By Bob Cannon
Updated January 05, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

In this behind-the-scenes account of the making of the 1975 magnum opus Nashville, film writer Jan Stuart captures the brilliant chaos of Altman’s filmmaking methods. He doesn’t miss a thing, from the director’s dealmaking savvy to his seemingly haphazard casting (early cast members Susan Anspach and Louise Fletcher were dropped; Keith Carradine’s girlfriend was hired) to the mayhem of the shoot itself. The prize, though, is Stuart’s running description of how Altman gave the actors room to improvise, write their characters’ songs, and pepper the script with incidents from their own lives. In the end, Stuart not only dissects the ”kick-ass-and-boogie” party atmosphere of the set but also gets to the heart of how the director hammered his sprawling cast into a cohesive dramatic ensemble. B+