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This oddball Altman film came out in the same year as M*A*S*H, but the two
movies are stylistically very different. BC employs a conventional plot
structure, whereas M*A*S*H featured an episodic style. Also, the latter
is best defined by its irreverent humor and hedonistic characters.
McCloud, on the other hand, is more of a zany fantasy inhabited by bizarre
characters who are not as sympathetic as the M*A*S*H characters.
Differences aside, the two films do have some traits in common. Many of the same players are in both films (Bud Cort, Sally Kellerman, G. Wood, Michael Murphy, John Schuck, Rene Auberjonois, and Corey Fischer). Also of note, BC is the debut of Shelley Duvall and marks the first of her many projects with Robert Altman. Moreover, both films have a detached narrator-type device which creates a middle ground in between the viewer and the main characters. In M*A*S*H, it was the camp PA system; in BC, it's the eccentric ornithologist/lecturer character. Lastly, both films make subtle statements about certain flaws in modern America. In M*A*S*H, this can be seen in the incessant ridiculing of the US military and US foreign policy. In BC, use of civil rights era gospel music and pithy references to Spiro Agnew and Nixon poke fun at American hypocrisy and ignorant conservatism.
The Houston Astrodome is without question a major character in BC. The protagonist (played by Cort) has one ambition in life: to take flight with a pair of wings he himself constructs. He lives in the bowels of the dome and spends his time there designing and building the instrument of his dream. He's always in danger whenever he leaves his "home" and the protection of his guardian (Kellerman). Whether he goes to the zoo or to a dome tourguide's apartment, he is in danger of being harmed by bigoted, violent people. In a sense, Brewster is not a member of the human race, but rather a bird trapped in human form. He finds haven in the Astrodome, but this is temporary and confining. He ultimately wants the freedom that "real" flight will provide him.
The themes of freedom and temptation are important in this film. Brewster longs for freedom, but is hindered in his realization of his dream by various characters and personal mistakes. Brewster can potentially "fly away", but there is one important condition. He can never have sex with a woman. If he does, he won't be able to achieve flight because his female guardian (Kellerman) will no longer protect him. But in typical human fashion, he falls for a girl. This character (Duvall) is his eventual downfall - literally! In the end, the film conveys the message that humans are never truly free. We are always controlled or confined by something, be it other people or our own desires or even the roof of the Astrodome. The dream of achieving flight is a metaphor in this film for man's incessant but futile wish to be free.
If you have no interest in these plot or thematic elements, Brewster McCloud is still worth watching just because of its bizarre humor, recurring jokes, and odd characters. Listen carefully, for there are many subtle jokes and satirical remarks. The trademark Altman audio style is used consistently throughout and if you listen carefully, you're bound to hear something funny or witty. When watching this one on video, be sure to crank the volume up high so that you clearly hear all the layers of Altman's "thick" sound mix. The ending - the final ten minutes of the film - is very memorable and provides a great finish to all the previous events. Unlike so many films, this movie's ending is neither anticlimactic nor corny, but rather profound and dramatic. You won't forget it!
Robert Altman created an absorbing, humorous, zany, and profound film in BC. To succeed in all these areas is no small feat. This film is a breath of fresh air when compared to the tripe Hollywood churns out on a weekly basis in 1999. I praise the work of Robert Altman. He's one of the few American directors in the past thirty years who's made interesting, unconventional, challenging, and highly entertaining films on a consistent basis and with his own unique style. It's a shame that only a few of his films (invariably M*A*S*H, Nashville, The Player, and Short Cuts; very rarely McCabe and Mrs. Miller) can be found in video stores. The obscure gems like Brewster McCloud (Thieves Like Us and Three Women also fall into this category) are nearly impossible to see, unless you buy the videos off the internet. Considering all the garbage produced by Hollywood nowadays, I advocate a revival of all the Robert Altman films made between 1969 and 1977 ("A Wedding" (1978) marks the beginning of the decline of his work, some might say). Oh, well. It never hurts to dream. Every once in awhile, a great Altman flick is shown on premium cable. I guess that is as good as it will get.
