Sunday, September 25, 2011

BREWSTER MCCLOUD (Robert Altman, 1970, USA)

A fledgling boy is grounded by the gravity of imagination, his body crushed beneath the weight of mechanical dreams. Robert Altman's flight of fancy becomes an avian ossuary where a fallen angel must raise her chick to face an impartial world, populated by selfish and violent predators, fanged raptors who feed on hope.

Brewster lives in a gilded cage, desiring freedom but suffering social fallout, locked in a shelter deep within the Houston Astrodome. His dream is to fly, not within a metal skin where thrust is powered by chemical reactions (though most of the film seems powered by such) but by his own muscle and willpower. Brewster's matriarch is a mysterious benefactor with clipped wings and who demands his virginal sacrifice, a murder of crows appointed volant guardianship. Fowl play leads to a homicide investigation where our protagonist is recognized as a causal factor, and forces converge to arrest his misfit endeavor. But Brewster is his own worst enemy, consumed by physical desire as he hatches into maturity before he can fly.

Robert Altman despises the status quo, detailing a lurid expose of material consumerism and political chicanery that defrocks individuality and expression. Altman’s signature style is still evolving with generous use of overlapping dialogue, as sometimes two or three conversations take place simultaneously. He utilizes slow camera zooms with long takes and often shoots through window frames and windshields. The narrative structure seems hollow as a bird’s wing but supports its fanciful weight. The film begins with a professor’s dissertation on bird ecology and, as the story progresses, is intercut with these pronouncements while the professor begins to actually resemble a bird. Altman also satirizes genre clich├ęs with his own idiomatic pastiche of muscle car chases, tough talking cops, and coming of age conundrums. Shelly Duval, in her first role, actually looks like a bird, thin and sleek, her long neck and limbs evoke her avian nature and bring Brewster down to earth...permanently.

Brewster discovers the Land of Oz is just a circus, perhaps regretting Dorothy’s orgasmic infatuation without participating,. He learns the cold hard facts of reality, dead at the bottom of his cage.

Final Grade: (B)

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