Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Film shorts: Nashville, Morvern Callar, and In America

A few words about a few films I've recently seen, two starring Samantha Morton: Lynne Ramsay's Morvern Callar (2002) and Jim Sheridan's In America (2002), plus Robert Altman's classic Nashville (1975).


Nashville first: it's a curious and interesting film, one championed by Pauline Kael (her review may be found in For Keeps, among others) upon its 1975 release. Ms. Kael makes several noteworthy points in her writing, among them evocative discussions on the film's pleasant and euphoric unwieldiness—a quality rarely found in contemporary cinema—as well as Altman's depiction of Barbara Jean, the reigning queen of the Grand Ole Opry's firmament. Ronee Blakley's bravura performance of the frail character is characterized by a palpable eclipse of the individual by her creative life, her music and the demands of the audience, in a manifestly organic and complex way. Her defense of Altman's approach of having the actors write and perform their own songs is sound, if the music sometimes threatens to swamp the film (close to an hour is devoted to these representative C&W tunes).

Karen Black as Connie White in Nashville
Karen Black as Connie White in Robert Altman's Nashville

I will take two scenes away with me: the first is Karen Black's Tammy Wynette-esque character's performance in the stead of the bedridden Barbara Jean (read: Loretta Lynn) at the Grand Ole Opry, resplendent in a vintage red backless 1970s dress (political consultant Triplette remarks, "the last time I saw a dress like that, I was headed for the junior prom: the girl fell out of the car halfway to the dance"); and the electric nightclub scene where Keith Carradine performs "I'm Easy," directing it to a conflicted Lily Tomlin, while numerous other women believe, simultaneously, that the handsome singer is speaking to them.


In America is dangerously close to maudlin and yet, largely due to the efforts of Ms. Morton and the Bolger sisters, who stand in for Sheridan's daughters—the director himself is always present (and played by Paddy Considine), yet oddly peripheral—the uplifting movie seldom scrapes bottom. Morvern Callar is a cinematic poem, a movie that's possible to describe but not possible to capture by simply describing the plot (such as it is). MC is a great collaboration between Ramsay, Morton, and an excellent Kathleen McDermott (a non-actor in her first role). Both films are worth seeing.


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