...ALTMAN’S MOVIE NASHVILLE OPENS IN NASHVILLE
AUGUST 1975 AUGUST 8
It was the biggest night in the history of Nashville’s Martin 100 Oaks Theatre. Opened in 1966 at 719 Thompson Lane, it was famous for its use of rocking chairs – though one former manager blamed his early departure from the job on the fact that he couldn’t stand them falling to bits any longer. But that Friday evening, all 741 seats were filled as the citizens of Music City settled down to the gala premiere of Robert Altman’s country music epic Nashville. A sprawling music biz and political satire, the film had opened at two New York theatres in June to largely glowing reviews. Hollywood Reporter raved: “Never before has an American movie had quite the texture, the density of both visuals and of music. It’s the most epochal event since Citizen Kane.” The New York Times agreed: “Robert Altman’s Nashville is the movie sensation that all other American movies this year will be measured against. It’s a film that a lot of other directors will wish they’d had the brilliance to make.” While the movie, which had 24 major roles and 27 songs, was making a media impact, in Tennessee there were rumblings, and suspicions that maybe Altman’s view of country wasn’t favourable to Opryland. Ronee Blakley’s Barbara Jean character was reputed to be based on Loretta Lynn, while Henry Gibson’s portrayal of Haven Hamilton did no favours to luminaries like Roy Acuff and Porter Wagoner. It was noted that Merle Kilgore, the co-writer of Ring Of Fire and best man at Johnny Cash and June Carter’s wedding, was the only country musician of note listed in the main cast. Even so, many Nashville notables arrived at the Martin that hot Friday night keen to see how they’d been portrayed by Hollywood. Outside the theatre 4,000 people assembled alongside the red carpet, as major- ettes the Tennessee Twirlers entertained and mayor-elect Richard Fulton and Sheriff Fate Thomas stood ready to welcome Blakley, Gibson and co-stars Keith Carradine and Dave Peel, though director Altman was absent, working on his next picture. As limos pulled up, Music City’s stars waved at the fans. “Hey there’s Brenda Lee,” someone yelled, as the diminutive star bemusedly descended from one vehicle. The arrival of such as Webb Pierce, Roy Acuff, Ronnie Milsap, Billie Jo Spears, Jeanne Pruett, Del Wood, Jody Miller and Minnie Pearl kept fans cheering, while the Silver Spurs band,
“IT’S THE MOST EPOCHAL EVENT SINCE CITIZEN KANE.” Hollywood Reporter
The old man and Tennessee: Robert Altman (left) presents scenes from Nashville (clockwise from left) actors Lily Tomlin and Keith Carradine; Karen Black; Ronee Blakley (at podium) and Henry Gibson (in Nudie suit); film poster; Carradine and Brenda Lee at the premiere.