Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Directed by Robert Altman and written by Doran William Cannon, Brewster McCloud is the story of a recluse who lives in a shelter at the Houston Astrodome as he dreams of wanting to fly where he would create a flying machine. The film is an offbeat comedy that plays into a young man wanting to do the impossible as it mixes fantasy and reality into this man’s desire to fly. Starring Bud Cort, Sally Kellerman, Michael Murphy, Rene Auberjonois, Stacy Keach, Margaret Hamilton, Jennifer Salt, and introducing Shelley Duvall. Brewster McCloud is a witty and whimsical film from Robert Altman.
The film is about a young recluse who yearns to fly as he creates a flying machine that would give him the chance to fly as he would deal with others who threaten him leading to a murder investigation led a detective from San Francisco. Set entirely in the city of Houston with the Astrodome in the center of the story, the film follows this titular character (Bud Cort) as he is trying to get an idea of how to fly with these wings he created. The film’s screenplay by Doran William Cannon sets up the main premise yet much of the film is improvised by director Robert Altman who would include small subplots into the film as it relates to Brewster McCloud.
Popping up every now and then is a lecturer (Rene Auberjonois) talking about birds and their wings while another subplot involves this detective in Frank Shaft (Michael Murphy) who arrives from San Francisco to investigate these mysterious murders as the one key evidence in these killings are bird shit. McCloud would try to mind his own business despite being aided by a mysterious woman in a trench coat named Louise (Sally Kellerman) and getting the attention of a tour guide in Suzanne (Shelley Duvall). Still, he is determined to prove that man can fly no matter what obstacles he faces.
Altman’s direction is offbeat as it opens with a band rehearsing the American national anthem until its singer (Margaret Williams) stops it because the band was off-key prompting to start all over again with the opening credits appearing once again. Shot on location in Houston, Texas and in and out of the Astrodome, the film does play into this strange mixture of fantasy and reality as it relates to what Brewster is trying to do in being able to fly. Yet, he also has to make a living as he would be first seen being a chauffeur to a miserly old man (Stacy Keach) while he also deals with an off-duty narcotics officer who tries to plant drugs on him at the zoo. Both men would meet their fate in bizarre ways as it adds to the film’s offbeat tone. Much of Altman’s direction is loose as he does use wide shots to get a look of the locations as well as shots inside the Astrodome. There are also some medium shots and close-ups that play into the characters and their interaction with a location including a scene of Brewster hiding from a security guard where he finds himself party of a touring group.
The film also play into these offbeat moments that happen as if something else is happening during a key scene which adds to Altman’s approach to the story as it play into so much that is happening including overlapping dialogue that would become a trademark of Altman’s style. Even as there is this car chase during the third act where it’s a riff of the car chase in some respects but also play into this confrontation with reality for some of the characters. The film’s climax is about Brewster’s flight and everything he thought about into his attempt to fly and what he would do to make this dream happen just as discoveries are made about these bizarre murders. Overall, Altman crafts an odd yet rapturous film about a young recluse wanting to fly inside the Astrodome.
Cinematographers Lamar Boden and Jordan Cronenweth do excellent work with the film’s cinematography to capture the sunny look of the daytime exterior scenes in Houston as well as the interiors for some scenes at night as well as the interiors of the Astrodome. Editor Lou Lombardo does brilliant work with the editing with some stylish jump-cuts to play into the humor and parts of the suspense as well as some playful montages that play into the bits of fantasy colliding with reality. Art directors E. Preston Ames and George W. Davis, with set decorators Robert R. Benton and Hugh Hunt, do fantastic work with the look of the shelter that Brewster lives in as well as the home of some of the victims along with the place that Suzanne lives in that she takes Brewster too.
Special makeup effects artist/wing designer Leon Ericksen does amazing work with the look of the old man that Brewster works for early in the film as well as the design of the wings. The sound work of William L. McCaughey and Harry W. Tetrick do superb work with the sound as it help capture the sound of the crowd as well as the atmosphere of the stadium when it isn’t full as well as some of the film’s natural elements. The film’s music by Gene Page is terrific for its playful orchestral score with elements of folk and country that include some original songs by John Phillips that play into the sense of adventure.
The casting by Gary Chason is wonderful that include some notable small roles from G. Wood as a skeptical police captain in Crandall who isn’t fond of Shaft, Bert Remsen as the corrupt narcotics officer Breen, John Schuck as the officer Johnson who helps out Shaft, William Baldwin as Suzanne’s boyfriend Bernard who works for the top police official Weeks, Stacy Keach as a stingy and cruel old man who collects money from old folks home in Abraham, Corey Fischer as an officer who helps Crandall, Margaret Hamilton as a singer in Daphne Heap that is cruel to the band playing for her, and Jennifer Salt as a young woman named Hope who helps out Brewster while also being sexually attracted to him. Rene Auberjonois is fantastic as the lecturer as this mad professor who talks about birds and their power in a comical way while William Windom is terrific as the top police official Haskell Weeks who hires Shaft to investigate while trying to smooth things over within the city.
In her film debut, Shelley Duvall is excellent as Suzanne as a tour guide for the Astrodome that meets Brewster when he’s trying to steal her car as they evade the police while learning about what Brewster is doing. Michael Murphy is brilliant as detective Frank Shaft as a man with piercing blue eyes who lead the investigation over these bizarre murders as he’s an offbeat man that is trying to investigate the case where he is the closest to anyone getting any answers of what is going on. Sally Kellerman is amazing as Louise as this mysterious woman who helps Brewster in his quest as she is this caretaker of sorts while also giving him advice on what to do to achieve his dream. Finally, there’s Bud Cort in a marvelous performance as the titular character as this young man that is wanting to fly as it’s an odd performance of a kid who is shy and reclusive yet is so determined to wanting to fly.
Brewster McCloud is an incredible film from Robert Altman. Featuring a great cast, an offbeat premise, dazzling visuals, and humorous moments that play into the film’s mix of reality and fantasy. It’s a film that definitely displays Altman’s unique vision in telling a story in an unconventional manner while playing up the ideas of fantasy and reality. In the end, Brewster McCloud is a sensational film from Robert Altman.
Robert Altman Films: (The Delinquents) – (The James Dean Story) – Countdown (1968 film) - (That Cold Day in the Park) – M.A.S.H. - McCabe & Mrs. Miller - (Images) – (Thieves Like Us) - The Long Goodbye - California Split - Nashville - Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson - 3 Women - (A Wedding) – (Quintet) – (A Perfect Couple) – (HealtH) – Popeye - (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) – (Streamers) – (Secret Honor) – (O.C. and Stiggs) – Fool for Love - (Beyond Therapy) – (Aria-Les Boreades) – (Tanner ’88) – (Vincent & Theo) – The Player - Short Cuts - Pret-a-Porter - (Kansas City) – (The Gingerbread Man) – Cookie's Fortune - Dr. T and the Women - Gosford Park - The Company (2003 film) - (Tanner on Tanner) – A Prairie Home Companion
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