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Brewster McCloud 1970
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(Nov 27, 2018)
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Brewster McCloud (Bud Cort) lives deep within the cavernous underground of the Houston Astrodome, but his dreams rise much higher. He aims to fly. Not in a plane. But with strapped-on wings he’s designing – encouraged by a mysterious woman (Sally Kellerman) who may be his guardian angel. But Brewster McCloud, Robert Altman’s wild, anarchic cult fave, isn’t about dreams as much as it is about the highs and lows of humanity. It’s a serial-killer mystery. A frenetic car-chase flick. A crazy circus-finale comedy. Shelley Duvall debuts as the tour guide whose seduction of Brewster may lead to his undoing. Ah, love. The thing that at once shapes and unravels us. The thing that may or may not give us wings.
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Some reviewers seem disturbed by the fact that Brewster is a serial killer without embracing the concept that the movie is more about what it's events are meant to represent than their actual substance. This movie is all about a young mans quest for freedom which Brewster hopes to achieve by flying away on home made wings. The movie has many unanswered questions. Who or what is Sally Kellermans character ? A Fallen Angel ? How did Brewster meet her ? Is Brewster really a serial killer ? We never see Brewster actually kill anyone in the film and Kellerman is always present so doe she actually commit the crimes ? The final murder after Kellerman leaves Brewster would seem to implicate him but it is not a hard fact.
This is a movie that requires some suspension of disbelief to watch and enjoy it. It allows the audience to feel "Wow it would be cool to be able to flaunt authority like that !" At the time I really enjoyed the car chase because I knew Brewster and his ditzy girl friend would emerge victorious. For fans of this type of movie I also recommend Malcom McDowell in "IF" and "O' Lucky Man."
At the time I first saw this film a lot of us would have liked to be able to put on wings and just fly away.
This remastered edition looks good but strangely does not have captioning - perhaps not that strange because Altman's layered dialog is a nightmare to caption but much is missed by the absence of captioning.
This has been on my list of top ten films since I first saw it 40+ years ago. It withholds at lot from the initial viewing and you discover something new each time you watch it.
"The film has references to other films, Altman's own work, and other places. Altman refers to Bullitt (1969) by including a character named Frank Shaft, who is a detective from San Francisco." The name may have inspired the name of Richard Roundtree's "John Shaft" character, in a more subtle parody from 1971 ("he just took my man Leroy and threw him out the God damn window").
"Homages to The Wizard of Oz (1939) have been noted in the film, as Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, is the music conductor seen during the opening credits. She is seen wearing ruby slippers in the film. Hope (Jennifer Salt) who supplies Brewster with health food, resembles Dorothy, as she wears a distinctive gingham dress, has pigtails and carries a basket. At the end of the film, she is shown in the cast as Dorothy carrying Toto."
Shelley Duvall plays a Raggedy Ann airhead character (without Luna Lovegood's redeeming qualities) and actually appears as a Raggedy Ann clown in the final scene.
"Brewster McCloud" is a film that presents society as circus performers and life as a circus, if you haven't figured that out by the end Altman hits you over the head with it as he goes out with perhaps the best black comedy ending of all time. Throughout the story a bird-like narrator, sometimes on camera and sometimes in a voiceover commentary, discusses the traits of various birds; traits that are shared by the human characters in the story, although that leap is left to each viewer. Allusions to birds are found throughout the story, from the orange Plymouth Roadrunner to the names of several assisted living facilities.
The title character (played by Bud Cort) is much the same naive Private Boone character Cort portrayed for Altman in "MASH". The difference is that Brewster is on an ambitious quest to literally fly. Which involves intensive physical training when he is not busy designing and building a set of Wright Brothers inspired wings.
During the course of his project Brewster has to be rescued several times and stay focused on his goal of flying. In this he is assisted by
personifications of Faith (Sally Kellerman) and Hope (Jennifer Salt). Kellerman's character is actually named Louise and functions as his
guardian angel, although if Hope is Oz's Dorothy then Louise is Oz's Glinda.
"Hope" is conceptually what self-pleasuring is all about and she demonstrates this when thinking about Brewster. Freud's dream of flying as symbolic of the sexual urge is explained to Brewster by Louise and at first glance Brewster's loss of virginity and its attendant loss of idealism is what dooms him. But I see it being more the loss of his humility. And it is his new found arrogance that drives away his Faith. She exits by the Astrodome's huge commercial gate which slowly closes after her exit, trapping Brewster inside the structure. He can utilize his wings in what is essentially a large bird cage but he cannot escape. The dome representing the constraints and limitations of society and outside the dome representing freedom. One assumes that had he not driven her away that Louise would have assisted him in leaving the dome. There is a bit of "The Incredible Shrinking Man" in this idea of needing to become infinitesimal in order to merge with the infinite.
Given that most of the cast were Altman regulars, it is remarkable how successful he was with his physical casting. Duvall, for example, has not just the physical rag doll look (note the Raggedy Ann wallpaper in her apartment and the emphasis given to her huge eyes) but her most striking feature is her thinness - a physical manifestation of her character's most striking feature - shallowness.
It is a nicely layered film that works well simply as a social satire of American values and conventions. Many of these details will escape the notice of the first time viewer, such as in the scene of Patrolman Johnson's family at dinner. He has three sets of twin sons gathered around the dinner table in their Little League uniforms, the smallest two playing for a team named "WASPS".
In the end the circus audience watches in satisfied fascination as yet another high flyer overreaches and falls back to earth. The "Greatest Show On Earth" presided over by controlling ringmaster Haskell Weeks (William Windom), perhaps a nod to cinematographer Haskell Wexler with whom Altman hoped to one day collaborate.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
I finally just decided to purchase the darn DVD. Well. This is obviously very early Altman. He did this right after M*A*S*H and he was obviously trying out new ideas and new ways to make movies. I love that. There are elements and storytelling ideas that he later perfected in Nashville and other films, but are don't quite work here. The story doesn't quite hold up and there are elements that are just confusing and outright illogical.
There is much that is genius, much that points to future genius and But Cort is completely wonderful. Anyone interested in film study should see it and anyone who knows and loves Altman's later work should see it just to see where he came from and where he took it later on.