Robin Williams once said that “nobody liked Popeye,” speaking of the Robert Altman film in which he starred. Well, he was wrong. Three generations of my family loved it. Featuring Altman’s trademark huge cast, it was a musical for its time—1980—dark yet hopeful. Altman had a talent for films that reflected the times in which they were made, regardless of subject matter or the times in which they were set.
M*A*S*H, 1969, was a precedent-setting antiwar film that is as relevant today as it was when it was released during the Vietnam War era. A year after M*A*S*H, Altman gave us Brewster McCloud, another film mixing dark and hopeful, but the mix resulted in a movie that was the antithesis of Popeye. All these titles were light years away from his early work, such as the 1953 documentary How to Run a Filling Station, and the episodes of various programs he directed during television’s “golden age.”
I have fond memories of Brewster McCloud, and for many years wished I would be able to see it again. Learning of its upcoming re-release, I was thrilled and a little apprehensive. When I first saw Brewster McCloud I was young and idealistic, probably more than a little foolish; did it age as well as M*A*S*H? Could it possibly be as entertaining and relevant as I remembered?
Inarguably eccentric, Brewster McCloud is peopled with peculiar characters with nary a normal person on screen. It opens with lecturer Rene Auberjonois speaking about the differences between men and birds, and the desirability that they remain different. Throughout the film, Auberjonois appears, lecturing about some behavior in birds that is pertinent to one of the characters in the story. He speaks directly to the audience, and as the film progresses he appears more and more birdlike.