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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Counterculture > Thriller > Brewster McCloud (1970/Warner Archive DVD)

Brewster McCloud (1970/Warner Archive DVD)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C-     Film: B



After the huge hit success (critical and box office) of his 1969/70 breakthrough film M*A*S*H, Robert Altman could have called it quits, started to make pointless films to turn a quick buck ort what he decided to do: make significant films of such innovation and complexity that most filmmakers cannot grasp them (Paul Thomas Anderson keeps trying (save when Adam Sandler shows up) and even he misses the mark) to the point that he became one of the most important filmmakers of all time.  The start of one of the most amazing runs of any director in history and especially remarkable considering he was doing his work at major studios is Brewster McCloud (1970), the first of his overtly personal epics and one of the most underrated, misconstrued and important films he ever made.


Made for MGM, the film has multi-layered concerns that center on how he sees the counterculture and America at that moment.  Prophetic and distinctive, the film concerns the title character (Bud Cort, who would find even more commercial and critical success with Harold & Maude a few years later) who intends to create a winged harness device that will allow him to fly and he intends to do this where he is more or less living; at that then new center of spectacle and American achievement, The Houston Astrodome.


It is here we first meet the great Margaret Hamilton (having fun with her Wizard of Oz persona just before its permanent mega-revival that gave her billions of new fans) trying to sing Francis Scott Key’s Star Spangled Banner.  But it is an awkward undertaking.  She is singing it in her “unique” style, she is in control of all the Astrodome itself down to the fancy new “advanced” video screen and is trying to fire up the all-African American marching band with whom she seems somewhat distant from in some profound ways.  It is an eccentric moment in a cavalcade of them throughout the film.


And it gets odder.  There is a killer on the loose strangling people, an unusual amount of birds are descending on the city and their excrement is marking everything in their path, McCloud is going to take this flight even if he is the next Icarus (but the dome should protect him from the sun, right?) and then there are more wild characters played by the great actors who became synonymous with Altman’s work at the time including Rene Auberjonois, John Schuck, Sally Kellerman and the debut of no less than Shelly Duvall.  They are joined by William Windom, Michael Murphy, Stacy Keach, Jennifer Salt, Bert Remsen and casting that (as would be the case for a very long time with Altman) could not be better.


Writer Doran William Cannon (who wrote the cult Hollywood film Skidoo in 1968 for Director Otto Preminger) pulls off an amazing script encompasing all of Altman’s concerns and the time the film takes place.  The film is so good at leaving no counterculture stone unturned that even the poster used as cover art suggests a send-up of the cover of The Beatles’ all-time classic album cover to their masterwork Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).


No, the film is not perfect and the risks taken sometimes fall flat, but that is quickly pushed aside for the energy the film maintains throughout.  Many have criticized its ending (a reference to Federico Fellini, likely in particular) as misguided, but that misses the point.  Between that, the themes presented and the obsession with Americana and celebrating the independence of a country that was getting into trouble, Altman himself was declaring his independence as a singular filmmaking voice and by doing it so loud and clear that Brewster McCloud is an impressive work that has aged well and I still ahead of its time.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image is from a much-needed restoration of the film and except for some soft shots here and there, finally looks like the kind of print that MGM would have been able to blow-up to 70mm, but this format limits the detail.  Color is improved from the fading print seen on TV and the old 12” LaserDisc and was shot in real 35mm anamorphic Panavision by two great cinematographers.  Lamar Boren is known for his landmark underwater cinematography for James Bond and classic Disney productions, doing some of his most interesting work outside of his specialty.  The other Director of Photography is none other than Jordan Cronenweth in his first-ever feature film work.  He later shot Altered States, State Of Grace and Blade Runner.  Yes, the film is a visual gem as well.


Though the film was issued in 70mm prints at least for its premiere at The Astrodome which means the would be in 6-track magnetic stereo and Altman was an innovator in multi-channel sound, eventually experimenting with 16-tracks of sound.  It is unknown how many tracks of sound he used on Brewster McCloud, but it is a complex soundtrack.  The sound on this DVD is only Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono when a possible 5.1 mix was hoped for.  Gene Page was a composer for comic TV (H.R. Pufnstuf) and feature films (Blacula) as well as an ace arranger on songs by Barry White and key hits for the likes of The Righteous Brothers (You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling), Barbra Streisand (Stoney End), Diana Ross (Touch Me In The Morning) and Elton John (Philadelphia Freedom).  Again, Altman had chosen very wisely.


The only extra is the original theatrical trailer, but when they do a Blu-ray, they should go all out on extras.  A story about how this was the first-ever Lion’s Gate film would be a good start.



You can order the film exclusively on the WarnerArchive.com site at:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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