Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bob's Review of "A Crowded Room"

(This review comes to us from good friend and writer, Bob Thielke. The photo above is another shot of the Athens hospital. -MM)

Okay, here are my thoughts on this story. I felt there were three specific stories in this script:

1) a 40-page story to show that Billy Milligan (or one of his personalities) is a serial rapist and gets sentenced to a mental hospital;

2) a story showing how his condition progressed from an abusive childhood;

3) a trial and his subsequent hospitalization into a maximum security facility.

These three stories essentially served as the three acts. However, I thought this was problematic because I never felt that the three separate stories fed off each other properly. I was interested in the first act. Hmm, was Billy really ill or was he faking it? Was he going to gain his freedom?

Then, to me, the second act took me out of the first story completely. I guess I wasn’t concerned about HOW he became mentally ill, but I wanted to see if justice would be served. This story about how Billy got to the point where he raped the three women went to page 124 or so. We finally get to the story you were telling in the first act, in which he was now going to have to go on trial.

Now, if you told the story in terms of Act I- he is committed to the hospital. Act II- Use flashback interspersed with current time to reveal the different personalities and how each one contributes to his crimes. For example, when it’s time to reveal why Billy forced the women to disrobe, reveal the anarchist Kevin. When he raped them show them that it was the sensitive Aldana that was only looking for love. This way, you show twists and turns in the story, showing us which personality was responsible for each twist and turn. Then at the end of Act II, Billy makes the decision that he wants to stand trial for his sanity and pressures Gary or whomever to force the issue on that. This makes Billy a proactive person as well. Then Act III can consist of the trial.

Character- You give us little reason to like Billy at page 40, then you spend 80 pages telling us why we should give the poor guy a break. However, these multiple personalities also cause a problem because only the bad ones are proactive in any way. Arthur and Ragen talk many times about banishing Kevin, but never do it. Billy is completely subrogated to oblivion. And then when he finally comes back at the end, he’s completely passive because he relies on the whims of the doctors and the prosecutors to decide his fate. My understanding is that you want us to have sympathy for Billy and his plight. Then you must show the dominant personalities taking hold in Billy, show how Arthur forced the destructive personalities to go away, show Billy re-emerging and taking control of his own sanity. I like how you used the “Spot” to delineate personalities and to show internal discussion amongst the various sides of Billy. Another issue at play here is defining who or what the antagonistic force is in this script. In the first 40 pages, Billy is the antagonist(or Kevin I guess). Chalmer is an antagonist, but it’s always like we see him through a filter, and in the third act the prosecuters are the antagonist. I’d like to see a more consistent antagonism and I think the most logical choice is to make this a battle between Billy’s good personalities and his bad personalities. He fights from the depths to over come Kevin, and then has the courage to ask Arthur and Ragen to leave, because he’s now strong enough to stand on his own. Then use the trial to seek vindication for his efforts. Have him show some compassion and reconciliation with his victims.

Dialogue- I noticed nothing out of line with the dialogue, although I occasionally felt that things said in the “spot” were said for my benefit and not necessarily organic to the situation at hand.

Structure- I think the three separate stories that essentially serve as the acts do not help this script. I’d personally like to see more continuity. I think his arrest and commitment to Athens should happen fairly quickly together, so that his being committed is the end of act I, then Act II can be his battle to become whole again, then Act III is where Billy redeems himself through the trial. Also I noted a couple places where the scenes went on a long time 5 or 6 minutes.

Thanks for letting me participate in this little exercise.

Notes below as I was reading:

Scene 1- Adequate to create curiosity, the voice over transition to scene 2 is effective.

Scene 2- as Donna is describing her capture, how did he handcuff her to the car? And how was she able to “study” her book if her hands were cuffed? Minor details, but most car doors wouldn’t be amenable to attaching a handcuff. I’m torn on Billy’s statement that the brotherhood will get her if she calls the police. On one hand it seems expositional, on the other hand, if he’s delusional maybe it’s okay.

Scene 2 is six pages long in courier 10 point font. That ‘s 7 ½ pages in 12 point. My concern is that we have this long scene that establishes the fact that 3 women have been raped, and they know his name is William Mulligan. I still don’t know much else after essentially 8 or 9 minutes of the film. I thought the cutting back and forth of victims was well done, but I’m wondering how critical it is to reveal all three victims right now?

Scene 3- Would a policeman really use him as a human shield, not standard police procedures. Also with this scene, the police never confirm that there’s no one else in the apartment. I think that has to happen in this scene to establish the fact that either he’s crazy or his accomplices/friends got away.

Scene 4- Unless he has some kind of supernatural power, I’m finding it difficult to believe that he has the strength to tear a toilet off it’s anchor and heave it at the guards. I do like the reveal about how angry he gets when his art is messed with.

Pg 17- I’m wondering if it is worthwhile to reveal his split personalities so early in the story. I’m at page 17 and now I feel confident that Billy could have done this. Unless there is a big reveal or reversal later on I feel like this is going to be predictable. Also at page 17, I’m not real confident about what the inciting event for this story is.

Pg 23 – Gary’s question about where Billy learned to dislocate his shoulder is a big hint that we’re going to find abuse in Billy’s past?

Pg 27- of course there’s kids in there, Judy. They just told you about the little boy a minute ago.

Pg 29- Once again, unless there is some supernatural things going on, how can a brain that’s never been exposed to serbo-croatian or Swahili become fluent at those languages? I remember that story John Travolta was in which he had that tumor that allowed him to instantly retain anything he was exposed to, but he didn’t know it before he read it or heard it, correct.

Pg 31- It’s dramatically convenient that his parole statute of limitations runs out today! Why should it matter, the key is whether he goes to the hospital or not. This time constraint seems contrived.

Pg 33. I’m sorry, but the zucchini logic just couldn’t work in a court. Of course it’s a gun. A more viable argument would be to argue that they are non-working models.
Pg 35- Would they let him in a day room. I mean he has shown tremendous and unexpected violent urges.

Pg 52- Thinking of the busboy is an unfilmable unless you flash to him quickly.

Pg 72- How does the viewer know Allen has occupied billy if he doesn’t do anything allen-like.

Pg 92- This is the 3rd or 4th time Arthur says they have to reorder yet they do nothing about it.

Pg 96- I’m curious what this England sequence is for.

Pg. 98- You’d have to be careful to identify what age billy is in each scene because you switch freely from the nine year old to the 20 something Billy.

Pg 105- How will the viewer know which personality is in charge? Only the reader knows this.

Pg 131- A long speech from Billy.

Pg 138- hot water would not make his flesh boil away. Skin blistering? Maybe.

Back to James Cameron's A Crowded Room.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Miriam's Review of "A Crowded Room"

(As we continue our discussion this week of James Cameron's A Crowded Room, this review comes to us from Miriam Paschal. By the way, today is her birthday! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MIRIAM!)

Sybil was the original story of MPD and the drama and interest in that made-for-TV movie lay in the discovery of the disorder itself, as well as its cause. Because it was done so well in Sybil, relying on revealing the disease is no longer enough to sustain a sense of drama, and that is what I feel is the weakness of this story. In Identity the drama is generated by setting up the mind and imagination of the MPD as a hotel where the guests are stranded by the rainstorm. The reveal that all of this has been taking place within the mind of the MPD is done near the end of the second act. In A Crowded Room, I think too much time is spent detailing how Billy becomes an MPD and then how the doctors discover it. The story of how the system let him down gets put on the back burner because of it, yet that is where the real drama lies.

I looked up Lima Hospital (pictured above, now a prison) and found the book about Billy Milligan, so I know this is based on real events. However, some of these events play as too melodramatic to be believable by a modern audience. The guards at the jail, the cops who arrest him, and the doctors who treat him at Lima are too evil and too abusive to be seen as real people. My suggestion is to tone it down for the modern audience. The people will seem more evil and the events more frightening if they are subtly presented. As it is now, they seem to come at the audience like a sledgehammer. Perhaps they really did try to exorcise Billy in Lima, but it comes across as unbelievable.

I read "Sybil" the book after I saw the made-for-TV movie. I also read a book called, "When Rabbit Howls," which was written by "The Troops For Trudy Chase." Trudy Chase no longer exists. During therapy her various personalities (over 50 of them) decided not to integrate, but rather to live in harmony. Through therapy, all of them are awake and aware at all times and work together to present a united front to the world. They make committee decisions about how to use the body in which they exist. I've also read a few medical papers I found online. Most experts agree that MPD occurs when the child is exposed to what can only be described as torture during its very early years, usually before age five. The fact that Billy's mind was more fully formed before the period of torture in his life (eight years old instead of the usual six months to three years), makes his MPD break seem less realistic. Until his mother met Chalmer Milligan, Billy had a more "normal" dysfunctional life, not the kind of life that would create an MPD.

But too much time was spent detailing how he became an MPD, and too much was spent detailing how it affected his life after that. The long section that takes up much of the second act should be compressed into short flashbacks. The bulk of the story should focus on the struggle to place Billy in a facility that will treat him rather than re-expose him to more torture (albeit of a different type).

Billy should be both the main character and protagonist, but he emerges as neither. The story starts with the three victims in a rather clever intercut interview and doesn't get to Billy until he is arrested. You should start with Billy and focus on him. Or, if you want an active protagonist, start with Gary Schweickart and make it his story as he discovers the truth about Billy's secret life and battles to see justice done.

I like the imagery of the spotlight that recalls a happier time in his life, but I think you could make more of that if you use it less frequently. As it is, you use it the same way each time. If you use it less often, and expand on it as a symbol by using it differently (very vague, I know, but it's just a feeling), I think it will have more impact.

In Terminator the dramatic impact was the reveal that one of the men chasing Sarah Connor was a machine. But the drama kept building as details were revealed at key points. He's a machine. He's from the future. In the future machines will destroy humans. Your son sent me. I'm in love with you. And finally we discover, almost along with Sarah, that the son sent his own father, knowing that in order to exist he had to sacrifice this man who would give him life. It's this whole Oedipal thing wrapped up in a time travel twist.

In Titanic the dramatic impact was how Jack saved Rose at the cost of his own life. At the beginning nobody loved life more than him, and nobody hated it more than her. By the end he realizes that in order for her to live her life to the fullest, his must end.

So now you must find the dramatic impact of this story. Will it be a tense courtroom fight between rivals as Gary goes toe to toe with Banks? If so, you'll have to set up a history between the two men. Or will it be the human drama of Gary and Judy discovering the life of Billy Milligan and trying to save him? Whatever it is, most of it must take place within the present of Billy's arrest and trial, not in his past, and most of it must focus on what he is now, not how he got that way.

Chalmer's role could be expanded in the present. I didn't make any notes, but I found his speech to the reporters too easy. Break his presence up into shorter moments, and let his evil nature seep slowly into the story as the conversations with Billy slowly reveal what he did. But always keep him and his history with Billy in the background. The larger story is the current fight for justice.

