On some levels, the story of this music-business drama is as generic as the film’s title, because it charts the familiar trajectory of a nobody who becomes a somebody through a combination of genuine musical talent and humiliating personal sacrifices. It’s the old question of whether fame is worth achieving if doing so requires the aspirant to sell his or her soul. Yet Nashville Girl works because the texture of the picture is credible, and because the sexual politics make sense. Every horny dude and every seedy location feels believable, and the way the heroine battles for control over her sexual identity resonates. As such, Nashville Girl is an interesting reminder that even though Roger Corman spent much of his career producing exploitation flicks that lured male audiences with the promise of female skin, he also released several deeply feminist films. Like The Lady in Red (1979), a pungent gangster picture written by John Sayles, Nashville Girl does more than simply include the exploitation elements of nudity and sex; the film contextualizes these elements within a defiant sociopolitical framework.
The picture plays rough right from the start. When we first meet her, Jamie (Monica Gayle) is a backwoods teenager crazy for country music, casually skinny-dipping in a pond. Yet male predators lie in wait, as they will throughout her ascension. A local boy rapes Jamie. Then, not long afterward, Jamie gets caught listening to her transistor radio in church, so her father beats her. That’s enough to convince her it’s time to leave home. Jamie makes her way to Nashville, where the best work she can find is being a receptionist in a massage parlor. Meanwhile, shady managers demand money in exchange for representation, and male country singers make overt passes. A vice raid at the massage parlor lands Jamie in jail, and when she gets out, she befriends a session player named Kelly (Roger Davis). He puts together a demo recording for Jamie, and they become lovers. The demo puts Jamie on the radar of recording star Jeb Hubbard (Glen Corbett), a horndog with a weakness for young flesh. He agrees to make Jamie a star, though Jamie knows it’s only a matter of time before he’ll expect repayment in sex.
Effectively stripping the music business of glamour, Nashville Girl dramatizes the ugly reality that many young women pursuing a singing career will be asked to sleep their way to success. Moreover, the film tracks Jamie’s psychological growth with precision. Confused and sad because the choice of when to enter the world of sex was stolen by her rapist, she struggles to regain her sexual autonomy, only to become even more confused whenever she trades intimacy for advancement. (That the filmmakers handle this complex material so well is even more impressive given the pedestrian nature of the other credits on their filmographies.) While not an extraordinary film, Nashville Girl has a surprising abundance of grit, and the performance scenes effectively describe the gulf between grim offstage tension and sparkly onstage illusions.
Nashville Girl: GROOVY