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|Index||53 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You can tell this movie is from the early 70s from a mile away.
Experimental, cynical, satirical, and overtly left-wing: cops are dumb,
Capitalism stinks, and subtle preaching against anti-Communism and
racism being scattered all over. Actually, to be fair, considering when
it was made and by whom (Altman is one of those deluded leftists)
it isn't even that political or critical of (Western) society.
The movie has rather wild, quick editing, which aids the timing of the gags of which quite a few are funny. The unpredictability and zaniness of the fast-paced and fun first half unfortunately is followed by a weaker second half, which gets bogged down in weak/unfunny resolutions (like Murphy committing suicide what was that???). Even the very funny bird-dropping gags started to wear a bit thin. Toward the end, there is even a car-chase in which Duvall for some strange reason decides to have a cat-and-mouse game with the cops. This was stupid. Even dumber was Duvall suddenly informing the police of Cort. The obligatory (for this movie) end-of-movie flying sequence looks pretty good, but ultimately only the first half remains in good memory.
I consider Altman to be one of the best directors of all time, in spite of him being a silly little hypocritical leftist. He has made a number of crappy movies, but there are also some that are terrific, like "3 Women", "Images", "M*A*S*H", "Vincent & Theo", and even "Short Cuts". "B.M." belongs to neither category. Overall, it's solid.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If ever there was a love it or hate it film, this is it.
"Brewster McCloud" is a glorious mess, an imperfect film in that fascinatingly imperfect way that only Robert Altman could pull off. I admit that much of my affection for this film lies in the fact that I studied it in a Robert Altman seminar; each of us picked one movie to watch, analyze and report back on to the class, and this was mine. I was completely befuddled by it the first time I watched it, but then after I'd seen it three or four times, trying to make sense of it in order to talk to the class about it, I sort of fell in love with it.
Brewster, played perfectly by Bud Cort, lives in the Houston Astrodome and harbors the intense desire to fly. His efforts in that direction are complicated by any number of odd-ball characters, including a rich tycoon for whom he works as a chauffeur (an unrecognizable Stacy Keach delivers a howler of a performance as the tycoon, and has far too little screen time), a private investigator (Michael Murphy) with a penchant for colorful turtlenecks who's investigating a series of murders around the city, and a couple of bizarre female love interests, played respectively by Jennifer Salt and a divinely whacked out Shelley Duvall. Meanwhile, a sort of guardian angel (Sally Kellerman) with scars on her back where wings used to be follows Brewster around and may just be responsible for the murders taking place around the city (every corpse the cops find is splattered with bird crap). And last but not least, in perhaps the most bizarre role (and that's saying something in this movie), Rene Auberjonois plays some kind of professor delivering a lecture on man's desire to fly, who serves as a kind of narrator for the film and gradually turns into a bird himself.
Much of the film doesn't really make any sense in a conventional way, even after multiple viewings. The film is a lot like Altman's break out hit, "MASH," from the same year, with the overlapping dialogue, chaotic action and super-sarcastic sense of humour, but it doesn't have a universal topic like war around which to anchor itself, and many viewers might feel like they're watching an extended inside joke not meant for them. What is one to make, for example, of the use of Margaret Mitchell as a cranky old lady whose face we never see but whose voice is ingrained in our collective subconscious, and who is wearing an awfully familiar pair of ruby slippers when her body is found, victim to the mysterious avian serial killer? The allusion to "The Wizard of Oz" of course is obvious, but what purpose does it serve? The same can be said of Murphy's hilarious, dead-pan parody of Steve McQueen's character Bullitt, and the movie even includes a ridiculous and long high-speed car chase that pays homage to the one in that 1968 hit. It's all very funny, and maybe that's point enough, but I can't pretend to know what Altman was trying to say.
But the ending, after all the glibness that has preceded it, comes to a poignant and quite emotionally affecting conclusion. Bud Cort is the perfect actor to make us root for Brewster, and once we see this strange and even rather creepy kid get himself airborne with a set of makeshift wings, our hearts soar and we want to see him achieve the impossible. Watching him frantically flapping his wings as he sails around the Astrodome, only to plummet to his death, offers a sad reminder that some dreams, no matter what optimists may say, are never attainable.
Believe it or not, "Brewster McCloud" was the 1970 release that Altman thought would be the biggest hit, and he was very disappointed when "MASH" scored five Academy Award nominations and "Brewster" was ignored. One can't even conceive how Altman ever thought the stuffy Academy would go for something as esoteric as this.