I hope these notes have been helpful. Your work is among some of my favorite. But I'd trade Jack's impassioned speech to Rose for Virgil smacking Lindsey and yelling, "Come on, you bitch. You've never backed down from a fight in your life." It's those short pieces of dialogue that have more dramatic impact.

Thanks for the opportunity.


Back to James Cameron's A Crowded Room.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

MM’s Review of “A Crowded Room”

As always, let us start with praise.

Did you guys notice how Mr. Cameron connected the opening and closing shots in his script? As I’m sure all of you know, the opening shot of a movie sets up what that movie is about as well as the expectation of what is to come, and in good movies, the first shot and the last are usually connected in some way. Here, we open with an animated “Rotoscope” sequence involving art, which is quite significant in Billy’s life. The sequence highlights very specific images relevant to Billy’s story – the small girl clutching the rag doll (who we will later learn is Christene, one of Billy’s many “selves”); the rag doll later hangs by a noose, symbolizing the death of an innocent childhood; behind her, a male figure with a black moustache cradles her (who we will later learn is Ragen, “The Protector,” another one of Billy’s 23 personalities); there’s the farmhouse, the leafless trees with spiky tentacles, and of course, Billy’s “heart of darkness,” the corn crib. This sequence sets up a lot of what is to come, the almost fragmented, trippy, episodic events of his life that would shape his adulthood.

And then we get a contrast in the animated sequence at the end with Billy in the Lima State Hospital painting on the white walls of his room “a lush, green landscape.” Then we see Billy IN the animation -- “just Billy, enveloped in this peaceful, green Eden -- painting himself out of Hell and into a world of escape.” First, we're given his nightmares and repression and in the end, his desire to escape.

Billy’s a fascinating individual to say the least, and I completely understand why anyone would want to explore his life for a story. When I first read this script a couple of years ago, I remember thinking, “My goodness, that’s an awfully long flashback of Billy’s childhood.” This time around, it occurred to me that this was, in fact, intended to be a flashback structure, a la the Titanic. In this case, we open with the Act II climax, flashback to see all the events that lead up to that climax (thereby coming full circle back to where we started), and then move into the Act III resolution. While this type of structure worked very well for the Titanic and perhaps others like Double Indemnity and Amadeus, I do question its use here.

We are shown in the opening scenes our protagonist raping those poor, innocent girls. The rest of the script is spent giving Billy’s defense, showing us his troubled childhood and young adulthood and all of the major events that led up to those horrible moments. It was all masterfully written, but emotionally, the piece felt oddly cold to me. I felt cold toward Billy from the very beginning because of those rapes. I was slow to warm up to him or sympathize even when I was sitting through his terrible childhood. When Billy was in that jail cell and he ripped the toilet out of the wall and hurled it at the guards, I felt more like an impartial observer than I did an emotionally invested movie-goer. Even toward the end, I kept myself emotionally distanced from Billy because of those rapes.

Am I a cold-hearted bastard or is this perhaps a flaw in the structure?

It’s a very tall order to show your protagonist raping innocent girls in the beginning and then ask the audience to sympathize by showing his life’s story. I think most audiences could be sympathetic toward a troubled character if he was only robbing people or even if he murdered bad people, but will they feel that way after seeing him rape innocent girls? I don’t know. It could be said, too, that to explore how you feel about this character and his problems and what he did is the whole point of the movie. You could also argue that we’re experiencing his story as everyone else experienced Billy Milligan in the ‘70s. True, but I still can’t help but wonder if there might be a better approach.

Would it not be better to tell this kind of story very simply in chronological order beginning with his childhood? We might feel more involved by experiencing his childhood first as if it was taking place NOW as opposed to seeing events that took place IN THE PAST through flashback. And at least Billy would earn some sympathy before we see him raping girls. And we would have a better understanding why that was happening, too. Would it not also be better, when we actually get to the Act II climax, to have the audience saying to themselves, “Don’t do it, Billy. Don’t do it,” as opposed to the shock of seeing him do it in the very beginning without any regret or remorse? To be more straightforward in the narrative might make the tone of those rapes different, perhaps giving it an air of tragedy, as if to say that this is the lowest low in his life, this is the breaking point, this is the inevitable result of his troubled childhood and severe mental illness.

Okay, the ending. I think Mr. Cameron did as well as he could (perhaps even above and beyond) with the material he had. However, I think Billy’s story makes for a problematic narrative because of the rapes and an even more problematic ending because he never fully recovered. We never saw Billy become whole as one individual. With Sybil, at least we were given that emotional scene in the park where she met and embraced for the first time her other selves. You knew her road to recovery would still be long and difficult but you felt emotionally satisfied that she would recover fully. And, indeed, she did. You don’t really get that with Billy in this story. Here, there was TALK about Billy having met his other selves, about his marked improvement, which we never really saw. I never felt he became whole enough that, if I met him on the street, I could trust him. Indeed, in the closing animation sequence, we’re given a picture of him STILL TRYING TO ESCAPE, not a scene that made us feel, as we did with Sybil, that he would eventually become whole.

There was also talk about him starting a Foundation Against Child Abuse, which we never saw, nor did we get the impression he truly cared about helping others. In a story like this, you typically read about how this kind of person devoted his life to helping others (usually motivated by guilt over his past), but you don’t get that with Billy. Now, he owns a small movie company, Stormy Life Productions. In the script, he never apologized nor tried to compensate the poor girls he violated so horribly. And let me be clear. I don't think these are flaws in Cameron's ability to tell a story, but they may be legitimate cracks in BILLY'S STORY that fatally wounds a big screen adaptation.

Billy’s criminal behavior after this story, even as recent as 1996, almost ruins the chance to have a feature film made. It was reported in the Associated Press that Billy was found incompetent to manage his own affairs and that Billy's OWN court-appointed attorney, Gretchen von Helms, said he “allegedly referred to strapping explosives to his chest to get attention” and “talked about banging on a judge's door and robbing a bank.” That's scary, is it not? Why should audiences care if he’s behaving this way 20 years after this story took place?

Billy Milligan is a genuinely fascinating individual, no question about it. I do feel for him. I think this would make for an interesting HBO documentary or even a docu-drama on TV, but a feature film on the big screen distributed around the world? I’d have to pass, I’m so sorry to say. His story’s not over yet. He still needs to recover. And I also think he might find happiness in his life if he just gave away to those who have also been abused the kind of love that he never received.

Back to James Cameron's A Crowded Room.

Monday, November 27, 2006

James Cameron’s “A Crowded Room”

For a couple of weeks, we did something radically different. Screenwriter friends and I spent some time analyzing James Cameron’s A Crowded Room. (The link takes you to the script.)

Based upon the Daniel Keyes book, The Minds of Billy Milligan, this is the true story of
Billy Milligan, a man with a Multiple Personality Disorder. Summed up beautifully by Wikipedia, Billy “was the subject of a highly publicised court case in the state of Ohio in the late 1970s. After having committed several felonies including armed robbery, he was arrested for a series of rapes on the Ohio State University campus. In the course of preparing his defense, public defenders determined that Milligan had multiple personality disorder. Examination by psychiatrists suggested that two of Milligan's 24 personalities or "selves" had committed the crimes without the others becoming aware of it. Milligan pleaded an insanity defense, the first multiple to do so. He was sent to a series of state-run mental hospitals, such as the Athens Lunatic Asylum, where, by his report, he received very little help. While he was in these hospitals, Milligan displayed 23 selves.

The photo above is actually taken from the Athens Lunatic Asylum, now abandoned (and considered haunted). I’ll include more pictures of it with other reviews.

You can read Billy’s widely publicized statement
here in which he claims, “I've trained actors to play this role; Johnny Depp, Christian Slater, John Cusack, and Leonardo diCaprio, to enact MP as it really is and not as it is popularly seen.

You can also see a Japanese video of and about Billy Milligan

Listed below are the links to the reviews. Miriam, Bob, Nena, Pat, and Christina - thank you for your time and thoughts. Every review was constructive, insightful, and thoroughly edifying.



MM's Review

Miriam Paschal's Review

Bob Thielke's Review

Nena Eskridge's Review

Pat's Review

Christina Ferguson's Review

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Queen

"The PROTAGONIST must be empathetic; he may or may not be sympathetic."
- Robert McKee

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, which was played brilliantly by Helen Mirren and written masterfully by Peter Morgan, possesses neither of those qualities. She is neither like us nor likeable. She will command your respect but not necessarily your heart.

And yet, The Queen will go on to win awards on top of awards, because it is a story so very well told. She was both right and wrong, loving and callous, stuffy and witty, stubborn and compromising, perceptive and out of touch, and you cannot help but be fascinated by her.

Those who are NOTHING like us living in a world we've never known can be so very interesting to us, can they not, BECAUSE they are not like us? Is it so terribly wrong to have a protag who isn't empathetic or sympathetic but instead possesses great character depth?


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Create TWO Characters this Weekend!

Okay, guys, I'd like to know two things:
  1. How did they meet and fall in love?
  2. Why are they embracing each other?

The Fountain

After having read everything about The Fountain, after having seen it and digested it for myself, I gotta say that Jim Emerson’s closing comments in his review sums up my feelings perfectly:

“Yes, The Fountain overreaches on every level, and that's exactly what I like about it. Big subject, big canvas, big ambitions. A young director's ungainly and overwrought folly? By all means, in the sense that
Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia or Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho or Martin Scorsese's New York, New York or Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 are follies.

They're all bold attempts -- some more successful than others -- by passionate young filmmakers in their late 20s to mid-30s to sum up their own sensibilities and experience, to cram just about everything they know and feel, about life and about movies, on the screen at once.

That doesn't make for smooth, comfortable viewing, but I'd much rather watch somebody shoot for the moon when the stakes are sky-high than sit back while they play it safe.”

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


(I’m putting off the review of Kubrick’s Napoleon until later.)

In reading a few articles about the recent passing of Robert Altman, I just have to say that this man was not simply a “maverick.” Altman was arguably one of the most pivotal, influential directors of American cinema in the 1970’s, which was arguably one of the most pivotal, influential decades in the history of American cinema.

I wish I had the time this week to dissect and analyze all the themes of his movies. For that, I would refer you to Robert Cumbow’s sensational article,
Altman and Coppola in the Seventies. My favorite quote:

“There is a peculiarly Joycean sensibility in much of Altman’s work. Nashville’s satirical optimism, from ‘We must be doin’ somethin’ right’ and ‘Yes, I do’ to ‘It Don’t Worry Me,’ is an ironic but joyous refrain like Molly Bloom’s ‘yes i will yes.’ Nashville is, in fact, remarkably reminiscent of Ulysses: Witness the long, episodic design; the mixture of the satirical with the nightmarishly painful; the layering of mythic archetypes over the comings and goings of small characters through a real city over a well-defined period of time; the revelry in the possibilities of cinematic style (like Joyce’s festival of literary parody and typographical experimentation); and the celebration of human frailty over the strictures of society. If Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus evokes Daedalus the designer of the labyrinth, Brewster McCloud evokes Daedalus the builder of wings. But Brewster fails as Daedalus, and is destroyed like Icarus because he reached too high. A quieter variation on the same idea is the visual metamorphosis of Sueleen Gaye into a caryatid on the stage of Nashville’s Parthenon.”