Brewster Mccloud is one of Altman's lesser known films unfortunately. It was released the same year as Mash, with many cast members from that film. It stars Bud Cort as Brewster Mccloud. A quiet, withdrawn boy who lives below the Houston Astrodome in a fallout shelter . Brewster is constructing wings because he perceives himself to be a bird and wants to escape the mundanity and futility of human existence. His only link with society is a mysterious woman named Louise (played by Sally Kellerman)clad in a raincoat with an unusual bird perched on her shoulder. A murder subplot involves a series of bizarre deaths, with the victims found covered in bird excrement. Michael Murphy stars as Frank Shaft, an iconoclastic cop from San Francisco who is called in to investigate. Wearing blue contact lenses ( in an obvious parody of Steve Mcqueen's Bulitt). As the story progresses Brewster gets into many misadventures and falls for the tour guide at the Astrodome ( a young Shelly Duvall in her film debut). which is his eventual undoing. Brewster Mccloud is a very dark comedy and not for all tastes. Altman perfectly satirizes the emptiness of middle class values and the absurdity of human priorities and our futile attempt to break away in this clever parable. The cast is uniformly excellent as we would expect from any Altman film. Stacy Keach is hilarious in a scene stealing role at the begining. Also Altman's typical unconventional narrative style with Rene Auberjonois ( as the "Lecturer")who is juxtaposed in many scenes discussing the various aspects of birds and serving as the narrator. Not to be missed.
This movie is a million things at once. Some may find that as a bit of a
turn-off, but then that's what a cult classic film is really about, isn't
Brewster McCloud is a reclusive boy who lives in the basement of the Houston Astrodome. He has a short job as chauffeur for a miserly old man. He is looked down upon for his meek appearance and his quiet manner. He dreams of building himself a set of wings and using those to fly away from all this suffering.
That's how the film starts, anyway. There are three basic stories in the movie: (1) Brewster McCloud's coming-of-age story, (2) the parallel metaphor of Brewster McCloud's dream of flying away from worldly sorrow, and (3) the murders of people who mistreat Brewster and who all die with raven droppings on their faces.
The real irony of this film is how the character of the Lecturer keeps pointing out similarities between the characters and certain birds, and yet the ending comes around, and we learn how unlike birds we are. There is so much information about birds, you wonder if this was an adult remake of an after-school special.
Overall, I'll have to use the word most of the other reviewers have used: quirky. There are things which are very different. There is the Pythonesque beginning where, as a woman sings the National Anthem and the credits roll, she stops, tells the band to try again in the right key, and the credits restart as well as the singing. There are small bits such as when a police officer holds up a lighter when his partner says there's only one way to know for sure if there's marijuana in a cigarette. And there is my favorite character, the Lecturer, who lectures the audience about the behavior of birds while he himself starts making strange noises and begins pecking at seeds...
This is one of the most interesting films I have ever seen! I own a
copy on VHS and had the pleasure of seeing it 4 times at the Film Forum
in New York City a couple of years ago.
After having seen Robert Altman's "M*A*S*H," his next film about the story of a young man who is building a winged contraption in the basement of the Houston Astrodome intrigued me. I had to see how the cast came together in their varied segments in this film and I wasn't too disappointed.
Robert Altman saw something in Bud Cort after seeing him in a NYC comedy revue, and then gave him a role in "M*A*S*H*, and was so impressed with him in the scenes he had in that film that he gave him is first leading film role. Altman couldn't have found a better actor to portray the lead in this film! I am a huge fan of Bud Cort's, and he kept me interested throughout in what was happening to the quiet and introverted Brewster, who dreams of flying away in a marvelously-made, flying machine. He lives a sheltered, and somewhat lonely life, other than the company of his lovesick friend Hope, who brings him food, and Louise, a strange woman who is like a mother-figure to him. Brewster doesn't say much in the film, but after a certain door is opened in his life, he becomes very talkative, and that talkativeness leads to a situation that jeopardizes his flight plans.
I thought the opening with Margaret Hamilton was funny, as well as the scenes Bud Cort had with Stacy Keach, made up as old man Abraham Wright, Brewster's former racist and mean-spirited employer.
I loved Sally Kellerman as Brewster's enigmatic and protective mother-figure, Louise, and Michael Murphy as the 'Bullit-esque' Frank Shaft, in Houston, via San Francisco, to help the police solve some suspicious bird-related murders.
The rest of the cast is fine, with the Altman touch of fine ensemble acting from the likes of John Schuck, G. Wood, and Corey Fischer. However, I found Shelly Duvall, who I've liked in other films, very annoying in this one, her film debut. She plays Suzanne, a girl who works at the Astrodome and becomes Brewster's love interest. I had rather seen Brewster become involved with Hope (Jennifer Salt), than the shallow and chirpy Suzanne. I find that most of her scenes, except for the one where she seduces Brewster, slow down the film.
Look for a delightfully strange comic turn by Rene Auberjonois, as the "Narrator" of the film.
Bud Cort plays Brewster McCloud. He's a very strange young man who lives in
the Houston Astrodome and is building a huge set of wings so he can fly.
The movie is about him and his VERY odd assortment of friends and family.
And how about the killer running around Houston strangling people and
leaving bird droppings on them?
As you can see this is a very strange film. It's unlike anything director Robert Altman has ever done. The film isn't perfect--it's too long, the weirdness wears you down at times, some of the humor is real sick and there are characters that are just disgusting (Stacy Keach) or too flat out weird, even for this movie (Jennifer Salt)! And what's with the circus ending (entertaining as it is)? Still I love this film.
The story rambles all over the place but I was able to keep track of it. Altman packs the movie with plenty of bird imagery and references. He also pays homage to other films also--most notably "The Wizard of Oz" (right up to having Margaret Hamilton in the cast and check out how Salt is dressed at times). This really doesn't pull together in any way but it IS fascinating to watch. Also the cast is great--with one exception--Michael Murphy. He's miscast and looks miserable. But everybody else is perfect. Particular standouts are Cort (very good in a difficult role), Shelley Duvall (who usually annoys me to no end) and Sally Kirkland (looking absolutely stunning). Also there's a very cute injoke--there's a quick shot of the poster for "MASH" in Duvall's apartment!
This film was overshadowed by Altman's "MASH" in 1970. Also, the studio hated it and threw it away. Now, however, it is rightfully considered one of the best films of its decade. I highly recommend this--but not for everybody. If you like a linear plot and easily defined characters, stay away.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Oh how I miss the late sixties. The world was coming undone in a frayed
sort of way. Logic was becoming unwoven, opening up possibilities for
magical realities and thence new narrative tricks.
The ones who got there first were not as polished as those who came later, working in a society that swallowed the frays. In 1969, the notion that you could buy new faded, frayed and patched jeans at a superstore of 180,000 square feet operated by the world's largest corporation would have been literally unimaginable.
Altman was deep in the pack of new artists willing to escape. If this merely seems incoherent now, it is because we have lost something wonderful, the ability to cheaply visit the unknown. Oh, it all seemed risky at the time, and part of the thrill in watching this was knowing the naughtiness of it all.
There are spoofs in here, but that's the smallest interest. There are quirky and comic characters, but that is beside the way, as incidental conversation while climbing the mountain. You have sex approached from several different directions, but that came with the very notion of risk and always will.
Here is the main story: A defrocked angel, Louise, chooses a boy (perhaps even bears him) to replace her lost dream. He can only build mechanical wings though. He trains and studies flight. Our first incidental story is of him taking a job with the lost brother of Orville and Wilbur Wright so he can steal their private notebook on flight.
That employer dies, as do many others that who have pieces relevant to the puzzle, and incidentally a threatening cop. This is all done by a sort of avian magic controlled by Louise.
Sex intervenes. Our hero inexplicably is not charmed by the girl from the health food store who comes to his den to masturbate. Instead he is captured by an amazingly appealing Suzanne, played by Shelly Duvall. (Altman found her behind a store counter and recruited her for this role. Presumably she was in real life what she "plays" here.) Her Suzanne is the free love icon of the time. Our hero falls in love so knows he is ready for flight.
Louise drops her protection because of the loss of virginity. Our boy discovers that Suzanne has moved on to another guy. He flies and dies. That's the main thread. I mention it here because this film is hard to find, not on DVD as I write this.
The form of the movie follows the gist of the story. Things are bent, threads are borrowed, conventions are broken. Altman tweaks with the beginning and end in the most intelligent ways.
We have three false beginnings, one of which opens a parallel narrative of a perfesser telling us about birds in roughly the same manner we get from Greenaway's "The Falls" of a decade later. He pops up throughout. The end is from "8 1/2" the film that for all intents started the sixties revolution in cinema. (Not the French.)
The setting is the astrodome, which was novel for the time. I count this as a film that stars a building. But that novelty is imperceptible today. The focus on the building helped with financing the thing too. The ending transformed the dome into a Fellini circus, in which we are introduced to the actors.
You won't be as thrilled now as we all were when this was in its context. You have to imagine the risk and the sense of unsupported flight and hell's angels.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
This film, televised in Denmark in the mid-seventies, made a great impact on me. The story of Brewster and his dream of flying was wildly funny and poignant. And why it has become so obscure makes me wonder. I have been hoping for an opportunity to see it again. It is truly a great film as is the instructor Robert Altman!
Brewster McCloud is a delightful early comic `trip' of one of the best
living American directors Robert Altman. It was made the same year as
Altman's masterpiece MASH and got somehow overshadowed by it and probably
deservedly so, though Brewster McCloud undoubtedly is one of the most
`lunatic' or weird, but at the same time most original Altman's films.
The film's story is centred on a very peculiar young boy Brewster McCloud (Bud Cort) who lives in a fallout shelter of a Huston's Astrodome and whose main passion in life are birds, an obsession that came so far that Brewster dedicates most of his time to developing of wings that will allow him to fly like a bird. He is regularly visited by a pretty young girl, who is in love with him, but because of Brewster's obsession with his dream project, she gets much less attention from him than she deserves, the fact that makes her go on her own sticking to imaginary sexual intercourse every time she visits him.
Meanwhile a chain of strange murders occurs in the city with all victims found with birds' droppings on them. In order to investigate it a police officer (Michael Murphy) who seems to be very obsessed with his looks, arrives from San Francisco, joining the group of peculiars that is already there. The scene is set for the most bizarre, hilarious and very entertaining black comedy. 8/10
Folks must have been very stoned when they made this .... It is such a
"playful" film with so many great characters (and actors) riding on a
very wild and surreal mixed up mythology. The film should be
re-released (maybe since Altman got an Oscar they will).
I don't know how he got away with making this... but thank God he did!
In many ways Robert Altman except for his hands off approach to his actors has created many films that are at the equal to Fredrico Fellini in satire and whimsically profound sequences that baffle the audience -= but ain't it nice to home from a movie and remember it because you just can't get the ideas and images out of your head.
This is a very funny film. It has the Star Spangle Banner, Ruby Slippers, Bird Do-Do, Mustard pumps, un-principled law enforcers, and wings that try very hard to fly away.
It's hard to talk about a film as unparalleled as Brewster McCloud. It
creates its own world out of element from the world we know so well. It
plays with everything, including its self-consciousness about being a
It weaves together many threads into a lovely, heart-breaking snapshot of
moment in America.
The situation: The world has gone mad. The wicked witch is wearing the Ruby slippers, and has become a beloved social icon. Who wouldn't want to fly away?
Enter Brewster McCloud, a young man who plans to do just that. He is hiding out in the basement of the Astrodome in Houston, working on building his wings. The kind you wear. Like Icarus did. His plan is all feeling, very focused, but doesn't take him past the immediate "How?" He is under the tutelage and protection of a sort of Bird-Goddess/Angel (played by Sally Kellerman) who walks around wearing absolutely nothing but a red plastic raincoat. When she takes it off, you can see the long, curving scars where her wings were removed. She also drives around in a small red car whose license-plate reads "BRDSHT".
Lest you think I've given away too much, let me assure you this barely scratches the surface. Who is responsible for the wave of mysterious murders? What of the presidential candidate who's all over town, is he an assassination target? What is the connection with the horny young girl (Shelly Duvall, in her first movie role - I believe she was discovered by Altman when he attended a party at her house during the location shoot in Houston) who comes to visit Brewster but can't ever really get his attention?
A wonderful, under-rated film worth seeing.
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