Brewster McCloud was the first film that Robert Altman made after the huge success he had with M.A.S.H.. Brewster McCloud is genuinely eccentric film, even among the often strange and willfully eccentric experiments that Altman has regularly engaged in. It was not a success but Altman recovered quickly after with McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971). Nevertheless, Brewster McCloud is pure Altman. It has a very peculiar sense of humour. Sample piece of dialogue from a tour guide: You know what we call that temple? The Shirley temple. And were thinking of painting the temple black. Like most Altman films what one watches it for is not any type of linear clear-cut narrative but the rhythm of the background. Any Robert Altman film has a bewildering sense of background texture that comes filled with seemingly inconsequential conversations and happenings or where Altman is constantly filling the foreground of a scene with bizarrely deadpan goings-on. There are wonderful little ironic pieces that weave in and out of the story and keep popping up later William Windoms insistence that detective Michael Murphy come for dinner, the business about the owner of Shelley Duvalls car, the stolen camera, the cop in sunglasses who keeps making advances on Bert Remsens wife.
The film comes with lots of weird bird and flying symbolism and allusions birds are everywhere, victims are covered in birdshit, there are bird-named retirement homes, Bud Cort works for one of the last survivors of the Wright Brothers family, the Houston Astrodrome features prominently, Shelley Duvalls car has a licence plate DUV and Sally Kellermans is BRD-SHT. There is also Altman regular Rene Auberjonois who gives a very strange performance, popping up in between scenes to lecture about bird behaviour, keeps breaking into bird cries and movements and is last seen pecking birdseed off a shelf.
It really is a very strange film. Altman loves the bizarreness of it all. He directs one of the most eccentric car chases ever one where he delights in the silliness of images like all four cars flying up into the air in unison or them slowly bumping their way along a railway line. In the bizarre ending, Bud Cort finally takes to the air on his wings but crashes to the ground, whereupon the rest of the cast walk on as a circus act and are introduced by their real names while Cort lies dead under their feet. All of this was unfortunately far too bizarre for most audiences who gave Brewster McCloud at most a puzzled shrug.
Robert Altmans other films of genre interest are: Countdown (1968) about a Moon landing mission; Images (1972) with its surreal games of identity blurring; 3 Women (1977), a cryptic film about identity blurring; Quintet (1979), an enigmatic film set in a frozen future; Popeye (1980), a live-action adaptation of the famous comic-strip; and A Prairie Home Companion (2006), an ensemble film based on the famous radio show, which features a visiting angel of death.