Last December, I watched a DVD of the movie A Prairie Home Companion
and wondered what Spaniards would think of it if it ever came to Spain.
It opened here in Madrid on March 23. Now I know.
They are confused.
Several reviewers thought the film was set in St. Paul, Texas, and most thought it was about country-western music.
E. Rodríguez Marchante, the critic for ABC
newspaper, liked it, especially "the incredible acting by Wooy [sic] Harrelson [sic] and John C. Reilly, Lusty [sic] and Lefty, a pair of country-bumpkin cowboys who say and do all kinds of vulgar and obscene things. ... a 'show,' a musical full of rhythm, irony, and a sense of humor, that is at heart something like a requiem, a wake, a large funeral procession that gives its final respects to a mythical radio program or a mythical movie director."
Most critics lingered on how it was the last film of director Robert Altman, who died late last year, and they used their reviews as a platform to examine his career and speculate about whether he knew it would be his last movie. (According to the movie's English-language web page
, no; in fact, he was in pre-production on another film when he died. The Spanish-language web page
also explains clearly where the movie takes place and who Garrison Keillor is.) The movie's Spanish promoters probably don't mind the attention on the director, since the Spanish version of the title means The Last Show
and deliberately plays on the plot and on Altman's death.
But what is the movie about? No one in Spain listens to National Public Radio or Prairie Home Companion, so critics had to guess about the context. The television channel Telecinco describes it as "a backstage story about a popular radio show that fights to survive in the era of television. A parade of strange and stranger people pass through the program and create situations that grow more and more grotesque."
Critic Almudena Muñoz Pérez wrote:
"Country music radio stations, whose format of 'music for white people' reached its peak in America a few decades ago, becomes the perfect context for a group of characters who, like Altman, have accepted the end of the road with sunny resignation. Although the decline of audiences for these radio networks is an ongoing reality, in this case it is used as an abstract representation of the trajectory of both his movies and of his career in the past few years."
She adds that movie-goers "who want an acid criticism of the decline in the American spirit using its culture as a vehicle" will be disappointed.
Other critics were less kind. Miguel Ángel Bastenier of El País
newspaper said Altman's ensemble-cast style can trip up viewers from other cultures who can't get past the local color. He said Altman's movie M.A.S.H.
did well because it dealt with a war that was on everyone's mind, but Nashville
ran into trouble with viewers who don't like country music.
"And this radio show about senile warm-up acts and second-rate newcomers may be even more likely to suffer the same fate when it is shown in Spain, far from its cloistered home, the Prairie Home Companion. And, in fact, the only reason that the film is on movie screens in practically the whole world is a tribute to the planetary hegemony of the United States."
The movie 300
opened the same day. Critics liked it even less, though they seem to have understood it better.