I was surprised to learn that of all the films Robert Altman made, this was his favorite. It is the one he chose to make when he could have made almost anything right after his breakout hit with M*A*S*H. And it is one weird little film.
It was shot in Houston, the big city I was most familiar with when I was going to school. It all looked very familiar, though I hadn’t been there for five years when I first saw this movie. Much of it was filmed in and around the Astrodome, including the now-demolished Astroworld theme park. I was sorry to learn that the “Eighth Wonder of the World” (when it was built) is now a derelict shell. I understand that for quite a while it was used for rodeos and monster truck shows and the like. The last time it was really used for anything at all was in 2008 as a temporary shelter for 25,000 refugees from Katrina. (You may recall that Barbara Bush—who George Carlin correctly called “the silver douchebag”—happily and cluelessly expressed the opinion that, for many of these people, it was a step up to be sleeping on a cot in a gigantic barn. Unbelievable!) Now the fate of the Astrodome seems to be up in the air. Several schemes to revive it have failed. I’m betting they’ll tear it down soon.
Bud Cort is Brewster, who is building mechanical wings in a secret lab beneath the Astrodome. He is helped and protected by Sally Kellerman, who seems to be a (fallen?) angel. We see that her wings have been cut off because she has scars on her back. Shelley Duvall (in her first role) is a guide in the dome, and she and Brewster have a dalliance, which causes Sally to leave. Brewster tries out his wings, but he just isn’t strong enough and crashes to the Astroturf somewhere around second base. Then the Ringling Brothers Circus enters and parades around his corpse.
There is no way I can make sense of this, and I won’t try. I’m sure all sorts of metaphorical explanations are possible, but I won’t attempt them, since metaphors like that don’t interest me. It’s fun to watch, most of the time. There is an extended car chase, just about the last thing you would expect in an Altman movie. One of the cars is a Gremlin, and there’s no way the engine it came with is under the hood. And I haven’t even mentioned the fact that people are getting splattered with bird shit, and then strangled. How? Who knows, but Sally has something to do with it. Take it or leave it, I guess.