with the mysterious, trenchcoat-adorning Louise (Sally Kellerman) wandering around the complex and serving as the man-child’s quasi-fairy godmother.
Meanwhile, a serial killer’s on the loose in Houston, strangling victims and leaving them covered in a splashing of bird droppings. Detective Frank Shaft (Michael Murphy), a blue-eyed beaut who gives Columbo a run for his money, is brought in to investigate, and such probings lead him to McCloud. It makes sense, anyway – a murderer with a bird fixation has a lot in common with a slightly unstable kiddo who also suffers from bird fixation, after all.
All this is genuinely bizarre, and I guess that’s one of the conclusions Altman wants us to come to. Akin to many of the director’s other films, Brewster McCloud’s brand of outlandish black comedy is almost maddeningly odd. But it also turns out to be rooted in much more reality than we’ve otherwise been led to believe; it’s farcical until a twist derails the chaos.
For fans of the extraordinarily gifted filmmaker, who practically defined the cinematic zeitgeist of the 1970s through such masterpieces as MASH (1970), Nashville (1975), and 3 Women (1977), Brewster McCloud is an anomaly. An anomaly both because the feature couldn’t be consumed through home video for decades, and because it is one of his darkest, most impenetrable of comedies: too bewildering not to be considered humorous, too complicated to either seem deep or discernible.
The movie contains so many of the characteristics Altman fans have come to adore while sifting through his filmography: the penchant for hyperreality, the use of cross-talking dialogue, the liking of unflashy performances, the sense of intelligence that suggests that he’s so talented, he could recreate any genre if he put his mind to it.
But that’s also Brewster McCloud’s biggest problem – those unfamiliar with Altman’s filmmaking style will find it almost imperviously strange. (Though even those dedicated to his gifts will have a hard time embracing it.) It’s a smattering of ideas divided into little balls of celluloid-flavored Jell-O, thrown at a wall with some globs sticking and others slipping right off the paint. More of Altman’s Jell-O recipe falls off here, but at least the ensemble (Shelley Duvall, in her feature debut, especially sticks out) is able to effectively grasp his unruliness. C+
1 Hr., 45 Mins.
obert Altman’s Brewster McCloud (1970) is a tale of madness disguised as absurdist slapstick, at least until the final half reveals that all the funny batshit’s actually been someone’s sanity slipping. Broad and cheeky, the film stars Bud Cort as the titular anti-hero, who’s young and UFO-eyed and skinnier than River Phoenix at his rakish peak.
Secretly living in the Houston Astrodome, the eccentric McCloud has taken it upon himself to create a set of condor-sized wings to help him fly like a bird,