At some point soon, we will be getting one of
Miriam’s breakdowns on Nashville.

However, I’d like to make a couple of comments about Altman’s techniques, because as a director, Altman would make many of us screenwriters uneasy. His was a career built upon defying and lampooning all genre and storytelling conventions. I recall Ebert saying of
The Long Goodbye:

[This movie] tries to be all genre and no story, and it almost works.”

“[Altman] knows we don't care any more about the plot than he does; he agrees with Hitchcock that it doesn't even matter what the plot is about (as long as it's something). The important thing is the way the characters spar with each other.”

Oooo… Are you feeling uneasy yet?

You should watch Gosford Park while listening to Julian Fellowes’ commentary, which is one of my all-time favorite movie commentaries. Let’s just say, Altman was familiar with the script, but he wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about sticking with it once he started shooting. Can you imagine the roar of protest on TriggerStreet about the many subplots that went unresolved or the idea of this buffoon of an investigator showing up, asking a bunch of inane questions, leaving, and never once figuring out who committed the murder? What was the point of that? Hey, that was the point.

I also recall Ebert saying of
McCabe & Mrs. Miller that it was Altman’s “perfect” film, and yet, this is a movie in which dialogue as we all understand it and write it is neither important nor relevant to the story. In fact, this is a very common technique of Altman, which began with M*A*S*H and could be seen in so many of his other films.

“It begins with one fundamental assumption: All of the characters already know each other, and the camera will not stare at first one and then another, like an earnest dog, but is at home in their company. Nor do the people line up and talk one after another, like characters in a play. They talk when and as they will, and we understand it's not important to hear every word; sometimes all that matters is the tone of a room.”

Of the relationship between McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Ebert also says,

“We get to know them in half-seen, half-heard moments. There is a time when he gets into bed with her and we realize with a start that the movie has not established that they are sleeping with one another. Later it doubles back to reveal that she charges him, just like all the others. She gets $5, top price. McCabe spends a lot of time talking to himself, muttering criticisms and vows. He says to himself what he would like to say to her: ‘If just one time you could be sweet without money to it.’ And, ‘I got poetry in me!’ His soliloquies are meandering, rueful, oblique. His most sustained burst of conversational energy is a joke he tells about a frog.”

How are you feeling? Are you still holding up okay?

And finally, there is in a few of his films, Altman’s utter rejection of a single protagonist. You can (if it helps you sleep better at night) try to pin the label of “Single Protag” on one character in Short Cuts or Gosford Park or A Wedding or Nashville, but in truth, there is no single protag in any of those films. Of
Nashville, Ebert wrote:

“The movie doesn't have a star. It does not, indeed, even have a lead role. Instead, Altman creates a world, a community in which some people know each other and others don't, in which people are likely to meet before they understand the ways in which their lives are related. And he does it all so easily, or seems to, that watching Nashville is as easy as breathing and as hard to stop. Altman is the best natural filmmaker since Fellini.

“One of the funny things about Nashville is that most of the characters never have entrances. They're just sort of there. At times, we're watching an important character and don't even know, yet, why he's important, but Altman's storytelling is so clear in his own mind, his mastery of this complex wealth of material is so complete, that we're never for a moment confused or even curious. We feel secure in his hands, and apart from anything else, Nashville is a virtuoso display of narrative mastery.”

On this matter, let me also quote Cumbow:

“The central conceit of Nashville, and of all Altman’s work in the 1970s, is to blur, even obliterate, the distinction between performers and their audiences; between entertainers and their statements about the community; between individuals and society; and, of course, between movie-images and movie-goers. In Nashville, Altman picks his characters out of crowds, and puts them back there; follows one, then another; watches them or leaves them alone (a conceit that he would later exaggerate in the self-satirical and Welles-lampooning opening shot of The Player). They attract our attention from within the frame more often than they conspicuously enter it. In A Wedding there are twice as many characters to keep track of in the same way, too many of whom, in mid-shot, look like too many of the others – which is of course part of the point of both A Wedding (as it is, much later, of Gosford Park).”

Goodbye, Robert Altman. You left us screenwriters scratching our heads over some of your great films, and for that, I am deeply grateful.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Thursday Shout-Out!

First, let us congratulate our good friend, Carl Salminen (gamears), because he sold a script to an indie studio! It’s a horror-teen-comedy and has been placed onto their shooting schedule for September, 2007! He also has his name up on the Internet Movie Database with Arun Vaidyanathan for their short, The Séance. Congratulations, Carl!

Second, you cannot miss MaryAn Batchellor’s
Death of a Protagonist. Yeah, baby! I loved it! Here is Death Emancipatory:

Sometimes, death is viewed as a last act of defiance but I don't think it's that simple. Thelma and Louise were used, exploited, mistreated and oppressed by men. Death was preferable to going to jail and once again, living under the control and at the mercy of men. Suicide is in character for them and not the cop out ending I expected. It's about taking control and breaking free of the real or perceived bonds on their lives, much the way Maggie Fitzgerald dies in Million Dollar Baby. She doesn't want to live the way anyone else tells her to and in the end, she fights for death rather than live as an invalid. In both these films, death is liberation. Death is control. Death is ownership.

Great job, MaryAn.

And I have to give a shout-out to the always great Miriam Paschal, who posed the question
on her new blog: “What is the difference between writing for a living and working for a living while writing?”

Jim Hill Media has
a new article reviewing the book “Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P.L. Travers.” She was a notoriously difficult and unhappy woman. “Dick Sherman recalled how Walt Disney once deliberately dodged a meeting with P.L., telling his composer, ‘You handle her. I can't stand all of that negativism.’” There is also a new post on Brian Sibley’s blog talking about a couple of years he spent with P.L. Travers writing the sequel to Mary Poppins. What makes his post interesting reading were not only the ideas for the new story but also the man whom the studio insisted on playing the younger brother of Bert (The Chimney Sweeper). You won’t believe it.

I loved Dan Jardine’s post
5 For the Day: 180 Degrees.

And finally, another update to my Indy IV post – poor Frank Darabont talks to Chud about his wasted Indy IV draft. In the interview, he said:

“That was the most frustrating of all, and that was the straw that broke the back of me wanting to continue in that line of work. That was terrifically frustrating. I worked for over a year on that; I worked very close with Steven Spielberg. He was ecstatic with the result and was ready to shoot it two years ago. He was very, very happy with the script and said it was the best draft of anything since Raiders of the Lost Ark. That’s really high praise and gave me a real sense of accomplishment, especially when you love the material you’re working on as much as I love the Indiana Jones films.

And then you have George Lucas read it and say, ‘Yeah, I don’t think so, I don’t like it.’ And then he resets it to zero when Spielberg is ready to shoot it that coming year, [which] is a real kick to the nuts. You can only waste so much time and so many years of your life on experiences like that, you can only get so emotionally invested and have the rug pulled out from under you before you say enough of that.”

Darabont does not believe Indy IV will happen. Neither do I.

We should be glad.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Character Depth - Michael Corleone

“That’s my family, Kay. That’s not me.”

He was the best and the brightest of the Corleone brothers. He was the family hero, the most respectable son of Don Vito Corleone, who had the highest hopes for Michael in the “legitimate world.” But when his father was shot, Michael could not keep himself from getting mixed-up in the family business. Inevitably, he took over. What followed was his freefall into a bottomless corruption. While he once distanced himself to Kay from the ways of his family, Michael eventually grew to embody the worst of everything his family represented. Yet, he loved his family dearly. Family was the most important thing in the world to him. However, he was so vengeful, he would kill his own brother, Fredo. He was sane and mad, kind and cruel, powerful and weak. He was a masterful, strategic thinker blinded by vengeance. He would publicly renounce Satan and all of his works at the baptism of his godson and promise that he would protect that child from the wickedness of the world while outside his men murdered all of his enemies. To Kay he was loving and tender, then callous and even sadistic. He could negotiate with anyone, but yet he could not talk to Kay. In that one crucial moment when he agreed to be honest with Kay and tell her about his business, he lied. He used corrupt methods to muscle his family into a “legitimate” life, thereby sealing his family forever in a permanent state of corruption. He made so much money he could invest in a multi-national conglomeration like Mobiliare, but yet, he brought his own family to ruin. He lost his marriage, lost his daughter, lost all of his brothers, tried to escape that life, could not find redemption, and in the end, death followed him everywhere. And he died alone.

Subtext - The Godfather

Have you ever noticed how the obscure, unquoted, unfamous lines in The Godfather are full of subtext? Here are four that I love, and I'm sure I don’t even have to explain the context.

Tom: “Thank you for the dinner and a very pleasant evening. Maybe your car could take me to the airport. Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on hearing bad news immediately.”

(Man, are you ever screwed. You’re going to find in your bed a small portion of your most prized horse.)

Clemenza: That Sonny's running wild. He's thinking of going to the mattresses already. We have to find a place on the West Side. Try three-oh-nine west forty third street. You know any good spots on the west side?
Paulie: Yeah, I’ll think about it.
Clemenza: Well, think about it while you’re driving, will ya? I wanna hit New York sometime this month.

(You’re a dead man, Paulie.)

Michael: I have to go to the bathroom. Is that all right?

(I’m going to come out with a gun and blow your heads right off.)

Tessio: Barzini wants to arrange a meeting. Says we can straighten any of our problems out.

(Barzini kindly requests the opportunity to kill you.)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Strangely Disappointed

Does anyone mind if I vent about Stranger Than Fiction? (If you do mind, then... click the "Back" button or something.) I’ve been waiting for this movie to get released for what has felt like the frickin’ Stone Ages. I also have in my hand as I type this (yes, I’m typing with only ONE HAND - I’m quite talented) a GIANT full-page spread in my new “Creative Screenwriting Magazine” proclaiming:

“For your consideration: Best Original Screenplay, Zach Helm”

I’d give Zach the award for “Best Original Concept,” if there was such a category, but original screenplay? Unfortunately, no.

Watching this movie felt like I was reading one of many high concept amateur screenplays on TriggerStreet written by smart, talented, ambitious writers who are still in need of sharpening their skills - just a bit more. I wish Zach had known us. He could’ve gotten one of my outrageously thorough 2,000 – 5,000 word reviews that left zero stones unturned. He could’ve gotten a review from Mickey Lee who would’ve happily printed his script, written all over it, rescanned it, and emailed it back to him. (And he would’ve treasured Mickey’s notes, by the way.) Or he could’ve had his problems spelled out for him in 200 words or less by David Muhlfelder. Or he could’ve received one of many damn good and insightful comments by Matt, Miriam, Peter, Carl, Bob or any of a number of other obsessively devoted students of the craft.