To follow up "MASH", Robert Altman made this quirky gem about a young
man (Bud Cort) living in Houston's Astrodome, who is obsessed with
flying to the point that he's building a set of wings. Louise (Sally
Kellerman) is the only person in the world who really understands him.
Simultaneously, a string of bizarre murders is plaguing the city: the
victims are always covered with bird droppings. To solve it, the city
hires Bullitt-esquire detective Shaft (Michael Murphy) to investigate.
Then things really get weird. Rene Auberjonois plays the narrator, who
gets more and more birdlike as the movie progresses.
I actually have a connection to "Brewster McCloud": when they were filming it, my mom and her sister went to audition for a part, but the line was too long, so they decided not to (the role eventually went to Shelley Duvall). But that's just a side note. It's a really neat movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
POSSIBLE SPOILERS!!! I absolutely loved this film for the first hour. It's so bizarre, so twisted, so spitefully funny. It was great to realize than an hour in you still didn't really know what the hell was going on but had been having too good a time to really care. Enigma follows enigma, so many questions are raised, the pay-off's going to be incredible right? Unfortunately, by the time the film is reaching it's conclusion you still don't really know what the hell is going on. I understand that the film is a flight of fancy but still, even fantasy creations must be governed by their own internal rules of logic. I wanted to know why all the victims were strangled. I wanted to know who by. Who was Brewster's mysterious, beautiful companion. She seemed to be a guardian angel who had had her wings removed (literally) but really, what does that mean? I'm not an idiot, I like to be made to work hard in a film and I don't want it all handed to me on a plate but you can only string an audience along for so long before you have to reward their patience with something satisfyingly tangible. Undeniably the end possesses a certain poetry but it comes at a high price. I guess this is the filmic equivalent of the difficult second album. After M.A.S.H., Altman went off on one a bit leaving the audience behind. However I must qualify my criticism. I'm on a bit of an Altman kick at the moment after seeing the excellent McCabe and Mrs Miller. I'm also a big fan of The Long Goodbye (frustrating ripped off recently by some cat food commercial) and am eager to see as much as of his back catelogue as possible. Hence why I tuned into Brewster McCloud on TCM. And even though the second half left me a little non-plussed the first half is so great and there are still so many great moments in the remainder of the film that I don't begrudge Altman his little indulgences. He reminds me of another film maker whose work I admire, Spike Lee. With Lee, as with Altman, sometimes his films are fantastic and sometimes they suck but they are always interesting. Both film makers are constantly experimenting and in an age of homogenised studio fodder that has to be saluted. So I'm glad to have seen Brewster McCloud, I just wouldn't rush to see it again.
"Brewster McCloud" was Robert Altman's follow-up to his enormously
successful "M*A*S*H" (1970). But this comic-fantasy received terrible
reviews upon its release. It was considered a mess. Pauline Kael,
for The New Yorker, labeled it an insignificant "Rima the Bird Boy" movie.
Jay Cocks's review (in Time magazine) was in dialogue form. He envisioned
what it must have been like at the MGM story conference that gave Altman's
project studio approval; the conference ended with one reluctant film
executive protesting, "But gentlemen...this movie's about bird s***!"
"Exactly," replied another. "Isn't that what the New Hollywood is all
The New Hollywood of the late Sixties and early Seventies may have taken credit for such releases as "Bonnie and Clyde," "Easy Rider," "Alice's Restaurant," "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," etc. Namely, movies that appealed to Baby Boomer college kids. But for every "Easy Rider," there were ten or so "youth" movies that were real duds, critically and financially--I'm thinking of such efforts as "The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart," "Together," "Little Murders," "The Strawberry Statement," "Zabriskie Point," etc. "Brewster McCloud" was one of those. And it hasn't dated well either.
The parody car-chase toward the film's end is not nearly as humorous as it was in 1970; and Michael Murphy, as a "hip" police detective a la Bullitt exclaiming "Jesus Christ!" every two lines of dialogue is not exactly satire. It's just silly. Like the movie's storyline: Bird-Mother (Sally Kellerman) takes Bird-Boy (Bud Cort) under her wing, while he trains himself to fly with a pair of mechanical wings. The rest of the cast are essentially Bird-Brains: Bird-Brain Police officer (John Schuck), Bird-Brain Girl-Friend (Shelley Duvall, in her first movie role), Bird-Brain Political Powerbroker (William Windom), Bird-Brain Plainclothesman (G. Wood, the bald-headed general in "M*A*S*H,") and the same sort of ensemble-playing one expects in an Altman film. The overlapping dialogue in some scenes still retains some originality, and one particular exchange is worthy of George S. Kaufman:
Windom: "I'm having some friends over for dinner and thought you might want to join us."
