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With: Bud Cort, Sally Kellerman, Michael Murphy, William Windom, Shelley Duvall, Rene Auberjonois, Stacy Keach, John Schuck, Margaret Hamilton, Jennifer Salt, Corey Fischer, G. Wood, Bert Remsen, Angelin Johnson, Dean Goss
Written by: Doran William Cannon
Directed by: Robert Altman
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 101
Date: 12/05/1970

Brewster McCloud (1970)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

A Wing and a Flair

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After the smash hit M*A*S*H (1970), which was the most successful film of his entire career, director Robert Altman probably could have made anything he wanted. Watching his follow-up, Brewster McCloud, you get the feeling that he placated the moneymen by telling them he was making another comedy, but that he was also trying to stretch his boundaries and make something interesting and unusual for himself. The film is so odd and freewheeling that it probably should have become a cult classic, if not for the fact that it has been so hard to find on video. Now it finally gets a widescreen DVD release on the Warner Archive label. It's another bare-bones presentation, though it does come with a trailer.

Bud Cort -- who would go on to cult success four years later in Harold and Maude -- stars in the title role, a peculiar young man who studies birds in order to build a set of giant wings for himself. He lives in a bomb shelter inside the Houston Astrodome, and a beautiful woman in a raincoat (Sally Kellerman) seems to be something like a guardian angel to him. Meanwhile, there has been a rash of murders, all accompanied by a glop of bird poop, and a turtleneck-wearing San Francisco supercop (Michael Murphy) has been summoned to help. Occasionally a very strange lecturer (Rene Auberjonois) turns up and speaks to the audience about the similarities between birds and people. Everything goes south when Brewster meets a girl (Shelley Duvall) and loses his virginity (i.e. his life essence) to her. Or some such thing. It ends at a circus with a ringmaster introducing the cast.

If that's not weird enough, a young Crispin Glover can be spotted as a clerk in a camera shop.

Altman seems to be experimenting in every scene. (One wonders if Altman had anything weighty on his mind, like the story of Icarus?) The film passes through several different comic tones, ranging from totally deadpan -- as when an old man in a wheelchair suddenly appears racing down a busy street -- to broadly comic, as seen in a climactic car chase (with its jaunty musical score). Characters will sometimes behave irrationally onscreen, and sometimes onlookers react accordingly, while other times they show no reaction at all. As always, Altman's huge, widescreen frame luxuriates in the wide-open spaces of Houston and the Astrodome. He often makes his figures very small in the middle, using their insignificance as yet another reason that everything's funny.

The screenwriter, Doran William Cannon, had also written Otto Preminger's equally bizarre Skidoo (1968). According to Psychotronic Magazine, Brewster McCloud had its world premiere at the Astrodome, with a 70mm print unfurling for 23,930 people.

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