Saturday, January 27, 2007

Brewster McCloud

dir. Robert Altman

Harry Potter and the Pantsless Eyelashes

January 18, 2007 - 35mm/IFC Center

Brewster McCloud is the motion picture debut of the talented and sexy Shelley Duvall. Brewster McCloud is the first motion picture featuring Bud Cort as the titular character; his next would be Harold of Harold and Maude. Brewster McCloud is likely to be (cannot be too sure about this) the only movie where a serial killer leaves bird shit on the bodies. Brewster McCloud is often incredibly funny and irreverent. Brewster McCloud is like M*A*S*H in that an incredibly long action/sporting scene cuts the movie’s sails and brings it to a rather tedious dead halt. Unlike M*A*S*H, this scene is not the climax of the story or the humor, and the movie is forced to struggle to recover (in M*A*S*H, the movie ends). This is a tricky situation that only occurs when a movie is actually genuinely funny, filled to the brim with sillybilly belly laughs. The laughter becomes the norm, and in this case, a long sequence that is unfunny feels far worse than an unfunny scene in a marginally funny movie. The tragedy I speak of is a very long “funny” car chase sequence, shot in characteristic Altman fashion, meaning long shots zooming in and out at a whim, which cause the life-size cars to appear almost like match-box cars. The hyper-kinetic energy of the rest of the movie is reduced to watching a four-year-old play with toys. It is frustrating, because otherwise, Brewster McCloud is classic Altman and a comedy classic. Instead it has been reduced to a mere oddity, but it is so much more, so so much more.

Brewster McCloud bolts out of the gate with a false start and then gets chugging along at a relentless pace. It beings with a woman singing a dreadful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner in the Houston Astrodome. The credits roll over the thing, but the arrogant woman stops singing, berates the band for being out of key and then both the song and the credits start over again (false start). Soon we’re jettisoned to Stacey Keach in old man make-up. He is collecting money from nursing homes. Eventually, Mr. Keach goes careening down a hill in his wheelchair. He hollers quite a bit, very much like (or exactly like) Spike Jonze in the below clip from Jackass: The Movie.

It comes after Wee-Man in the Cone

These scenes are intercut with scenes that are even more non-sequitor. Rene Auberjonois plays a high=strung, hypo-allergenic ornithologist. He lectures fun and not-so-fun facts about birds to the camera, which are always funny (sadly, the frequency of his appearances slow as the movie moves forward). Very quickly a detective is brought in from San Francisco to investigate the bird shit murders. This detective specializes in turtleneck sweaters, and is played by Michael Murphy, who wears piercing ocean blue contact lenses (this is all introduced in the midst of the relentless pace part).

All of this overkill funny leads to what? Does it need to lead to anything? Part of the beauty of Brewster McCloud is the amount of clutter in every frame, clutter or detail, something fans of Wes Anderson may find familiar and comforting. Altman also embraces something that has since become something of a Wes Anderson fixture, which is framing a person or action in the center of widescreen frame, while a cluttered background or oddball action surrounds.

Robert Altman started making movies not as a young man, but as an adult, yet Brewster feels the work of a young, enthused director. The anarchic sunshine that is this picture has a twang of melancholy, but it is first and foremost a whacky comedy. The cherub-faced Mr. Cort is building wings to fly away and become something of a true cherub. Wearing a pair of skimpy briefs, Brewster, with an uncherub-like, sweaty, muscular body does chip-ups. A friend, who works at the local health food store, delivers his order of human bird food, if you can imagine what that is. This girl is just overcome with sexual attraction to this to-be-winged man. Sex is the last thing on Mr. McCloud’s mind, but the gal is willing to take care of things herself. It is one of the funnier scenes in the movie as the girl writhes under covers on Brewster’s bed and he is ardently oblivious. Shelley Duvall is more successful in her seduction, shifting Brewster’s focus just a tiny bit away from flying. His idealist passion to fly away is discovered to be malleable, making Brewster McCloud a coming-of-age story. It is not about sexual awakening, but about dreams and youthful idealism quietly breaking with the influence of the real world and human frailty. Sex is presented as something frail and human, not corrupting. Though Brewster builds himself to be an organic flying machine, like a bird, his avian ideology stumbles a bit with every touch of humanity. Though the movie is not sad and human frailty is celebrated, despite the lost idealism. It would take a man of Altman’s history and stature to communicate this, particularly through comedy, and with its flaws and humanity, Brewster McCloud will be rediscovered and cherished.

1 comment:

Manel said...

my favorite movie