Altman's characters have sometimes taken his sneer away from him (McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Thieves Like Us, Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean), but the sneer does all the work in this film, though perhaps more economically than in the past. With Nashville Altman's contempt for his material was so vast he had actors playing country singers write and perform their own songs; here he merely posits a nightclub with an all-black clientele (save for Tom Waits and a party that wanders in by accident) and an all-white jazz band, led by a white singer. Yes, it's Annie Ross, who's supposed to have seen better days, but the only thing phonier than her singing is her patter. Greil Marcus is a contributing editor for Artforum. His "The Basement Tapes: 'A Conspiracy,'" on Bob Dylan's 1967 sessions with the Band, appears in the December issue of Mojo (U.K.).