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Robert Altman’s film Nashville (1975) generated a prodigious amount of press commentary following its release. Early on, critics praised the film, but a disappointing box office led many to assume a split between big-city liberal audiences and small-town conservative audiences. Subsequent press coverage connected this divide to both the film’s politics and its use and portrayal of country music, as political pundits, music critics, country music stars, and general audiences weighed in. This essay situates the reception of the film within a shifting country music industry, which was growing increasingly aligned with the Republican Party and increasingly suspicious of new artists. Altman’s overtly liberal political opinions, and his unusual decision to have the cast, along with music supervisor Richard Baskin—novices to country music—compose the songs, alienated him from the Nashville country music industry. Janet Staiger’s theorization of “talk” provides a compelling framework, as the film served as a flashpoint to argue political truths about the nation post-Watergate and to define country music’s evolving authenticity in a commercializing marketplace.


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