Because let me tell you, this movie was weighed down with way, way, way too much dialogue. Every newbie screenwriter out there should see this film in a theater and observe the audience go from delighted to restless in about 30 minutes or less. You might also catch people sigh loudly, adjust in their seats, check their watches, or (if you’re lucky) give up and make-out.

We had Emma Thompson’s many voice overs, which were essential to the story, but when she wasn’t talking, the characters were talking… and talking and talking. There were too many scenes in a row early in the film that went on too long with too much talk. And when they weren’t talking, Emma was talking. Oy vey... I remember thinking toward the end of Act II that a lot of what was being said felt redundant.

I could hear my own TriggerStreet review get written as I watched this movie. And let me tell you, everyone on TriggerStreet, and I mean everyone, would’ve said with one clear voice, “You’re a great writer, but you’ve got too much damn dialogue. You gotta show, don’t tell.”

Side note - Maggie was so cute. I can’t imagine that anyone would’ve fallen in love with Ana Pascal as she was written on the page, but Maggie can pull it off. She could play the meanest bitch in the world and you’d still fall in love with her.

As we left the theater, I heard a guy say, “It was okay. It got us out of the house for one night.”

He should've stayed home and rented “Adaptation.”

Friday, November 10, 2006

It's a C-A-C Weekend! WOO HOO!

Hey guys! How are ya?

This picture is a request from Pat (GimmeaBreak) who just wanted to see what Unk would do with it. Unk's been totally brilliant, of course, but I'm also excited about what everyone else will do with it as well.

Hehehe... I just love Create A Character Weekends.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Friday, November 03, 2006

Another Create A Character Weekend!

Okay, guys, 3 things:

  1. What's his name?
  2. What the hell is he doing?
  3. What are his character contradictions?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Breakdown - Grease

(Another superb job, Miriam. For those of you who may not be familiar, Miriam Paschal does these amazing movie breakdowns. You can get the complete list here. Why a musical? You never know how this may come in handy one day...)


1- 1:23 – As "Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing" plays on the soundtrack, Sandy tells Danny that she has to go back to Australia. "Is this the end?" she asks. "No," he says, "it's the beginning." 001:23

2- 3:17 – Title sequence with title song GREASE. Introduces the actors and shows a bit of the personality of the characters they play. 004:40

3- 1:42 – Fade to the school. Starts off with the T-birds. Kenickie is Danny's "lieutenant" and their three sidekicks are Doody, Sonny, and Putzie. Danny mentions the beach. The final shot of this scene introduces the next. 006:22

4- 0:24 – Sandy tells Frenchy she's no stranger to heartbreak. 006:46

5- 0:37 – Introduces Rizzo and the other two Pink Ladies, Jan and Marty. Riz says, "We're gonna rule the school." 007:23

6- 1:05 – Introduces the Dean, her inept secretary Blanche, and the shop teacher. This scene is intercut with shots of the school halls. 008:28

7- 1:12 – Explores the T-birds some more. Sonny says he won't take any of the Dean's crap this year and then proceeds to do exactly that. Danny ribs him to confirm his dominance of the group. 009:40

8- 1:17 – Announcements. These serve as transitions throughout. Sandy is late to class, the Dean extols the students to be athletic supporters, and the dance contest is announced. 010:57

9- 2:03 – This is intercut with the next scene and sets up the first musical number. Sandy meets Riz and the Pink Ladies and tells them about the amazing boy she met over the summer. 013:00

10- 1:09 – While Sandy tells the girls how sweet her guy was, Danny tells the guys how hot his chick was. 014:09

11- 3:34 – First song SUMMER NIGHTS. 017:43

12- 0:40 – Riz finds out that Sandy's "sweet" boy is Danny. Her reaction makes it obvious that she's going to use this against both of them. 018:23

13- 2:18 – The bonfire to celebrate coming back to school and the high hopes for the football team. Sandy flirts with a football player. The final shot is a crane shot that transitions to the next scene. 020:41

14- 1:09 – Kenickie shows up in his new car, which needs a LOT of work. The leader of the Scorpions (the rivals of the T-birds) shows up with his "ho." 021:50

15- 2:49 – Riz puts Sandy and Danny together as some kind of revenge on Danny. He is forced to treat her bad so as not to look bad in front of his gang and Sandy is heart-broken. 024:39

16- 3:29 – Sleepover at Frenchy's. Jan sings the toothpaste song, the girls try to get Sandy to drink wine and smoke, but it backfires when Sandy gets sick. 028:08

17- 1:43 – Second song LOOK AT ME, I'M SANDRA DEE. 029:51

18- 1:39 – Intercut between the bedroom and outside the house. The T-birds show up and Riz leaves with them. Danny decides to walk home. 031:30

19- 1:14 – Another intercut scene. Marty gives Sandy some paper to write a note to Danny and Riz send the T-birds away so she can be with Kenickie. 032:44

20- 2:57 – Third song HOPELESSLY DEVOTED TO YOU. Designed to be a big hit because it featured Olivia Newton John. 035:41

21- 2:08 – Riz and Kenickie make out at Lover's Lane. The rubber breaks, but they decide to go ahead without it. The "Scorpion King" shows up with his "ho" and challenges Kenickie. 037:49

22- 0:44 – Intro to song. Danny defends Kenickie and his car. 038:33

23- 3:04 – Fourth song GREASED LIGHTNING. This song is distinguished by its filthy lyrics and some tasteless moves during the accompanying dance. 041:37

24- 0:30 – Set-up scene with Danny and Kenickie outside the Frosty Palace. It adds to the development of the rivalry between the "Scorpion King" and Kenickie and establishes that Danny is still thinking about Sandy. 042:07

25- 2:39 – Danny sees Sandy with the football player and joins her at the jukebox where she cuts him off cold. Some noteworthy dialogue in this scene: "Bite the weeny, Riz" / "With relish." Sandy praises her football player and Danny claims that he can "run circles around those jerks." Could the writers have deliberately created this double entendre? 044:46

26- 3:59 – This section is sort of a montage. It's a series of short, related scenes with dialogue that alternate between INT and EXT. Danny declares his intention to join a sport (INT), then tries out for basketball (EXT), wrestling (INT), and finally baseball (EXT). At the end he decides to try track. 048:45

27- 1:12 – Danny shows off for Sandy on the track, but hurts himself instead. He manages to capture her sympathy, and then her interest. 049:57

28- 5:19 – Danny and Sandy go to the Frosty Palace, where their friends join them. Frenchy is hiding under a bright orange scarf. This scene establishes that, although Danny and Sandy like each other, they are incompatible and Danny is embarrassed by her "good-girl" attitude. Riz is in a bad mood and breaks up with Kenickie. 055:16

29- 4:03 – Fifth song BEAUTY SCHOOL DROPOUT. This song features Frankie Avalon and some more questionable lyrics. This song broke him out of his wholesome image. 059:19

30- 0:16 – This extremely short scene was filmed in one shot and contains some very complicated blocking and dialogue delivery. I spotted at least five places where either the blocking or the dialogue could have been screwed up and probably was on other takes. It's not really necessary to the story, but they probably left it in because it was so difficult to set up. 059:35

31- 1:12 – This sets up complications in Riz and Kenickie's relationship, which is a parallel to Danny and Sandy's. Riz drags Marty off to join the "Scorpion King" in his hot rod and Kenickie brags that he'll have the hottest date at the dance. 060:47.

32- 7:42 – First half of the dance. It was hard to time this section. It's actually several smaller scenes, but they flow together with masking camera shots. I broke it up at the beginning of the dance contest. In the first half Riz shows up with the "Scorpion King" and Kenickie shows up with the "ho," Cha-Cha DiGregorio. 068:29

33- 9:14 – The dance contest and the sixth song BORN TO HAND JIVE. Riz and the "Scorpion King" are disqualified for vulgar moves and Riz stalks off in anger. Cha-Cha and Kenickie are disqualified and Cha-Cha convinces some guys to help her displace Sandy as Danny's partner. Danny doesn't notice until it's too late, but he wants to win the contest and he has danced with Cha-Cha before. Sandy follow Riz in stomping off in anger. This scene ends when the T-birds moon America. 077:43

34- 0:27 – The Dean threatens to "expose" the mooners. This is a transition scene. 078:10

35- 4:48 – Further complications for both couples. Danny wants to make out with Sandy, who tells him she's not that kind of girl and Riz confesses to Marty that she skipped a period. Kenickie hears about it and tries to apologize, but she tells him it might not even be his. 082:58

36- 2:31 – Seventh song SANDY. After Sandy slams the door on him, Danny wanders down to the playground at the front of the drive-in (how many people remember those?!) and sings his heartache on the swings. In the background, the animated commercial for snacks plays on the screen. It ends the song with a dancing hot dog doing tricks to try to get inside a bun. It's both poignant as a symbol of Sandy and Danny's relationship and funny because it's a visual double entendre. 085:29

37- 1:46 – Greased Lightning (Kenickie's car) is ready for the big race against the "Scorpion King" and Kenickie asks Danny to be his second. It's a tender moment between the two friends. 087:15

38- 3:01 – Intro to and eighth song THERE ARE WORSE THINGS I COULD DO. Riz doesn't regret the actions that led to her possible pregnancy and ostracism. 090:16

39- 6:58 – Another scene that I couldn't break down into its sections because of moving shots that mask the transitions. This is the big race for pink slips down in the Los Angeles river (how many people know what that is?). Kenickie gets knocked out right before the race and Danny must drive Greased Lightning. Sandy watches from afar, but is afraid to join the group. At the end she asks Frenchy help her. 097:14

40- 0:58 – Another announcement used as a transition. The Dean and Blanche are sad to see the kids leave. 098:12

41- 2:49 – The school hires a carnival to celebrate graduation (this is the fifties, when they had that kind of money). Danny shows off his letterman's sweater, which he won to impress Sandy and prove to her that he can run circles around those jerks. 101:01

42- 3:20 – Ninth song YOU'RE THE ONE THAT I WANT. While Danny tries to prove that he can be "good," Sandy finds her "bad" side and shows up in skin-tight, black leather with ratted hair and a cigarette. 104:21

43- 0:15 – A bookend to the first scene when Sandy asks if it's the end. They swear they'll all keep in touch after graduation. 104:36

44- 3:17 – Tenth song THOSE MAGIC CHANGES. Kenickie asks Riz to marry him and she says she's not pregnant. He says he wants to marry her anyway and they all break into song and dance. Danny and Sandy drive off into the sunset (literally) in Greased Lightning.

There are 44 major scenes that average 2 minutes and 27 seconds in length. Six of them are over 4 minutes long and nine of them are less than a minute long. These nine serve as transitional sections in the story. The remaining 39 are between 1 minute long and 3 minutes and 59 seconds long.

The midpoint in terms of the story seems to happen in the Frosty Palace when Sandy tells Danny he's not as good as the football player and he decides to go out for track. This actually occurs a few minutes before the halfway point in terms of time. The first act ends when Riz arranges for Sandy and Danny to see each other, and the Dark Night of the Soul happens at the drive-in for both couples and continues through to Riz's song of self-analysis, THERE ARE WORSE THINGS I COULD DO.

