“We must be doing something right to last two hundred years”: Nashville, or the American bicentennial as viewed by Robert Altman

Chris Louis Durham


In this paper, I will discuss Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975) in the context of its relationship to bicentennial-era American socio-political culture, contemporary American filmmaking, and other films by Altman. In particular, I will argue that Nashville is typical in its problematic representation of “America,” echoing similarly problematic representations of contemporary America found in a number of films of the period. American society in 1975 anticipated the upcoming bicentennial and presidential election in 1976, but a sense of positive American renewal was complicated by very recent memories of the withdrawal from Vietnam (a matter of weeks before Nashville’s release), Watergate, and the pervasive ideological polarization of the late 1960s onward. Nashville is characterized by both the dystopic narrative structure and the fragmentary visual style common to Altman’s films and numerous “New Hollywood” films of the 1960s and 1970s, and which was symptomatic of a period which for many American filmmakers underlined the inapposite nature of utopian fantasies and the desirability of rejecting the traditionally more ordered, invisible and “objective” style of filmmaking that defined much of the American cinematic past. Nashville’s conscious representation of contemporary America – an America defined in terms of polarized communities, a bankrupt political culture, and the threat of random violence - ensures the film’s resonance as a cultural document, and as such one that merits considered analysis.   


Film Studies; Politics; History

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