THE DVD SHELF: Robert Altman's "Nashville" and Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine"

By Steven Suskin
12 Jan 2014

Cover art

The 160-minute film is filled with songs, many of which were written by the performers themselves. (Carradine won an Oscar for his song, "I'm Easy.") Most remarkable for me among the cast are Tomlin and Gibson, both of whom reveal surprising power (as they were known, at the time, mostly for their comedic appearances on TV's "Laugh-In"), and former Broadway star Harris, who is supposed to be altogether unsettling and is. But many of the performances in Altman's "Nashville" are likely to resonate in your memory.

*

Woody Allen has directed something like 46 movies over 46 years. His "golden age" — if you go for such terms — might be deemed to be back in the 1970s, with such items as "Sleeper," "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan." Of late, the septuagenarian has blossomed with 2011's delectable "Midnight in Paris" and last year's "Blue Jasmine" [Sony Pictures Classics]. Allen seems to have mixed up the tale of a character like Ruth Madoff (wife of you-know-who) with a character very much like Tennessee Williams' forlorn Blanche DuBois. If that sounds like a canny idea promising numerous delights, it is.



It's not the power of the idea that's important, but what you do with it. Happily, the director/author uses this Madoff/Streetcar mélange as a mere starting point. In lesser hands — and let's face it, most directorial hands are lesser than Allen's — this might have turned into a spoof with moments that hit and moments that miss. Allen takes this slightly borrowed idea and makes it his own, in his accustomed style. (The streetcar is still named desire, but it is now traversing the hills of San Francisco.) Everything he does, here, works; everything, even when it borders on farce, is handled perfectly. So yes, "Blue Jasmine" ranks high among the best of Allen.

As usual, the auteur fills his world with interesting actors. Cate Blanchett gives an awards-worthy performance as Blanche; that is, Jasmine. Sally Hawkins (as Jasmine's sister) and Bobby Cannavale (as the mechanic the sister lives with, and the Stanley Kowalski stand-in) offer strong support, as do Alec Baldwin (as the disgraced husband) and Peter Sarsgaard (as Jasmine's new catch). Allen also surprises us with an excellent performance from controversial stand-up comedian Andrew Dice Clay. But it is Blanchett — and Woody Allen — who make "Blue Jasmine" glimmer.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes," "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Broadway Yearbook" series and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at ssuskin@aol.com.)