There is the classic show-down between the main protag and the antagonist at the beginning of the third act at Thunder Road, the big race for pink slips, and everything is resolved at the end.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Breakdown - Nashville

All the hallmarks of Robert Altman's aural and visual styles are evident in Nashville - the overlapping dialogue, the life-like improvised roles and ensemble acting, multiple means of communication to connect the characters (phone calls, tape recordings, radio and TV, and P.A. announcements), a continuously moving camera, long takes, and imaginative sound and film editing.

Not only that, Ebert called this movie "a virtuoso display of narrative mastery." You can read the 1974 draft

As Miriam points out, the film has 96 scenes which are usually brief, over a minute in length, until you get to the last quarter of the film in which the scenes can be as long as 6, 7, 11, and even 12 minutes in length. Why some scenes are longer than others and how much Altman accomplishes in the smaller scenes, I'll leave for you to discover. However, I will say that I loved what Miriam wrote in her notes:

"He doesn't introduce people, but drifts into their lives. Even though there had to have been lights, booms, grips, sound men, and the myriad of people who have to wait and observe a shot as it happens, everything looks as if it is just taking place on the spur of the moment. Altman makes a well orchestrated film look like a documentary. The acting is very natural, with no melodramatic histrionics. Sean Penn's performance as the anguished father of the murdered girl in Mystic River is riveting, but it's staged. Linnea's quiet, subtle anguish as she falls a little in love with Tom is understated and real."

Great job, Mim. Best one yet.


1. 0:58 – This opening sequence imitates the old K-Tel commercials that were all over T.V. in the sixties and seventies. Under the guise of a frenetic commercial, all the major actors are introduced while clips of all the songs play in the background. 0:00:58

2. 1:03 – A garage opens and a van pulls into early morning traffic. It's a political van with speakers on top and HAL PHILLIP WALKER on the side. Walker's voice talks about his Replacement Party, which will lead politics in America into a brave new tomorrow. Music starts up: a patriotic beat. 0:02:01

3. 2:34 – In a recording studio, Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) does a take of 200 Years, which is an unabashedly patriotic anthem to the bi-centennial, which Nashville celebrates. The song contrasts with the Hal Phillip Walker message of change and Replacement. The titles are red and white with little blue stars. During the song, Opal from the BBC (Geraldine Chaplin) shows up. This character is blithely unaware of social graces except as they apply to other people on her behalf. Opal goes into the booth, where Haven's wife, Pearl (Barbara Baxley), and son, Bud (Dave Peel, who works mainly as a musician and wrote a lot of the music), are there. Most of the camera shots in the studio scenes show reflections in the glass, so that you can see the people in the booth and the people in the studio at the same time. 0:04:35

4. 0:45 – Haven asks Bud about Opal and tells him to get her out while Opal tries to talk to him directly. When he doesn't answer her, she assumes he can't hear her, not that he is ignoring her. Haven is used to getting what he wants. As Bud takes Opal away, Haven tells the producer they'll do another take and that he wants to "hear a little more Haven in this one." 0:05:20

5. 2:17 – Titles continue as Bud takes Opal into studio B. She gushes about how "sweet" and "little" it is. Linnea Reese (Lily Tomlin) is making a gospel recording with her group, who are mostly black. It is old-timey Southern black gospel with hand-clapping and dancing, and Linnea is boogying just as hard as everybody else. Opal tells Bud that the rhythm is "in their genes." If you close your eyes, you're in darkest Africa. Opal is a bit of a drama queen. 0:07:37

6. 0:43 – Back to Haven, who is not having a good day. He's a perfectionist. Now that Opal is out of the way, he doesn't like the piano player, Frog. The very small role of Frog is played by Richard Baskin, who is a musician and is also credited as a co-writer for many of the songs on the Nashville soundtrack. It's one of Altman's little jokes. 0:08:20

7. 0:27 – Titles conclude with the writer (Joan Tewkesbury) and director (Altman) over a shot in studio B of Linnea and her gospel group in a singing frenzy. 0:08:47

8. 0:39 – Frog is disgusted and deliberately flubs the music. Haven tells him to get his hair cut. He doesn't belong in Nashville. This is a nice bit of foreshadowing, because Haven has definite ideas about what does and does not belong in Nashville. 0:09:26

9. 0:39 – Scene starts with a huge sign that says "Welcome to Nashville." It's the airport, where a reporter tells us that we're waiting for Barbara Jean's plane to touch down. She's been in a burn unit and she's returning to Nashville. Barbara Jean is somebody important, because there's a marching band out there to welcome her, and crowds of people being held back by security guards. 0:10:05

10. 0:07 – During this seven-second scene, we meet Pfc. Glenn Kelly (Scott Glenn). I think Altman used the names of his actors for the names of their characters. Glenn stops by a magazine kiosk to ask about Barbara Jean. The girl behind the counter gives him directions. 0:10:12

11. 0:08 – Back outside to the reporter. He mentions that Haven Hamilton will be arriving to greet Barbara Jean. 0:10:20

12. 0:30 – Out in front of the airport, Jeff Goldblum (whose character name is "Tricycle Man," so we'll call him Jeff) arrives on his three-wheel chopper motorcycle, followed by the HPW van, preaching its message of Replacement. Jeff gets off his cycle and walks past Norman (David Arkin, who committed suicide when he was 49), a limo driver who is waiting with his limo. As he walks past Norman, Jeff changes a silk scarf from red to green. 0:10:50

13. 0:08 – Back to the reporter. The plane has touched down and we'll see Barbara Jean any moment. 0:10:58

14. 1:37 – Now we get to meet more characters. Each of these people will play a somewhat larger part and we get to see a little of each personality. It takes place in the airport diner. Mr. Green (Keenan Wynn) orders a butterscotch sundae, but has to settle for strawberry. We will see that this is the theme of his life: settling for something he didn't want. He orders it from Sueleen Gaye (Gwen Welles, who tragically died of cancer in her 40's), a sultry redhead with a pretty face, and tells her that his wife is in the hospital. Jeff is there and we get to see him do another magic trick. He pours the salt out of the shaker into his hand and makes it disappear. The busboy, Wade (Robert DoQui), sees the trick and gets Sueleen's attention to tell her about it. Sueleen takes it as an opening to flirt with Jeff (who never says a word throughout the entire film), and sings him a song that she wrote. She's a terrible singer. I should mention that Wade is black because it's important in the story later. Delbert Reese (Ned Beatty) watches her sing to Jeff. He seems to be interested in her, but it's probably not her voice that draws his attention. 0:12:35

15. 0:17 – Back outside to confirm that, yes, we are still waiting for Barbara Jean. Her plane has landed, but she hasn't come out.

16. 0:24 – Del Reese has come to the airport to meet John Triplette (Michael Murphey), who is Hal Phillip Walker's campaign manager. John turns out to be a very colorful character, so keep your eye on him. Mary and Bill deplane and walk around Del and John, but we aren't ready to meet them yet. Martha, aka LA Joan (Shelley Duvall) waits for something. She and Altman put her impossibly long, thin body into tiny hot pants and a halter top that looks more like a scarf wrapped around her chest. She certainly stands out in a crowd. Youthful HPW supporters mill around, distributing campaign materials. They are all dressed in red, white, and blue stars and stripes. They stand out also. 0:13:16

17. 0:38 – Still waiting for Barbara Jean. Haven, Pearl, and Bud arrive in their white jeep. Everything in Haven's life is white, including the milk he drinks. The marching band is going through their routine. 0:13:54

18. 0:30 – In the same location as scene #16, Mr. Green (who settled for the strawberry sundae) greets Martha, who tells him her name is now LA Joan. Mr. Green is Joan's uncle. He wants to take her to the hospital right away to see her aunt, his wife, but she wants to talk to Tom (Keith Carradine), the third member of Tom, Bill, and Mary. He's signing autographs and albums. She tells him he's Tom and he tells her stop the diet before she ruins herself. 0:14:24

19. 0:17 – We get to see a little of Bill (Allan F. Nicholls) and Mary (Christina Raines). HPW supporters plaster a bumper sticker across a poster of Connie White (played by Karen Black, another Altman joke), and Bill jokes that Hal Phillip Walker looks just like Connie White. 0:14:41

20. 1:30 – The crowd waiting for Barbara Jean is at a fever pitch and security has to hold them back. Barnett (Allan Garfield) deplanes, but he won't talk to anybody. He's a messy, overweight man who wears a bow tie like a scarf across his shoulders. He says, "I got no time," which is his mantra. There's trouble in paradise for Haven and Pearl, as he tells her to shut up, but a few minutes later he makes a nice speech for the cameras. Haven certainly knows how to play a crowd. While this is going on outside, drama abounds among the crowd inside. Tom stops to watch and tells a pretty HPW girl in stars and stripes hot pants that he don't vote for nobody for president. He sees Glenn, who looks a little lost and wistful (the soldier, remember?) if he's killed anyone today. Tom obviously doesn't like authority or rules. 0:16:11

21. 2:54 – Barbara Jean finally gets off her plane to thunderous applause. Ronnee Blakley did a wonderful job with this role. Barbara Jean always wears white, empire-waist dresses that make her look like a virgin. Her long, dark hair is perfectly coiffed to look long and free, when it's actually held in place with careful styling, pins, and plenty of pink ribbons. Barbara Jean looks so happy to see her fans. Bill and Mary are watching and Norman (the limo driver) interrupts them to say, "Hi, Bill," to Mary and "Hi, Mary" to Bill. Sueleen and Wade are there also. He wants to leave, but she wants to stay. Wade is Sueleen's only fan, so he does what she wants. Barbara Jean wants to go in and say hello to her fans, but faints after only a few steps. It's a rather dramatic faint. She throws her arms out and falls backwards. As Barnett and Haven flutter around her, the HPW groupies rush in with their bumper stickers. Glenn stands on the sidelines and watches. He looks more lost than ever. 0:19:05

22. 1:35 – Everybody gets into their cars and pulls out at the same time. Chaos ensues when the people in back try to get around the ones in front. All the cars come through the gate and the wooden arm goes up and down until it gets confused and tries to go down in front a bus, which snaps it off. The HPW van comes through last, blaring the message of Replacement. 0:20:40

23. 0:18 – Back with the reporter and the marching band, the reporter tells us what we already know; Barbara Jean collapsed and they're taking her to the hospital. A HPW girl sneaks in behind him and holds her campaign sign up for 15 seconds before a policemen rushes in to drag her off. 0:20:58

