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Brewster McCloud

Out of the Past: Brewster McCloud

[Originally published in Movietone News 51, August 1976]

Uniformed marching bands with twirlers. Red, white, and blue. Frustrated chauffeurs who can’t quite comprehend the world of their passengers. An arrival at the airport by charter plane, covered by an on-the-spot news announcer. The death and funeral of someone named Green(e). A reference to car racing. Some wild driving and a crash that brings many of the characters together. The more you look, the more similarities you find between Brewster McCloud and Nashville. Themes, motifs, devices, even characters and character relationships unite the two films. In each film, Shelley Duvall plays a naïve and sexually capricious free spirit, though in Brewster McCloud the impact of her affections on the men she favors is far more serious than in the frivolous flirtations of Nashville. In each film she takes up, at least briefly, with the son of a wealthy and powerful man: Bernard Weeks in Brewster McCloud is a sensitive and talented young man whose artistic inclinations have been stifled by his father, who has made him his business secretary—the same relationship, in fact, that Bud bears to Haven Hamilton in Nashville. In each film, too, Michael Murphy plays a visitor from California whose cool ways contrast sharply with those of the people around him, and whose comings and goings lend a kind of unity and purpose to the development of the film’s events. His escort, in each film, is a lovable but somewhat slow-witted man, whose home life we glimpse in a dinner scene (though Patrolman Johnson’s outrageous three sets of twin sons in Brewster McCloud contrast sharply in tone and intent with the two deaf children of Delbert and Linnea Reese in Nashville).

All these imagistic coincidences suggest similarities in more abstract areas as well; and sure enough, they’re there. Each film attempts a sweeping satirical commentary on virtually every major aspect of American life: sexuality, class-struggle, race relations, ambition, success and failure, economics, crime, politics, religion. The more obvious, less integrated Brewster McCloud uses original songs on its soundtrack to comment on action and character development, and counterpoints the loose, rambling structure of the film’s events with comment on philosophical and anthropological concepts from an anonymous Lecturer whose location and character never directly connect with the characters of the film’s story. Nashville‘s use of songs and the continuous comment of Hal Phillip Walker’s campaign truck are, however, not significantly different—only a more successful integration of these devices into the film. The purpose of the devices is the same: to extend the meaning and significance of the film’s events to a larger scope, to link microcosm with macrocosm.

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“I had to risk not being liked in that scene” – Michael Murphy Interviewed

[Originally published in Movietone News 60-61, February 1979]

May 9, 1978 New York City

Judith M. Kass: Vincent Canby of The New York Times called your acting in An Unmarried Woman “an exceptionally complex performance as the husband whose emotional problems set in motion the events that make possible the Clayburgh character’s eventual liberation.” I’m specifically interested in the crying scene. Was that intended to get her sympathy or was that Martin’s genuine reaction to the situation?

Michael Murphy: I think that was a very complex scene. There were a lot of things going on there. I think he feels very badly about what he’s doing, but at the same time I think, yes, it is aimed at her. He feels so bad, he wants her to feel as badly for him as he feels for himself. I think her reaction to him when she gets mad is something he doesn’t expect. And so it had a sort of little twist to it. But people take it lots of different ways. I always felt that the scene needed to be sort of self-serving. I don’t mean that he was literally faking it; it was a very emotional moment, but at the same time it had that sort of semi-shallow feeling. I had to risk not being liked in that scene.

And in the whole film, because when he comes back to her and says ‘Take me back”

But there were ways to play that scene. I could have gotten more tearful and it would have been more sympathy-provoking. Paul [Mazursky] and I talked about it a lot. And you have the sense of the guy having kind of a seizure more than a tearful, sad quality.

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Altman and Coppola in the Seventies: Power and the People

[Editor’s Note: The House Next Door is currently reissuing a series of articles developed at 24LiesASecond, a now-defunct platform for provocative criticism with an underdog bite. Author Bob Cumbow is a member of the Parallax View collective and his essays are being published simultaneously on Parallax View. The essay below was first published on 11/26/2005, under the editorial guidance of James M. Moran (editor-in-chief) and Peet Gelderblom (founding editor). Thanks to Gelderblom and Keith Uhlich for giving their blessing to this collaboration.]

(Caricature Zone)Robert Altman and Francis Ford Coppola, arguably the two pivotal figures of American cinema in the 1970s, both rose from the turmoil of the transition from studio-based to independent production, to emerge as leading forces in film production as well as film style. Each eventually formed his own production company – Altman’s Lion’s Gate, Coppola’s American Zoetrope – and patronized the work of aspiring young film-makers (such as Altman’s nurturing of Alan Rudolph and Coppola’s of Caleb Deschanel).

 

Though Altman’s films compare with Coppola’s as chamber music does with grand opera, their work in the 1970s exemplifies what ultimately became the prevailing style of American film direction in that era: maverick resistance to studio-imposed time and budget constraints, insistence on directorial authorship, reliance on location shooting, use of improvisational acting, an emphasis on ensemble playing rather than star performances, Fordian gatherings – weddings, church services, parties, dinners – as exponents of group character (both Altman and Coppola had Catholic upbringings), and a revisionist approach to the mythic archetypes of the Hollywood genre film.

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