The American flag bandied about at the end of that [Nashville] — which shrank the open-endedness of two dozen mini-plots to the level of a platitude — was regarded instead as a kind of expansion, because thematically it ‘meant something’. And if Buffalo Bill uses that same flag repeatedly from first shot to last as a sign of its own ’serious’ credentials, it is hardly coincidental that the film also ‘means something’ with a consistency and monotony that is unparalleled in Altman’s work.
Hey did you know that the popular conception of the Wild West is riddled with lies? That it glorifies assholes and treats Native Americans as sub-human? That Buffalo Bill wore hair extensions?! I suppose the need for revisionism felt more urgent as the Bicentennial approached (I was eight, only remember the parades), but simply presenting it as if it were revelatory per se still amounts to lazy nose-thumbing.
Altman creates a double perspective that allows his characters to speak “innocently” without the benefit of hindsight, and his audience to sneer in hindsight at that innocence. Quotes such as, “We do not know what glories await us in the future, but we do know of a past that laid the foundation” are meant to sound myopic and dangerous in the context of the disenchanted 1970s. Altman lets the audience off the hook; it is complicit with the sneering, not the innocence and what it represents.