24. 2:42 - On the highway, a couch falls off a truck and causes multi-car collision and huge pile-up. Everybody screeches to a halt. Connie White's bus is there. The cute stars and stripes girls jump out of the HPW van and go nuts with bumper stickers. They don't hand them out. They just stick them onto every bumper they see. Before they know it, all the crash victims are HPW supporters. A bunch of guys gather around Wade's crappy truck to flirt with Sueleen, who is in the passenger seat. Wade tries to shoo them off. Sueleen thinks they are harmless, but Wade knows better. Linnea has Opal in her car. Opal is traumatized by the crash and goes on and on about the mangled bodies. She is sure she saw a leg sticking out. LA Joan, on the other hand, is completely unaware of what is going on around her. She just wants a rock 'n roll station. In the midst of all this, we meet a new character: Kenny (David Hayward). Kenny's car has overheated. While everybody visits and buys ice-cream from the vendor whose truck happened to be in the pile-up, Kenny's radiator explodes and he abandons the car. The only things he takes with him are his jacket and his violin case. 0:23:40

25. 0:35 – First of a series of short scenes during the pile-up where we get to know people a little better. Opal, who never goes anywhere without her tape recorder, interviews Linnea, but when she discovers that Linnea's children are deaf, she brings the interview to a crashing halt and won't be comforted. She is terribly depressed that Linnea's children are defective. Everything in Opal's world is all about how it affects Opal. 0:24:15

26. 0:25 – Quick, let's meet another new character. This is Albuquerque (Barbara Harris). She is with her husband in his RED truck, nattering on about fly-swatters and patents and red dots. It has to do with the industrial revolution. I don't know either, but she's eccentric and cute. 0:24:40

27. 0:19 – Del drives and John (HPW's campaign manager) rides shotgun. John explains to Del that HPW wants country-western musicians to back him because movie stars are crazy and communists to boot. 0:24:59

28. 0:17 – Albuquerque's husband gets fed up with her incessant chatter and bolts from the RED truck. This turns out to be a mistake, because it was the opportunity she was waiting for. She grabs her big straw bag and ditches him. 0:25:16

29. 0:16 – Opal knocks on Tommy Brown's trailer and Tommy (Timothy Brown. Altman probably didn't spend much time naming this character) himself answers. It is important to the story to note that Tommy is black. Opal doesn't seem to recognize him and asks to speak to Mr. Tommy Brown. 0:25:32

30. 0:27 – Pearl and Haven get into a fight about whether it was "wonder, wanda," or "wunda, wander." She screeches that it doesn't make a difference, because it was a hit, then asks Buddy to settle it anyway. He pretends not to remember, which is his non-inflammatory way of settling his parents' arguments. 0:25:59

31. 0:06 – Albuquerque climbs up onto the street that crosses the highway and makes her escape. 0:26:05

32. 0:35 – Inside Tommy Brown's trailer with her recorder, Opal calls his entourage (who are all black) "you lovely people." I guess sticking the "lovely" in there takes the sting out of that phrase, or at least it does in Opal's world. Apparently she thinks Tommy Brown is white. He introduces her to his wife, saying, "This is his wife," and she is stunned. 0:26:40

33. 0:20 – Jeff gets his tricycle to the far side of the pile-up and takes off. The HPW van talks about people with disabilities between this and the opening of the next scene. 0:27:00

34. 0:16 – It takes a village to get Barbara Jean set up in her hospital room. One of her entourage shows her a ceramic bird and she says she remembers it. Barnett says he remembers that he almost threw it out, which draws a look of shock from the girl, but not from Barbara Jean. 0:27:16

35. 0:15 – Everybody's coming to the hospital. Mr. Green comes in with Joan and tells her to wait in the hall while Esther (his wife/Joan's aunt) fixes herself up. 0:27:31

36. 1:21 – Barbara Jean's room is full of people. Tommy comes in with his wife. Del and John come in to say hi. She greets them as if she is royalty, but seems genuinely pleased to see them. Opal stands outside with her microphone raised to catch the conversation. The guard tells her nobody from the press is allowed and she tells him she's not the press. She's the BBC. The nurse shoos everybody out and Barbara Jean slumps down as the smile slides off her face. 0:28:52

37. 0:35 – LA Joan discovers Bud, who is waiting for his parents, and flirts with him. Mr. Green comes out of the room to say that Esther is ready to see her. Joan tells him to wait a minute because she's talking to somebody. Just as with the sundae incident, poor Mr. Green takes it lying down, and slinks back into his wife's (Joan's aunt) room. Glenn comes down the hall with a small bouquet of flowers and we follow him while Joan continues to flirt with Bud Hamilton. 0:29:27

38. 1:08 – Albuquerque walks down the road with Kenny. She constantly checks behind her. She's full of big plans and he shoots down each one she comes up with. She starts to ask him why he's like that, but in the distance behind them, a RED truck pulls onto the street. "Don't say you saw me," she says and bolts into the bushes. Kenny at least does deny he's seen her when her husband asks, and then gets a ride into town with the man. 0:30:35

39. 0:28 – Sueleen practices her act in front of the mirror while she dresses. She is wearing the kind of dress I've only ever seen in a Frederick's of Hollywood catalogue. Part of her preparation includes stuffing two white gym socks into her bra. Poor Sueleen. Even her pre-act schtick is hokey and horrible. 0:31:03

40. 0:27 – At the hospital, Joan goes off with Bud, and Mr. Green comes back out of the room just in time to see her disappearing down the hall. He calls, but does not go after them. I feel sorry for Sueleen, because at least she's trying. Mr. Green just needs to grow a spine. 0:31:30

41. 1:16 – Here we are at the Old Time Pickin' Parlor, where the royalty of Nashville hang out. Outside the HPW groupies plaster bumper stickers onto cars. Inside, a slow pan establishes the club and who is there. Wade has wandered in. Haven is sitting with Tommy Brown and his wife while Pearl greets people. Bill and Mary are not enjoying themselves. Bill picks at Mary about not wearing the dress that matches his shirt and she looks away. When Kenny wanders in with his violin case and Pearl seats him at their table, Mary finally pays attention to Bill. It's probably so that Kenny won't talk to her. 0:32:46

42. 1:10 – Deemen's Den is darker and obviously a few cuts below the Pickin' Parlor, but Trout, the owner and bartender, is hosting an amateur night, which attracts both unrecognized talent and the truly desperate. Sheila Bailey and Pattie Bryant (these are their real names. Altman didn't look for any other ones) are the Smokey Mountain Laurels. Their dresses match in style, but are different colors, and have a framework of ruffles around their busts. Sueleen waits her turn while the Smokey Mountain Laurels, who are actually pretty good, perform. Opal has somehow wound up here, instead of where the beautiful people are. As she checks her equipment, she sees Tom. NOTE: Sueleen is here, while Wade is at the Pickin' Parlor, and Tom is here while Bill and Mary are at the Pickin' Parlor. 0:33:56

43. 1:08 – Wade makes a scene at the Pickin' Parlor by calling Tommy Brown "the whitest nigger in town." Haven and Pearl apologize to Tommy and Kenny confronts Wade, who throws him over a table. Pearl starts screaming that she has a gun. 0:35:04

44. 2:25 – Bud shows up at Deemen's Den with LA Joan, who excuses herself to go to the bathroom. Jeff is here and he has a great big grin on his face, just like some kid about to ride the roller coaster. Sueleen sings Let Me Be the One, which is a song she wrote herself. To say it's bad and that she sings badly would either be an understatement or very generous. While the camera lingers on her up on the stage, we hear voice over comments from various people in the bar about how terrible she is. She doesn't seem to hear them. Albuquerque comes in and talks to Trout about performing. Will she turn out to be an unrecognized talent, like the Smokey Mountain Laurels, or truly desperate, like Sueleen? We won't find out now, because her husband is there and she has to escape his clutches. After this little bit of drama, Trout gets a call… 0:37:29

45. 0:57 - …from Del Reese, who has brought John home with him. He introduces the two men, and then puts John on with Trout. John is looking for some talent for a "smoker" he's planning for Monday. It's some kind of fund-raising thing for HPW. Del leaves John on the phone with Trout and goes to talk to Linnea and the kids (the deaf kids). OMG! Del is married to Linnea. This is the first time we've seen them together. 0:38:26

46. 0:09 – Trout sets Sueleen up with John to be the talent at his smoker while she finishes her first song. Why would he do that when he knows how badly she sings? He calls her a sultry redhead and gives John her full name: Sueleen Gaye. 0:38:35

47. 1:22 – John says if she's half as provocative as her name, they're home free. In the other room, the Reese family are having their own private moment. Del wants to talk to Linnea and doesn't seem to notice that Jimmy is telling a story about his swimming lesson. Finally he notices his son and listens to the end of the story, which Jimmy tells with both sign and spoken language. 0:39:57

48. 0:43 – In Deemen's Den, the camera starts on Bud as Joan comes out of the bathroom in a wig. He doesn't recognize her, so she goes to sit with Jeff, who does a magic trick for her. While this silent exchange is happening, we hear Trout telling Sueleen about her big break at John's smoker on Monday. She's all excited. At Tom's table, he excuses himself from Opal to go make a call. 0:40:40

49. 1:31 – Tom calls Linnea. This is the second call between Deemen's Den and the Reese household. The camera stays on her while we hear Tom's voice over the phone. He reminds her that they met at the studio last time he was in town and asks to see her. She says he's welcome to dinner at their house and he can meet her family. He says that's not what he has in mind and says he finds her very attractive. She again mentions her family and then, very pointedly, her husband. He assumes she just can't talk and tells her he'll call back. 0:42:11

50. 0:52 – At the hospital, Glenn sneaks into Barbara Jean's room with his little bouquet, which is now quite wilted. She's asleep and his hand-picked bouquet can't compete with the huge flower arrangements she has received from her fans. He sits down in a chair and just watches her. 0:43:03

51. 0:24 – Jeff drops Joan off outside the hospital, where Mr. Green is waiting for her. She asks if she's too late. Ya think? 0:43:27

52. 1:00 – This is a Hal Phillip Walker scene. Albuquerque has spent the night in a car and is woken by the loudspeakers on top of the van. She walks toward the camera, but what's important takes place behind her. Two cars get into an accident and the drivers get into a fight while the HPW groupies plaster their smashed up cars with bumper stickers. The HPW commentary is about how he knows more about money than politicians in Washington because he grew up without it. 0:44:27

53. 1:32 – Kenny shows up at Mr. Green's house and rents a room from him. LA Joan is listening to music on headphones and bopping to the beat. Mr. Green introduces her and says, "She's from California," as if that explains her strange behavior and even stranger outfit. Perhaps it does. 0:45:59

54. 0:19 – The nurse comes in to wake up Barbara Jean and startles Glenn, who has fallen asleep. He bolts. 0:46:18

55. 0:24 – Continuing with everybody's morning, we go to the Reese house, where Linnea plays a teaching game with her kids while Del makes himself a hard-boiled egg for breakfast. 0:46:42

56. 1:02 – In his hotel room, Tom wakes Opal up with a whack on the shoulder, and the first thing she does is reach for her recorder to continue her verbal diary. Nowadays I suppose she would be a rabid blogger, but in 1975 all she has is her tape recorder. Tom has a reel-to-reel tape machine in his room that is playing his new, solo album. Right now the song is It Don't Worry Me, which will feature heavily in the final scene. 0:47:44

