Of all the vintage Altman coverage being reprinted, it’s the New Yorker‘s Pauline Kael "Nashville" review that we love best. Printed months before the film hit theaters and based on a rough cut, it’s both unwise (and earned her plenty of derision) and helplessly euphoric: "Iâ€™ve never before seen a movie I loved in quite this way: I sat there smiling at the screen, in complete happiness. Itâ€™s a pure emotional high, and you donâ€™t come down when the picture is over; you take it with you."
At the Village Voice, what Andrew Sarris and Molly Haskell wrote (or at least dialogued about) on the film:
Andrew: I like the very beginning and I like the very end, but I find a lot in the middle very ordinary. People have been telling me for weeks that the movie is very "novelistic," and I think I know what they mean. It’s all these characters lurking in the background of one shot and then suddenly lurching into the foreground of the next shot. But for me "novelistic" is not just network, but nuance too. Altman has given star billing to 24 performers, but he’s cheating on at least half a dozen of them. Bert Remsen as Star, for example, is one of the Altman regulars, but all he does here is chase half-heartedly after Barbara Harris. Or Jeff Goldblum as the Tricycle Man. He’s more a visual figure of style then a character. And when you think about the link-up to Easy Rider and the Kennedys and the fact Nashville turns out to be part musical and part murder mystery, then a great many figures in the background turn out to be suspects in some impending violence. But I’m not knocking the movie itself, just some of its advance critiques. I hate to go out on a limb after only one viewing, but Nashville strikes me as Altman’s best film, and the most exciting dramatic musical since Blue Angel. And, like you said, it’s the music that puts it over.
Molly: I think that the power and the theme of the film lie in the fact that while some characters are more "major" than others, they are all subordinated to the music itself. It’s like a river, running through the film, running through their life. They contribute to it, are united for a time, lose out, die out, but the music, as the last scene suggests, continues. It diminishes them, as death itself diminishes us, and ennobles them. And it’s the people who live and breathe country music who are finally less ridiculous, less hollow, than the "sophisticates" who condescend to them: Michael Murphy‘s advance man and Geraldine Chaplin as the bleeding heart BBC reporter.
At Esquire, a more recent reprint â€” Scott Raab extracted a "What I’ve Learned" list from Altman in 2004:
Mr. and Mrs. Smith get married, they have problems, they get back together, and they live happily ever after. End of the movie. Two weeks later, he kills her, grinds her body up, feeds it to his girlfriend, who dies of ptomaine poisoning, and her husband is prosecuted and sent to the electric chair for itâ€”but here’s our little story with a happy ending. What is an ending? There’s no such thing. Death is the only ending.