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There is no other film that deals so confrontingly with homophobia - and
It's a deliberately pressured and closed set, but careful editing softens the effect of the confined space. As in Hitchcock's "Rope", the camera never leaves the room, so the viewer feels caged, while the characters can come and go.
The setting is an army barracks in which the men will at any moment be sent overseas for active war duty. The characters have no choice but to negotiate how much they want to know or to accept about eachother.
Long before "don't ask - don't tell" became official US Forces policy, society in general had enforced rigid control over how open any homosexual could be - and Service Personnel have always held the worst reputation for homophobia.
So when Richie flaunts his complete disregard for machismo and swishes around the barracks, he's making one hell of bold statement. He teases Billy mercilessly with come ons, and Billy does his best to call Richie's bluff.
"Streamers" is about the truly dramatic consequences of censored communication. It's a gripping, demanding, powerful and very satisfying film that leaves your head spinning and your heart racing.
You practically need a de-briefing session afterwards, but "Streamers" is certainly one of the most memorable of dramatic movie experiences - on par with "A Clockwork Orange".
The performance by the entire cast is impeccable.
Following on the heels of "Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean,
Jimmy Dean", Altman brings another play to the screen. Like the earlier
movie, this is an intensely serious drama about issues of sexuality and
denial. Like the earlier movie, parts of it are extremely strident
and/or "stagy", and like the earlier movie, much of it is redeemed by
the excellent performances.
Although set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the film is mostly about what goes on inside the heads of a small group of soldiers who are waiting to get shipped out. Much of the story's development is psychological, and not related to the specific period in history... if anything, the characters occasionally seem "too modern", but it's impossible for me to say whether this is actually the case (perhaps done intentionally by the director and screenwriter) or whether my impression of how they "should" have been behaving in the mid-1960s is colored too much by mass-media images from that time.
In any case, Altman and screenwriter David Rabe do a good job of confounding the audience's expectations and providing us with multi-faceted, complex characters, and there are some moments of chilling beauty, as when two older sergeants tell stories of paratroopers who didn't make it. While the issues involved and the serious tone will probably turn a lot of people off, this is a "worthy" member of the Altman canon, and well worth seeking out by anyone who is interested in his "filmed plays" of the 80s or in seeing him work on a small scale.
Every crisis is a fight's form. And the crisis is the only way to know that you are alive. "Streamers" is tale about Vietnam, self discover, fear and sentiments. About trust and friendship. About intolerance's power. And about the resistance in face of same other reality. The homoerotic aspect is only an ingredient in this great expectation and heavy uncertainty. Four boys and a war. And the struggle to adjust the news rules at the familiar past. The threat is not the war or the death. Not the superiors or the others soldiers. The threat is only your person. Each gesture, each emotion, each word may change not an opinion, a nuance in the attitude/words of the other, the self respect or the values of your life but your soul. The world is your desire's projection. And if this these is fallacious? A movie about a interior world- gift and cross.
I was excited to see that this film was released on DVD, only to be
disappointed when I discovered that it's not available anywhere in the
My comment on "Streamers" will have to be based on one viewing a few years ago as part of a Robert Altman seminar I took in college. It's a screen adaptation of a David Rabe play, and I look at it as a male counterpart to his virtually all-female stage to screen film from the year before, "Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean."
In "Streamers," a group of Army recruits sit out a long dark weekend in their barracks, awaiting orders to ship off to Vietnam. It's dark, morbid and tense and covers such hot-button issues as racism and homophobia. I recall it all being a bit heavy-handed and one-note; I was mostly exhausted after it was over, and didn't think it was as skillfully directed as "Come Back to the 5 and Dime," which also suffered from hyperbolic material but which Altman worked wonders with.
"Streamers" does boast some pretty solid performances from a young Matthew Modine (who Altman would use again in "Short Cuts") and David Allan Grier, a far cry from the comic work he would do years later in shows like "In Living Color." If I ever have a chance to see it again, I might revise my opinion. But for now,
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I went to Viet Nam in 1971 as a replacement. I spent time in just such
a scenario and except for the gay issue which would not have been
discussed so openly, it was very realistic in it's description of the
emotional interaction of the soldiers.
I felt they put more focus on the gay issue than needed. there should have been more focus on the war and how they expected to react in it. I don't think we know what their occupational specialties are but these soldiers are not all green trainees. a couple have been in a while and have rank and qualifications as Specialist 4.
It is a great character study in any case.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Jesus H Christ. You know what I'm doing? You know what I'm standing
here doing? I'm a 24 year old college graduate. God damn intellectual
type. And I got a knife in my hand, thinking about coming up behind one
black human being, and I'm thinking, I wanna cut his throat! That is
ridiculous, man! You think I need a reputation as a killer? You want to
be a bad ass animal, go! Get it on! But I wash my hands, man! I'm not
human as you are!" Mathew Modine (Streamers)
Like "Secret Honor", "Come Back To The Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean" and "Fool For Love", "Streamers" is another Robert Altman film based on a stage play and filmed almost entirely indoors at a single location.