57. 1:12 – In this scene the camera stays on Del, who is in the kitchen, boiling his egg. When the phone rings, he picks it up at the same time as Linnea. He starts to put it down when he hears it's for her, but then listens to the whole conversation. Linnea tells Tom in no uncertain terms that she thinks he's despicable and never to bother her again. After she hangs up, she calls to Del to call the police if Tom ever calls back. 0:48:56

58. 0:28 – Mr. Green and Joan arrive at the hospital to visit Esther. Joan goes over to Glenn, who is still hanging around, and flirts with him. 0:49:24

59. 8:17 – This is Haven's place: a very modern log cabin. Jeff shows up with Opal and Albuquerque, who go their separate ways. Albuquerque is there for the buffet, and immediately fills a plate. She's looking a little road-worn, having been on the run from her husband for twenty-four hours. Wade is there. He's been hired as a waiter. John talks politics with Haven. He's trying to pull together a political rally disguised as a concert and, of course, wants Haven to perform. Pearl sits in on their conversation and this is when we learn that she's a devout Kennedy fan. She gets all choked up when she talks about John. For some reason, Altman asked Elliot Gould to step into this scene and play himself: a hotshot Hollywood actor. Linnea is there. Altman keeps cutting away from Haven and Pearl to Linnea, who is telling somebody the story of a friend of hers who bumped her head and ended up losing a leg or something. It's one of those stories you always hear at parties. Opal is talking to Bud, probably because they already spent some time together. She gets him to open up and admit that, yes, he would like to be a singer like his father. It's a very vulnerable moment for him, and Opal interrupts him to squeal about Elliot Gould being there. She rushes away and flits around Elliot until somebody pulls her off and shoves her away. 0:57:41

60. 3:00 – Here we are at the Grand Ole Opryland Goo-Goo show (Goo-Goo candy sponsors it). It starts with Tommy Brown singing The Bluebird, and we finally find out why Opal thought he was white and why Wade made the comment that he did in the Pickin' Parlor. The Bluebird is pure country with not a hint of soul or blues or gospel. In the audience Jeff sits alone, but content, and Joan sits with Glenn. She just hops from one guy to another. Kenny is there, and alone, but not content. Albuquerque tries to get back stage, but the guard grabs her arm and holds on. 1:00:41

61. 0:31 – Dressed in a robe over bra and panties, Sueleen practices I Never Get Enough at her place while listening to the show at the Opry on the radio. She finishes up with a bump and grind with her hand behind her head. It's innocently provocative. Then she slumps in frustration. Even she doesn't like her act. 1:01:12

62. 6:13 – Haven comes out for his act and has to lower the microphone. Del and John are in the special seats at the back of the stage and John whispers a joke to Del about how short Haven is. John doesn't really have anything nice to say about anybody. Then Haven performs For the Sake of the Children, a poignant song about a man breaking off an affair because he doesn't want to leave his kids. Backstage, Connie White says a few kind words to Albuquerque, but Albuquerque wants her to tell the guard to let her go. She's probably lucky the guard is such a stickler for the rules because her husband is patrolling the audience, looking for her. Haven finishes up his first number, then launches into Keep A Goin', a desperately upbeat number that claims even death can be cheated if you just keep on a goin'. Connie waits in the wings, intently watching for her cue. When a photographer raises his camera, she flashes a practiced smile. 1:07:25

63. 0:11 – In her hospital room, Barbara Jean paints her nails while she and Barnett listen to the Goo-Goo show at the Opry. 1:07:36

64. 0:24 – Haven finishes up and asks the audience to join him in sending warm wishes to Barbara Jean in the hospital. 1:08:00

65. 0:12 – Haven continues over the radio while Barbara Jean listens. Haven tells them she cried real tears about not being able to perform. 1:08:12

66. 0:25 – Back at the Opry, Haven announces that Connie White will stand in for Barbara Jean. Connie comes out on stage, fluffing her dress. Glenn gets up and leaves. 1:08:37

67. 0:04 – Barbara Jean puts down her nail polish and sulks. 1:08:41

68. 3:06 – John makes a joke about Connie's dress. She crouches down at the edge of the stage and signs autographs for some kids, making them feel at home. She sings Memphis, and then One More Time. 1:11:47

69. 3:23 – Barbara Jean wants the radio off. Apparently she and Connie have some kind of rivalry going on. Barnett says he has to listen because he needs to know what she sang when he goes to King of the Road later to hobnob with them. She has a little hissy fit and complains about how she's stuck in the hospital while he gets to go party. He yells at her not to tell him how to run her life, because he's been doing a pretty good job so far. This scene is sweet and sad and Altman totally underplayed the drama to heighten it. Barbara Jean doesn't throw her flowers. She moves them next to Barnett. He doesn't yell at her, but he handles her clumsily. We can see that he loves her, even though he doesn't know how to tell her, and that she thinks he doesn't care. The chemistry between them is more dramatic because it's completely real and understated. 1:15:10

70. 7:22 – At King of the Road, Haven and Connie visit and hobnob. Bill is there, but Mary and Tom are notably absent. Bill complains to Norman that Mary is late, but his subtext is, "I think I'm losing her and I don't know what to do." Julie Christie shows up just like Elliot Gould did at Haven's home, says a few words, and then leaves. Haven drinks milk. Pearl tells John about how much she loved John Fitzgerald and cries. Barnett shows up and tries to give Connie a gift from Barbara Jean. Connie says that's sweet, and thank you, but doesn't take the gift. In fact, once she says her thanks, she pointedly ignores him. The announcer says they have a celebrity in the house and maybe can get a performance. Haven starts to stand up, but it's Connie they want. She sings Rolling Stone, which for some reason, distresses Opal. John tells Haven he wants both Connie and Barbara Jean to perform at the political rally, and Haven has to explain to him that those two don't ever appear on the same stage together. We finally go back to Bill and Norman, who is telling Bill that, no, Mary is most definitely NOT having an affair. 1:22:32

71. 1:07 – Mary is in bed with Tom. And it gets worse. He's asleep and she's murmuring, "I love you, I love you," over and over. Everybody loves Tom, but all he wants is Linnea. 1:23:39

72. 0:29 – Now it's Sunday. Wade and Sueleen belong to a nice church, and so does Pearl. Sueleen sings in the choir. She wears a baby-blue lace scarf that clashes horribly with her hair. 1:24:08

73. 1:04 – Haven belongs to some big, commercial church, and sings in the choir. Del is a member of this church and the kids are part of a small section of the choir that sings in sign language. Del helps them with the words. 1:25:12

74. 0:34 – Linnea sings in the choir at Tommy's church. She's one of the few white people there, but this is her gospel group from studio B. 1:25:46

75. 1:36 – In the hospital chapel, Barbara Jean sings In The Garden for some nurses, a few patients, Mr. Green, and Glenn. Glenn is trying to listen to Barbara Jean. This is the first time he's heard her "perform." But Mr. Green wants to tell him about his and Esther's only son, who they lost in the South Pacific. 1:27:22

76. 2:14 – Opal prays into her recorder in a junkyard among the dead cars. She equates the rust to dried blood. Opal is always looking for a clever phrase. Then she talks about the elephant's burial ground and drops into French. Just as she's winding up to a grand finale, she runs into Kenny and his violin case. She thinks he's a musician and gets all excited. 1:29:36

77. 0:26 – On Sunday afternoon, everybody goes to the Speedway. Haven and Tommy have their own cars. The Asian singer on stage is wearing a black version of the dress the Smokey Mountain Laurels had on. I think Altman fell in love with this dress. It's got exactly the right combination of style and absurdity. Haven and Pearl have a Southern picnic. Haven offers Tommy watermelon and Pearl slaps his hand. Tommy doesn't want watermelon, but he will take a salad. Albuquerque follows the Asian singer in the black dress, but we can't hear her over the roar of the cars. 1:30:02

78. 4:02 – In their hotel room, Bill wakes Mary by yelling at her, "Do you want to talk about last night?" In a comeback that fits his request, she calls him a fucker. They yell at each other and throw things around until John knocks on the door. Bill lets him in and really gets into his Replacement spiel. He says Tom, Bill, and Mary would be a nice rock 'n roll break from the local yokels in the rally. He's got an insult for everybody, doesn't he? Mary says they can't help because they're registered Democrats and says HPW is a little crazy. Bill counters that they are only because her father is. She says that Tom is also a registered Democrat, which stops the conversation cold. 1:34:04

79. 1:20 – Norman comes to ask Tom if he's mad at Bill. Tom tries to score pills off him and then gives him his guitar while he goes to make a phone call (can you guess who he calls?). 1:35:24

80. 0:31 – The HPW van goes down the road talking about how HPW wants to tax the churches. Kenny stops to listen. His own picture is on his violin case. 1:35:55

81. 1:04 – Opal has abandoned the cars for school buses. She talks to her tape recorder about little black children and little white children and their yellow nightmares. As she comes around the end of one bus, she runs into Jeff and his tricycle. He's shaving and shirtless. 1:36:59

82. 2:08 – At the hospital, Del and John talk about some stage. Barbara Jean comes out in a wheelchair with her entourage. She's being released and she's so happy. She's greeting people like the queen that she is (she really is very gracious) and making each one feel special, because it makes her feel special. They need two big rolling racks for all her flowers. She sees Mr. Green and asks about Esther. They discuss vitamin E. Glenn is there, but he gets lost in the shuffle. While Barbara Jean gets on the elevator and Glenn watches with stars in his eyes, a nurse tells Mr. Green that his wife died and she's so sorry. Glenn is in a talkative mood after seeing Barbara Jean and tells Mr. Green that his mother pulled her out of the fire. He doesn't notice that Mr. Green is staring in shock and grief. Then he says, "Give my best to your wife," and hurries off. Mr. Green is left alone – all alone. 1:39:07

83. 0:26 – Somehow Opal and John have ended up together. This is an important little exchange because she explains her theory on assassins to him. It's people like Pearl who create assassins. They stimulate the innocent to pull the trigger. 1:39:33

84. 1:19 – At Mr. Green's place, Kenny calls his mother and tries to talk to her while Joan dances around him in the tiniest pair of see-through panties imaginable and a short tank-top. Nothing is left to the imagination. His mother rags on him and rags on him until he hangs up on her. But, to keep Joan from knowing, he depresses the cut-off button and continues to talk to nothing and nobody. 1:40:52