Murphy: "No, thanks."
Windom: "I assure you, these friends are not without influence."
Murphy: "Good. Then they won't miss me, will they."
But most of the film is fluff, by today's standards. The only interesting facets of "Brewster McCloud" for viewers from my part of the country (South Texas) are the Houston locations, many of which no longer exist. Houston Astro fans may treasure the one shot of their baseball team: a view from center-field of second-baseman Joe Morgan (a year before his being traded to the Reds), making a great one-handed stab at a line drive from an opposing batter. Sadly, these days, one feels it may be only a matter of months before the Astrodome, the film's primary location, goes the way of Philidelphia's Veteran's Stadium--a great big dust heap. Which, come to think of it, might be an apt descripton of "Brewster McCloud."
I have seen the film on Turner Classic Movies - one thing that I have
noticed was a Houston, TX of the past, which has virtually changed for the
past 34 years. The Astrodome is still there, only that it's westside now
has a larger facility known today as Reliant Stadium.
When I watched the film a few days before the Super Bowl - I have noticed that several Houston-area locations have changed - especially in front of the former M & M Building (now the University of Houston - Downtown) where Stacy Keach was rollin' downhill in a wheelchair right after an old Houston Police cruiser drives past by. Today, a light rail line has been constructed, and if I had the DeLorean from the Back to the Future trilogy - I would like to experience the "old" H-town.
An introverted young man builds a self-powered flying machine and is protected from harm by supernatural beings. Imaginative but uneasy combination of black comedy, action, symbolic references and satire of American middle class values. (Rating: A-minus)
Robert Altman made his debut with this film that came out the same year as MASH about an eccentric young man who believes he can fly, with a series of subplots about people supposedly being killed by bird excrement. Stacy Keach has a gut-busting laughter of a role as a wealthy old man Brewster chauffers around. I didn't find myself paying too much attention to the plot and was too busy laughing. The movie is obviously only for acquired tastes. Great use of Houston locations too!
A strange youth wants nothing more than to take wing in the Astrodome. He is hampered by a host of eccentric, weird characters that are avenged by his "real" guardian angel and her raven. While this film makes virtually no sense at all on a literal level, Brewster McCloud is a fairly inventive, wholly original, gigantic misfire from acclaimed director Robert Altman. Altman even said that of all his pictures this was his favorite. Why? I have to assume it is partly due to his complete control of the film. That, unfortunately, does not necessarily make for a good or even great film, and while I admire much of the inventiveness of this film - I do not crave to see the film over and over again. It made me laugh a few times, but subsequent viewings would lessen that laughter. Altman has a unique body of work to absorb, but he has never been one of my favorite directors. His stories always seem to blend to the point of mild confusion. His characters seem to be so unique as to be unrealistic. Brewster McCloud has all that. I rather enjoyed the narration by Rene Auberjonois as he intimated each character being akin to some species of bird. I also liked the formidable acting talents of Stacy Keach in a bizarre, hilarious role as a rich moneylender, Margaret Hamilton in an all too brief role(though Altman DOES cash in on her Wizard of Oz fame), Michael Murphy as a policeman, John Schuck as a beat cop, William Windom as some creepy political guy, and the beautiful talents of Sally Kellerman and Shelley Duvall. Bud Cort has a strange, almost fascinating screen presence. He also knows a bit about acting. Yet, with all this obvious talent in acting, directing, writing, etc..., Brewster McCloud for me was just too unique, too eccentric, too avant-garde if you like(or don't). It is Altman's movie all the way, and I resolutely commend him for making it his way and doing it his way, and being the only moving force - the will - of the film. Again, none of those things necessarily make this a great film.
Admirably odd, though mean-spirited comedy-drama about a strange young man who hopes to fly like a bird through the Houston Astrodome. Robert Altman-directed quasi-comedy with eccentric characters is so overloaded with weirdos that it starts to creak early on from the weight. Some of the cinematography is evocative, Shelley Duvall is a stitch in her debut as a tour guide, and Sally Kellerman looks every inch the glamourpuss as Bud Cort's vision of a "mother bird" (imagine Altman and producer Lou Adler explaining that role to her!). In the lead, Bud Cort is--once again, after "Harold & Maude"--a true original; not off-putting like, say, Michael J. Pollard, Cort manages to be geeky, wacky and inoffensive, a tough act to pull off. Unfortunately, this is one of Altman's misfires. He can put together a cast and a showpiece like no one else, but let him get fired up with some misguided inspiration and he spirals downward. ** from ****
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