Wednesday, February 28, 2007

159. The Long Haul

I done a bad bad thing last night: started Robert Altman's Nashville (1975), but couldn't bring myself to finish it. I tried, I really did. But--as I confessed in my Altman in memoriam last November, "As the '70s circus rolled on, I found myself missing his bulls'-eyes [such as Nashville], instead lingering on the ones that sometimes seemed like feature-length outtakes fiercely proud that no one was watching ... ." I went on to observe, "The Altman I held was one slippery fish, either too big to hold on to or too ugly to handle. I didn't always love his movies, but I did always want to see them," concluding that "after a while, it seemed I didn't need Nashville and company." Ahem. For once I wasn't lying, not even to me.

Of course, I feel bad about leaving Nashville so soon, giving it only thirty minutes or so; but, as my wife announced, "If it's going to go on like this for another two hours, I'm leaving." So maybe a part of me was trying to please a fellow viewer--but no; I cannot keep living an Altman-esque lie: It wasn't my wife, or the hour, or the relative humidity. It was the movie, just too annoying, an exercise in the incidental and the underwhelming, with a blaring condescension toward all those twanging hicks.

And despite the fact that I'm sure I missed plenty, that last crack tells me something more important than any clear, critical response I can muster: I simply waited too long to see it. Back in 1975, when I was a freshman in college, I probably would've loved every moment. I'm the guy who saw Buffalo Bill and the Indians twice, a movie that critiques American history and identity as subtly as a Robert Crumb cartoon explores sexuality. But that's no insult: I still love Crumb, too--but even more so in 1975, I might argue, if only because such loud wet razzberries sprayed over the blinking face of that idiot America were so damn satisfying back then. My literary heroes were Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (Breakfast of Champions) and Hunter S. Thompson (pick yer favorite Fear and/or Loathing); and Harlan Ellison made all kinds of sense simply because he edited SF anthologies with the words "dangerous" and "visions" in their titles; and National Lampoon magazine's and Saturday Night Live's nastiest swipes seemed not only hilarious but perfectly reasonable. I was a card-carrying member, all right--and I admit I still am, sort of; but ... What? Why couldn't I finish Nashville last night?

Somewhere or other (I think it was in a book of sayings about getting older that was given to me when I turned forty--the title, I believe, was When You Consider the Alternative ... , and featured a cemetery on the cover)--someone said, "Life is a continual process of becoming tired." Is it that simple? Again, as my wife, an elementary-school teacher, explained, "I hear this kind of thing all day at work [overlapping talk punctuated by shouts and mutters]; I don't want it in a movie." Oh, the geezerdom of it all! We were both becoming tired--and does that mean, Best Beloveds, that we are simply, properly alive? Is it fitting and just to be annoyed by a Robert Altman movie?

I'm afraid so. But even as I pressed the EJECT button I promised I would one day return to Nashville, if only to see what else Shelley Duvall was going to wear--I searched online (without success) to share an image of her, frighteningly thin (Keith Carradine's character observes, "You stay on that diet, honey, and it's gonna kill you."), with short shorts and gigantic platform shoes, Olive Oyl's body and Astro Boy's feet. And Henry Gibson was great, as always, and I know there's a Really Big Show to look forward to. But last night, Nashville felt like Howard Hawks without a plot, and while Altman's rakish take on the midpoint of that fullt-tilt gonzo decade may be pitch-perfect, I was too, um, alive to handle such a high and strident tone. Maybe some Saturday morning; that time of day on that day of the week has always been bright and alert for me--cartoon time, of course, perhaps the best venue for Nashville's Dixie calliope cavalcade.

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