Directed by Robert Altman
Produced by Lou Adler
Written by Doran William Cannon
Starring Bud Cort
Release date(s) December 5, 1970
Running time 105 minutes
Brewster McCloud is a 1970 movie directed by Robert Altman; it centers on a young recluse who lives in a fallout shelter of the Houston Astrodome building a pair of wings so he'll be able to fly.
This was an early film to be shot on location in Houston, Texas. During the opening credits, shots of the downtown Houston skyline (with the One Shell Plaza building under construction) zoom toward the Houston Astrodome and Astrohall, with the emerging Texas Medical Center in the background.
It was the first film to be filmed inside the Houston Astrodome.
The picture quality is so-so. On the brighter side, it's 'Brewster McCloud', in wide-screen format.
It was Altman's follow-up production after the surprise hit, multiple Oscar-winner 'M*A*S*H.' Fox gave Altman complete creative control in the making of this film. One can't call it a 'good' movie in the conventional sense of the word, but it has gained a cult following. Altman himself, speaking of this film's disappointing box-office returns and cult status, said 'A cult is what you get when you don't have enough people for a minority.'
Altman's elliptical, surreal style in this film precludes a statement of a conventional linear plot, but here's an attempt. Sally Kellerman's character Louise is Brewster's mother, an angel who fell through sexual intercourse with a human being. She keeps him sheltered in the Astrodome [a reference to the heavens], sheilding him from worldly influences and engineering the deaths of anyone who threatens him from acheiving the goal of acheiving the power of flight which she has lost.
There are many amusing touches and in-jokes: references to Altman's previous film and televsion work; detective Frank Shaft is an homage to Steve McQueen's portrayal of 'Bullitt', but also references other popular detectives in films of the time, the rogue individualist who operates outside the rules and defies authority, and many references to the corrupt nature of authority.
Please keep a seed going.
In the bowels of the Houston Astrodome, a peculiar young man named Brewster McCloud (Bud Cort) slaves away on the construction of a pair of mechanical wings that will enable him to fly away someday. His muse is a mysterious woman named Louise (Sally Kellerman) who encourages his fantasies of flight but warns him of the dangers of sex. Despite Louise's advice, Brewster becomes involved with a shallow stadium usherette (Shelley Duvall) who inevitably brings about his downfall.
Filmed immediately following M*A*S*H* (1970) and released the same year, Brewster McCloud (1970) is even more unstructured and freewheeling than Robert Altman's influential anti-war satire. A contemporary take on the Icarus legend, Brewster McCloud is a crazy quilt of contrasting styles and ideas, combining the comic frenzy of a Chuck Jones cartoon with European film influences (Fellini, Godard, Truffaut) and in-joke movie homages to such favorites as The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Bullitt (1968). In some ways, the film even prefigures the gross-out humor of such current fare as There's Something About Mary (1998) in scenes involving bird excrement and a particularly gross-out kissing scene where the heroine has just vomited.
The original screenplay of Brewster McCloud was entitled Brewster McCloud's (Sexy) Flying Machine and had passed from studio to studio over the years, developing a mystique as one of the most famous unproduced scripts in Hollywood. Despite Bob Dylan's interest in the script at one time, the film project seemed doomed until music producer Lou Adler (he managed The Mamas and the Papas) took an interest in it and passed it along to Robert Altman. Brian McKay, who had previously worked with Altman on TV series like Bonanza, took a stab at revising the screenplay but soon dropped out of the project over creative differences with the director, leaving Altman to fashion his own script, often on the fly. Doran William Cannon, the original author, was denied any involvement in the film and was outraged when he eventually saw the finished version. He had also experienced severe disappointment over Otto Preminger's botched adaptation of his screenplay for Skidoo (1968). Cannon, nevertheless, confronted Altman in a bizarre telephone conversation which was later partially quoted in The New York Times:
Altman: Your screenplay was a piece of crap!
Cannon: My screenplay was perfect.
Altman: It was crap.
Cannon: You bought it!
Altman: You sold it!
The on-location filming of Brewster McCloud was another story. It was Altman's idea to film in Houston, Texas and use the Astrodome as the central location. Of course, there were the expected on-the-set difficulties: Altman replaced cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth with Lamar Boren during the shoot and clashed with leading man Bud Cort. The director also was briefly hospitalized with a hernia which slowed down production. But there were also good times as well. Altman liked to party as hard as he worked and insisted on relaxing with his cast and crew after hours, hosting informal gatherings where the marijuana and alcohol were plentiful. Brewster McCloud marked the screen debut of Shelley Duvall who was discovered at an engagement party for a local Houston artist. Duvall would go on to become a key actress for Altman, appearing in six of his films, including Three Women (1977) in which she plays a similarly vacuous and foolish character. Another Altman favorite, Michael Murphy, appears in an amusing supporting role as detective Frank Shaft, a broad parody of Steve McQueen's character in Bullitt, complete with piercing blue eyes (courtesy of special contact lenses) and an ever-changing wardrobe of turtlenecks and leather shoulder holsters.
Although Altman predicted that Brewster McCloud would join M*A*S*H* in dominating the Oscar race in 1970, he was sadly mistaken. Critics were either baffled by or hostile to its peculiar charms and James Aubrey, the new studio head of MGM, so disliked Altman and the film that he condemned Brewster McCloud to a quick play-off in saturation bookings across the country. But Altman still champions Brewster McCloud as one of his favorites and it certainly enjoyed a certain cult status among college film societies during the seventies.
Producer: Lou Adler, Robert Eggenweiler (associate producer), James Margellos (associate producer)
Director: Robert Altman
Screenplay: Doran William Cannon
Cinematography: Lamar Boren, Jordan Cronenweth
Film Editing: Lou Lombardo
Original Music: Gene Page
Principal Cast: Bud Cort (Brewster), Sally Kellerman (Louise), Michael Murphy (Shaft), William Windom (Haskell Weeks), Shelley Duvall (Suzanne), Jennifer Salt (Hope), Bert Remsen (Douglas Breen), Margaret Hamilton (Daphne Heap), John Schuck (Lieut. Johnson), Stacy Keach (Abraham Wright).