The film focuses on a group of US soldiers who are waiting to be shipped out to Vietnam. Altman's camera prowls their cramped barracks, watching as they struggle to pass the time. They argue, joke and throw insults, but the script is flat and the cast only comes alive, spectacularly so, during a couple explosive scenes.
What's most interesting about the film is Mathew Modine's character. Modine plays Billy, a smart kid who sees himself as existing "outside" of the other men. While the other soldiers are black, homosexuals or come from low income families, Billy is middle class and well educated.
Toward the end of the film, Billy is killed by one character who despises Billy's aloofness. Billy can't stand the other men, their latent homosexuality, their poverty, their drunkenness, the way they readily give in to desire, and so essentially seems to have been killed because his very existence shames the other men.
So Mathew Modine essentially plays the same character here that he plays in "Full Metal Jacket"; the outsider on the inside, though in Kubrick's film he further protects himself with a "jacket" of ironic detachment. That film was about a very specific type of disassociation; killing but not perceiving oneself as partaking. Murdering, but interpreting such actions as righteous kills.
Though Kubrick scoured thousands of audition tapes when casting "Full Metal Jacket", Modine was the one actor he had mentally cast prior to conducting auditions. Kubrick was a big Altman fan and kept a close eye on the director's work. He cast Shelly Duvall in "The Shining" based on her performance in Altman's "3 Women" and is reported to have admired "McCabe and Mrs Miller". Both directors actually bumped into one another outside a theatre in England, Altman having just watched "Clockwork Orange" and Kubrick having just seen "McCabe and Mrs Miller".
A decade later Kubrick saw Modine in "Streamers" and immediately began enquiries about the actor. He learnt that Modine was currently working on Alan Parker's underrated "Birdy", another film in which Modine played a Vietnam soldier. Kubrick secretly sent Alan Parker a request asking for footage of Modine and received it several weeks later. Upon seeing the footage, Kubrick was convinced that he had found the right "Jokerman" for his "Full Metal Jacket".
What's interesting about Kubrick's casting methods is the way he, in a sense, casts archetypes (or rather, type cast actors). Jack Nicholson was cast in "The Shining" because his previous films had established him as a misogynist and psychopath. Modine was cast in "Full Metal Jacket" because he had established himself as a military outsider and intellectual jar-head. Tom Cruise was cast in "Eyes Wide Shut" because he had established himself as a egotistical, self centred little man, brainwashed by cults.
There's a practicality, a sense of machine logic, to the way Kubrick casts. Real couples play real couples. A real Jack and Danny play a real Jack and Danny. A real drill Sergeant plays a real drill Sergeant. Likewise, a Jewish film director famous for conspiracy thrillers (Sydney Pollack) plays a mysterious puppet master. And on and on it goes.
"Streamers" may not be a dramatically satisfying piece of work, but it is interesting in the way it positions itself within all the Vietnam movies of the 70s and 80s. For example, unlike the ultra macho Rambo, Altman treats his entire cast with a weird, sexual ambiguity. We get the sense that this small group of men has been assigned their own private barracks because they're all homosexuals or outcasts in some way.
There are also strange parallels with "Full Metal Jacket". Consider the way one homosexual in Altman's film tries to commit suicide, feeling too effeminate, too much of an outcast for the military. Kubrick's film does the opposite, a character called Pyle committing suicide as a result of sexual over-identification. One's too much of a wimp for the military, the other's too much of a killer.
In Altman's film, Billy also reluctantly visits a whorehouse. He has sex with a woman in order to prove that he "fits in" and is "one of the boys". This mirrors Joker's actions in "Full Metal Jacket", where Joker shoots and "rapes" a woman in order to "fit in". The irony of Altman's film is that Billy is trying to "fit in" with guys who are themselves repressing their homosexuality in the face of the military's grotesque hyper-masculinity; fitting in with those trying to fit in, all identity a performance, a sham. And of course this "masculinity" is often always a mask, the "soldier persona" a thin veneer over fragile personalities, wounded egos and personal neuroses. It's the lesson Billy learns by the film's end, as his veins empty blood.
6/10 - Cut 40 minutes from this film and you have a lean drama, with a couple explosive scenes. As it is, this is a dull stage play which only comes alive when Mathew Modine is on screen. Altman's camera work is ugly, his set is drab, his pacing awful and his caricaturing of homosexuals at times insulting.
Four young soldiers waiting to be shipped to Viet Nam deal with racial
tension and their own intolerance when one soldier (Mitchell
Lichtenstein) reveals he is gay.
The film debut of David Alan Grier, who has become a bit of a comedy mainstay. