Robert Altman’s Nashville was my favorite movie when I was a college student. I saw it time after time and dragged many friends to it as well. So when my daughter, a film school student, brought it home on the recommendation of one of her teachers, I was curious to see what my reaction at middle age would be.
At the age of 19 I was very much a political animal, and I was also an aspiring dramatist. So, not surprisingly, my favorite politicians were ones that offered dramatic verve and complexity and my favorite playwrights were those who addressed politics and ideas—Shaw, Brecht, and Stoppard. For my part, I was working on a verse tragedy about Alexander Dubcek and a slaptstick comedy about Isabel Peron (this was before I’d ever heard of the asinine Lloyd-Weber hit Evita, I should stress).
In other words, Nashville was made for me. In 1975, when it came out, I’d just lived through a lot of history. A disastrous war pursued by a president who was a truly great man in nearly everything else he’d accomplished had been ended disastrously by another president whose paranoia and megalomania had come dangerously close to destroying American democracy. At Duke University, my friends on the right didn’t seem to understand what had been wrong with the war and with Watergate, while many of my friends on the left seemed to have lost their minds to totalitarian Marxist delusion. Others were simply apathetic. North Carolina had recently sent a right-wing racist demagogue to the Senate. Things did not look good.