplot in which Brockovich becomes sick and is hospitalized after so much exposure to toxic chemicals; he felt these scenes were too dark for the rest of the film.

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"Titus," Broadway director Julie Taymor's ("The Lion King") outrageous, audacious and darkly funny version of Shakespeare's epic tale of revenge, comes to DVD in a spectacular two-disc set (Fox, $35). Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Alan Cumming and Henry Lennix are among the stars.

Among the goodies offered on the discs are excerpts from a compelling Q&A at Columbia University between students and Taymor, who made her feature debut with "Titus." There's also a wonderful behind-the-scenes documentary that begins at the first rehearsal in Rome and chronicles the three-week rehearsal process, the lengthy film shoot and the scoring sessions with composer Elliot Goldenthal.

There's also a costume gallery, articles from American Cinematographer and a section on the creation of the nightmarish dream sequences. Rounding out the edition are a beautiful wide-screen transfer, the theatrical trailer and three audio commentaries: a fascinating one with Taymor, another with Goldenthal, and the third with Hopkins and Lennix.

The insights of Oscar-winner Hopkins are particularly illuminating. He talks about the fact that he doesn't like to think too much about his characters. Rather, he wants to keep things simple--he shows up and says his lines. His methods led to disagreements with Taymor, who had set ideas on how she wanted him to play Titus.

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Lee Marvin won his only Oscar for his hilarious dual role of a drunken gunfighter and his evil brother in the 1965 Western comedy "Cat Ballou" (Columbia TriStar, $30). The DVD edition of the fluffy spoof, which stars Jane Fonda as a teacher-turned-outlaw, Michael Callan, Dwayne Hickman, Stubby Kaye and Nat "King" Cole, features a crisp wide-screen transfer, the rather tacky trailer and an interview with the director, Elliot Silverstein.

The rather off-the-wall commentary is supplied by Hickman, best known as TV's Dobie Gillis, and Callan. Now both in their mid-60s, these two old friends shoot the breeze about making the film. Callan admits to Hickman that he found Fonda very cute. "She's still cute," he adds. When Callan asks Hickman how much he made for the film, the actor replies, "A bottle of water!"

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