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Brewster McCloud

It may seem odd to blend Greek myth, fairy tales and the Houston Astrodome together into one story, but hey, it was 1970, and movies were experimental. And after a little film called M*A*S*H*, Robert Altman had a little room to improvise.

Of course, improvisation was one of Altman's stocks in trade, along with overlapping dialogue and a camera that whipped around to discover scenes as they happened, giving the cinema a new sense of heightened reality. That may sound pretentious, but really, that's what happened. But that doesn't keep Brewster McCloud from being a weird little fantasy that had its day as a cult film, but seems ripe to be rediscovered.

Since right now it occupies a niche in fandom, be thankful for Warner Archives. There may not be enough cineastes to warrant a major DVD release - and some of you probably just rolled your eyes at the use of the word "cineastes" - but the Archives program allows for smaller, no-frills print runs so fans can at least have the movie in their collection. (For sci-fi fans, this program has rescued such movies as Doc Savage from oblivion.)

It's a good transfer, freshly remastered for this first-time DVD release. All the elements are clear, both visually and auditorially.

Brewster McCloud doesn't seem to be a movie made for everyone, and that's a good thing. The eternally dorky Bud Cort stars as Brewster, who looks like a cross between Harry Potter and Waldo, but really wants to be Icarus. Blessed with one of the hottest fairy godmothers in history in the form of Sally Kellerman, Brewster lives in the fallout shelter at the Houston Astrodome, where he builds his wings, avoids most human contact, and might also accidentally be a budding serial killer.

That brings in Altman's chance to satirize other influential movies of the time. As the included original trailer touts, what Altman did to the military in M*A*S*H, he (allegedly) does to the police here. But the presence of supercop Frank Shaft (Michael Murphy) isn't nearly as important as Brewster's own meanderings.

Eventually it all coalesces into an almost logical climax, but for Altman, the journey mattered more than the destination. Throughout he plays with different levels of believability, going meta before meta was cool. The Wicked Witch of the West herself, Margaret Hamilton, plays a wealthy dowager whose murder scene gets accompanied by a haunting arrangement of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and all the while we get narration from a young Rene Auberjenois as an ornithology professor who himself might be transforming into a bird.

For those into loopier movies, and I seem to know a lot of people like that, Brewster McCloud turns out to be a lost gem worth that sparkles better than you'd think. For people like my mother, what are you doing reading this far anyway? Here's a sample:

You can order it here.

Derek McCaw

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