Wednesday, September 01, 2021


Nashsville (#73 on the BFI's 100 Greatest Films list) is Robert Altman's sprawling story of twenty-four (twenty-four!) characters in Nashville, almost all of them in the music industry. 

It's almost three hours long, and really, it's a mess. 

Trying to identify with that many characters is almost impossible. It's just too much, and often, it feels borderline incoherent. 

However, I don't think I've ever seen a movie where one actor stole every single scene they appear in. 

Even more unlikely, it was Lilly Tomlin. 

Lilly Tomlin, who had only done broad television comedy at that point and had never appeared in a film, was cast in an entirely dramatic role as a gospel singer. 

She's riveting. 

Ever second she's on screen, she totally dominates the scene. And it's not by overplaying her role. It's just the opposite--everything she does is so careful and restrained that it becomes incredibly powerful. 

Then she has a moment that is one of the most unforgettable I've ever seen in a film. 

The movie's musical rogue (Keith Carradine) tries to get her to meet him. She declines several times, sometimes angrily, because she's married. Then he calls and doesn't even give her a chance to talk, just mentions that he's playing in a bar that night and he's really hoping she'll stop by. 

So married, restrained Lilly Tomlin goes to the bar, wearing this western blouse and a kerchief around her neck. 

She sees him, and she's about to approach when she sees that he's with another woman, so she sits at the very back table of the bar, totally miserable. 

Keith Carradine has actually slept with three other women at the bar, all of whom seem to be in love with him. So he gets up on stage and says he's going to sing a song for someone special who he hopes is in the audience, and each of three women think the song is about her. 

Then he starts singing. 

In the context of the film, the song is very, very beautiful, because almost all the singers in the film sing just a little off-key (on purpose), so him singing perfectly becomes incredibly powerful in comparison. 

Lilly Tomlin hears the song, and her face changes in the most incredibly subtle way. She moves her left hand up to the neck of her blouse, and then her fingers move ever-so-slightly inside it, and it's this stunning, yearning moment that gives me chills every time I think of it because it's so beautiful. 

Here's the clip: I'm Easy.

Altman waits for so long to show Tomlin's reaction, instead of focusing the camera on her initially. He focuses on the other three women first, and when you do see her, it's just overwhelming. 

It's unbelievable. 

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