Dear Mr. Brody

Dear Mr. Brody

2021, NR, 107 min. Directed by Keith Maitland.

REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., July 16, 2021

Letters. So many letters. Tens of thousands of them, written on spiral note paper, on nice paper stock, on construction paper. Precisely or erratically typewritten, set down in ballpoint, felt tip, lead pencil, in flowing cursive or blocky print.

Adorned with drawings, slogans, and cartoons. Photographs and other ephemera enclosed, faces smiling and stoic, young and old. The sheer volume of letters becomes overwhelming in both power and poignancy.

It’s easy to see why filmmaker Keith Maitland, following up his award-winning doc Tower, was drawn to those letters, to those stories, for his new documentary, Dear Mr. Brody. But the story of those letters begins with the story of Michael Brody Jr., scion of a family whose fortune stems from the oleomargarine industry. Firmly rooted in Sixties counterculture, the 21-year-old millionaire announced in January of 1970 that he was giving away $25 million to whoever wanted it. All they had to do was write to him with their requests, and he freely gave out his address and phone number.

His goal was world peace. If everyone was financially content, he reasoned, humanity could then move on to higher purposes, peace and love being chief among them. Naive, perhaps, but for almost two weeks, Brody and his newlywed wife, Renee, were hounded by crowds, the press, and hangers-on, and, briefly, Brody embraced it all. News interviews, a record deal with RCA, and an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show; it was a whirlwind, and Maitland, having no shortage of archival material or interviews, lays it all out with that freaky flower power vibe. Brody quickly becomes weary of it all, going from earnest to disillusioned, unable to bear the burden of his campaign. Drug use, notably a lot of PCP, and serious mental health issues eventually sent Brody to a mental ward, and he ended up taking his own life three years later, in 1973.

Contemporary interviews with Brody’s widow, his then-bodyguard, and assorted satellites around the story fill in the gaps. But it is Melissa Robyn Glassman, a film producer, who becomes the anchor of Dear Mr. Brody. While working for Hollywood heavyweight Edward R. Pressman, Glassman discovered a dozen boxes filled with letters to Michael Brody Jr. Pressman at one time had been attached to a film about Brody, and Glassman, rescuing the boxes from storage, became obsessed with them.

Through reenactments with actors, voiceover recitations, and, in a number of cases, tracking down the letter writers themselves, having them read and remember their lives of half a century ago. And those lives create a moving record of need spurned by grief and hope. Letters of hard times for families, of desperate fathers and idealistic children, of forlorn women and crackpots. It is nothing less than a tapestry detailing the human desire for, yes, money, but more importantly, for connection. That Maitland, Glassman, et al. have rescued these snapshots of history for us to experience feels like a fulfillment of Brody’s promise.

A version of this review ran as part of our South by Southwest coverage. Read our interview with Keith Maitland, “Dear Mr. Brody Documents an Eccentric, Forgotten American Story,” March 12.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Keith Maitland
Filmmaker Keith Maitland on Tackling <i>Tower</i>
Filmmaker Keith Maitland on Tackling Tower
Innovative doc animates the UT Tower Massacre

Richard Whittaker, Oct. 21, 2016

More Keith Maitland
Austin Filmmakers Make International Festival Waves
Austin Filmmakers Make International Festival Waves
Watch out Chicago (and Montreal, and Edinburgh, and London)

Richard Whittaker, July 17, 2016

Kickstart Your Weekend: 'Tower'
Kickstart Your Weekend: 'Tower'
New documentary will focus on the 1966 UT Tower shooting

Richard Whittaker, April 10, 2014

More Keith Maitland Films
Austin-made doc re-creates the UT Tower massacre with stunningly powerful immediacy

Marc Savlov, Oct. 21, 2016

The Eyes of Me

Aug. 1, 2021

More by Josh Kupecki
The Witches of the Orient
How the 1964 Japanese women’s Olympic volleyball team healed a nation

July 16, 2021

Tribeca Film Festival Review: <i>Ascension</i>
Tribeca Film Festival Review: Ascension
Life getting ground up in China's consumer culture

June 24, 2021


Dear Mr. Brody, Keith Maitland

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle