Brewster McCloud (1970)

BREWSTER MCCLOUD (1970)
Article 2095 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-10-2006
Posting Date: 5-8-2007
Directed by Robert Altman
Featuring Bud Cort, Sally Kellerman, Michael Murphy

A boy lives in a fallout shelter in the Houston Astrodome and is building a flying machine with the help of a Guardian named Louise, but against the will of the rest of the world.

At the time of this viewing and the writing of this review, Robert Altman has been dead for one month. I found myself thinking about how I feel about Altman’s oeuvre; though I have an immense respect for the man and his talents, I’m not sure whether I can really call myself a “fan” of him per se. The problem is that I haven’t seen enough of his output to really come to any conclusion. Though I’m aware he had a lengthy career before MASH (I’ve already covered COUNTDOWN as part of this series), I find it convenient to begin with that one as the moment where he truly developed his style and entered the pantheon of great directors. But I only remember seeing four of his movies, and I found myself somewhat disappointed by MASH, and MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER quite frankly left me cold, and these are two of his critical favorites. I found myself much more entertained by two of his weirder experiments, 3 WOMEN and this one, BREWSTER MCCLOUD.

This is basically a bizarre but original comedy, with a touch of science fiction (that flying device) and possibly some fantasy elements, depending on how you interpret certain details and events, and maybe even a touch of horror; to the police anyway, the strangulation murders must seem like the work of a serial killer. I find the movie fascinating and quite hilarious at times; in particular, the movie’s send-up of BULLITT (and, perhaps inadvertently, the entire cop-who-doesn’t-play-by-the-rules genre) is inspired. I also love some of the ambiguities; for example, who exactly is Louise (the Sally Kellerman character) and what caused those wing-shaped scars on her back? Is she Brewster’s mother? – he never refers to her as such. Is she his guardian angel? – she does seem to be on the spot whenever Brewster is in trouble, even at times where she should have no idea that he is in trouble (at the photo lab, for instance). And who is the actual strangler – Brewster or Louise?

Another great thing about the movie is the wealth of strong actors playing interesting characters – Margaret Hamilton as a temperamental soprano, Stacy Keach as a tyrannical old man who is a third brother to Wilbur and Orville Wright, Rene Auberjonois as the bird-obsessed lecturer who serves as our guide to the story, Shelley Duvall (her debut) as an airheaded tour guide, Michael Murphy as the cop-who-doesn’t-play-by-the-rules, and John Schuck as a cop-who-does-play-by-the-rules who befriends him. And, or course, there is Bud Cort in the title role.

Quite frankly, I love this strange movie, and it is my favorite of the ones I’ve seen of Altman’s to this point. I don’t know how many others of his I’ll be seeing for this series (though QUINTET, POPEYE and 3 WOMEN are all possibilities). However, I do look forward to them.

 

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