Brewster McCloud ★★★★½

Turns out watching this as an "adult" instead of a high schooler who wanted to see more movies like Harold and Maude was a much more rewarding experience. This is Robert Altman's Playtime, a sprawling, somewhat freeform series of gag-filled scenes that are loaded with social commentary/criticism. It's an incredibly angry movie that uses a spoonful of sugar to help the vitriol go down.

It's also about failure. The opening joke is the MGM lion opening its mouth, but there's silence instead of the typical roar, then you hear, "I forgot the opening line." Then an old white lady (the Wicked Witch of the West, it turns out) sings "The Star Spangled Banner" out of key, blames the black marching band, and the opening credits have to start again. It sets you up for the kind of bungling and failure (and racism) that we'll see time and time again throughout the movie (and for 1970 U.S. viewers also on the evening news: Nixon, Vietnam, etc, etc). Of course, this is an anti-establishment movie, so the black marching band breaks into the Black National Anthem and drowns out the old witch.

I loved this weird, prickly movie so much. From the background gag of the dopey cop's kids wearing sports jersey's with the team name "WASPS," to the send-up of fascistic/narcissistic movie detectives, to the strangely prophetic ending (radical counterculture dreamers fail hardest of all). It's quirky and rambly, but it's built on such a firm ideological backbone that it holds together... maybe even by dint of being so weird and specific. Shit on racism, shit on authority, shit on the establishment. This is radical stuff to come out of a major studio! A good friend of mine was recently complaining about how modern movies don't have "guts." I agree, and compared to Brewster McCloud they also don't have wings (or Stacey Keach in old man make-up).

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