85. 12:34 – This is a great scene. Barbara Jean finally performs in front of an audience, and she just lights up to be there. Del is trying to talk to Barnett into having Barbara Jean perform at the Parthenon, and Barnett is just trying to make sure she gets onto the stage okay. He's worried about her. He tells Del they're not into politicizing. Opal shows up. She must be done with vehicles. Glenn is there and now we know why he's been following Barbara Jean around. She opens up with Tape Deck in His Tractor, a rollicking good country song about loving a cowboy. All of Ronnee Blakely's songs are truly a cut above the rest in quality and singability. There's a liveliness and a passion in them that's missing in the rest. Then she launches into Dues, a sad song about two people breaking up even though they're still in love. She puts everything into this song, quite literally, because after it's over she can't seem to get going again. She starts off with a story about something she heard on the radio, and then just goes on and on with weird stories about her granny clicking her teeth and calling the chickens until she's babbling. Barnett has to come get her, and then has to placate the crowd, who just want to hear her sing, by promising that she will perform at the Parthenon. Now he's committed to the political rally he didn't want to have anything to do with. 1:53:26

86. 0:41 – Linnea's at home when Tom calls. Even though he has all the dialogue, the camera stays on her while she stares into space and listens to him. Something is taking place inside her, but we don't know what. At the end, she says, "um." 1:54:07

87. 6:13 – Tom has invited Linnea to see him perform at one of the local clubs. Opal is drinking with Bill, Mary, and Norman. LA Joan flirts with Tom before his set. Wade is in the back, drunk on beer. Linnea sneaks in and sits in the back. She is dressed in a PTA-mom outfit that makes her look out of place. Wade sits with her and offers to buy her a beer, then rubs shoulders with her. He wants to make a pass, but he's either too drunk or too innately polite to manage it. Tom gets up and explains how he used to be with a group called Tom, Bill, and Mary, but now he's solo. This is the first they've heard of it. He sings It Don't Worry Me and Wade, sitting next to Linnea, sings along off key. We actually don't get to hear the lyrics because of all the conversations taking place. Tom invites Bill and Mary up to sing a song and Mary pleads for his love with her eyes. Back at the table, Norman offers to show Opal things about the town that will surprise her. She tells him she makes it a point never to gossip with servants. Ouch. 2:0020

88. 1:59 – At John's "smoker," Albuquerque peeks out from behind a red curtain and watches as Sueleen descends from the ceiling with her piano player on a little platform. She's wearing a shade of green that doesn't go with her hair, but the dress is slinky and the room is full of men, so she gets a big round of applause. She's accented her outfit with long, opera gloves, a half-cape, and a ballroom mask: the kind on a stick you hold up to your face. She tells them she's going to start with a song about a girl who never gets enough (I Never Get Enough) and launches into it. The guys hoot and whistle. Sueleen has no idea how inflammatory her "act" is. She also has terrible posture. Altman and Welles obviously had a great time creating this character. We are fortunate not to be subjected to the whole song, but the opening line is, "I never get enough, I never get enough, of the love I'm hungry for." 2:02:19

89. 3:37 – Back with Tom and Linnea (Del is with John, so the kids must have a babysitter), Tom dedicates a song to "a very special person." Opal, Joan, and Mary all smile, blush, and bat their eyes because each of them is sure that she's the special person. Linnea stares ahead with her eyes half-closed. Tom sings I'm Easy, which is a sweet romantic song that's totally at odds with the rude persona he's displayed so far, and suddenly we realize that Tom is a deeply troubled man who is only acting out because he's in pain. He sees Linnea and they hold each other's gaze while he sings. Slowly, Opal, Mary, and Joan all realize he's not looking at them with this longing. Linnea is in anguish, but she can't look away. The camera lingers over a slow zoom to her face as she breaks down inside and realizes what she's going to do. Altman and Tomlin pulled this off beautifully, because her features hardly do anything. It's the most subtle, tragic break-down I've ever seen. 2:05:56

90. 4:49 – This is Sueleen's big moment, but it's not the one she's been expecting. She removes her half-cape because she's hot and the men go crazy. This is what they've been waiting for. She starts to sing again (a Barbara Jean song called One I Love You) and they turn boo and hiss. They thought she was finally going to do her strip-tease, which is surely what they've been told will happen, and she has no idea what's going on. The men start to throw money at her and her singing trails off. She hurries up the steps to Del, who has to cajole her into going down and finishing the act that everybody except her expected. He promises that she can sing with Barbara Jean at the Parthenon, which is almost like what happened to Barnett when he had to promise that Barbara Jean would be there. Albuquerque is stealing food, but takes a moment to watch Sueleen's humiliation. Poor Sueleen goes back to her little stage and starts to take her clothes off. She's crying and scared, but nobody cares. Even her piano player betrays her by playing burlesque stripper music and kicking his foot in the air to punctuate the climax. She tries to be a good girl and spins each item of clothing before tossing it to the crowd. The most poignant moment of this scene is when she takes each white gym sock out of her bra and twirls them before throwing them to a couple of men who are happy with any souvenir at all. It's the perfect combination of humor and tragedy, which was a hallmark of Altman's work. 2:10:45

91. 3:55 – More thwarted expectations. Tom and Linnea share pillow talk after lovemaking and he finally shows his tender side. She has to get back to her family. In his disappointment, he resorts to what has always worked for him before; he calls a girl. He talks on the phone while Linnea gets dressed and retrieves her panties from between the sheets. Apparently Tom and this girl had some kind of fight because she couldn't accompany him to Nashville. He tries to get her to drop everything and come down, but she can't. As soon as Linnea leaves, he cuts the call short rather rudely, and then sits alone in bed. 2:14:40

92. 2:44 – Del brings Sueleen home and then tries to put the moves on her outside her apartment building. Wade, still a little drunk, overhears them and comes to investigate. He is her knight in shining armor, but she doesn't realize or appreciate that. She confesses that she had to do her a strip tease and he tells her she can't sing. He's been meaning to, but never got around to it. She denies it and mocks him. She says they promised her she could sing with Barbara Jean at the Parthenon. 2:17:24

93. 2:01 – Scene starts on a television set and moves out to the Parthenon, where HPW's people are setting up for the big political rally with country singing talent (and Sueleen). The announcer recaps everything we know so far about HPW. He wants to eliminate subsidies for farmers, tax the churches, abolish the electoral college, change the national anthem to something that's easier to sing, and remove lawyers from government ("Have you ever asked a lawyer the time? He told you how to make a watch, didn't he?"). 2:19:25

94. 3:47 – A procession of cars arrives at the Parthenon and we know we are about to see how everything wraps up. We've met everybody and gotten involved in their lives, learned what they like and don't like, and even found out how mean, or petty, or hypocritical, or shallow some of them can be. They are all just like us, in one way or another. And now, just like the rest, John Triplette shows his true colors. He promised Barnett there would be no politicizing and no banners, but there is a huge HAL PHILLIP WALKER banner across the entire back of the stage. Barnett yells about it and John yells back. He gets really nasty about it too and reminds Barnett that if he reneges on the deal, the crowd will get really pissy about not seeing Barbara Jean perform. Barnett has no choice but to give in. 2:23:12

95. 0:24 – At Esther's funeral, Mr. Green suddenly becomes enraged that Martha (LA Joan's real name) isn't there to pay her respects to her aunt. He leaves the small ceremony and Kenny chases after him. When he is unable to persuade Mr. Green to return to the graveside ceremony, Kenny accompanies him on his quest to find Martha. Kenny brings his violin case. 2:23:36

96. 11:19 – Yes, this scene really is eleven minutes long. I could have tried to break it up into smaller segments, but I think it's meant to play as one section. Haven helps Barbara Jean open her set by singing One I Love You as a duet. This is the song that Sueleen tried at the smoker. Sueleen is standing at the back of the stage in a pink dress (the moment she turns into a caryatid, as MM pointed out). It's a very sweet moment and you can see that Haven has a lot of affection for Barbara Jean. As they sing we see that everybody is there. Wade, Opal, and Glenn are in the audience. Albuquerque's husband is looking for her. He hasn't noticed that she's up on stage.

Mr. Green is searching the crowd for his niece with Kenny in tow, trying to calm him down. She is now with Bill, who has probably figured out that Mary is having an affair and decided to get back at her, or just get laid.

Up on stage, Haven and Barbara Jean finish and Haven hands the stage off to her. She performs My Idaho Home, which is a wonderful song. Obviously each song was written and placed within the context of the story for a reason and this one just takes your breath away. It soars and swoops with passion and tenderness and love. It's about all the things that Barbara Jean has left behind and longs to get back to, no matter how much she loves her fans and enjoys the adulation.

Down in the audience Kenny is enraged by her performance. It may be the song itself, or it may be her, but whatever it is, it makes him finally decide to unlock and open his mysterious violin case that he hasn't let out of his sight even since his car blew up.

Barbara Jean finishes up to thunderous applause and Haven brings out an enormous bunch of roses. This is her moment and she's as happy as she ever can be these days.

We cut to a medium long frame that takes in most of the stage, so when the shot rings out and Barbara Jean flies back we see it as somebody in the crowd would, not close up.

Kenny has shot Barbara Jean. He had a gun in his case. Glenn tackles him and wrestles the gun away from him, but it's too late. Haven runs out and cries out, "This isn't Dallas. It's Nashville." Remember right at the beginning when Haven had definite ideas about what does and what does not belong in Nashville? Shooting beloved singers does not belong in Nashville. Haven's toupee has flown back and hangs down his neck. And one of the bullets grazed his arm, but he's more concerned with Barbara Jean.

And he wants somebody to sing, goddamnit. Sing. Albuquerque hesitantly steps forward. Haven shoves the microphone at her and goes to help Barnett, Tom, and Buddy carry Barbara Jean off the stage.

Down in the audience, Mr. Green finds and grabs LA Joan. He berates her for being disrespectful. After tagging along after everybody all weekend with her tape recorder in search of a story, Opal has missed everything and is desperately asking anybody and everybody what's going on.

Albuquerque starts to sing It Don't Worry Me, the song Tom wrote: the one we haven't really heard yet. At first her voice is unsure, wavering, but then she hits her stride and really starts belting it out. She picks up the remains of the bouquet Haven gave Barbara Jean just before she was assassinated and tosses them into the audience. Linnea and her singers back up Albuquerque until Del comes to get her.

Glenn leaves. There's nothing more for him here. The camera pulls back, way back, tilts up to the sky, and then we face to black.


Nashville has 96 scenes that average 1 minute and 37 seconds long. Some of these can be considered intercut scenes, but I assumed a new scene whenever the location changed. It was easier that way. And many times, it is how the story flows.

Altman makes his points by observation. He simply aims the camera, creates the scene, and lets you interpret it for yourself. In this way, he makes his statement gently.

He doesn't introduce people, but drifts into their lives. Even though there had to have been lights, booms, grips, sound men, and the myriad of people who have to wait and observe a shot as it happens, everything looks as if it is just taking place on the spur of the moment. Altman makes a well orchestrated film look like a documentary. The acting is very natural, with no melodramatic histrionics. Sean Penn's performance as the anguished father of the murdered girl in Mystic River is riveting, but it's staged. Linnea's quiet, subtle anguish as she falls a little in love with Tom is understated and real.

There is no three-act structure, per se, but each character's story has its own beginning, middle, and end as it intertwines with the other stories. Because of this, the entire film arcs naturally from start to finish. It is no wonder that every Altman film is a classic.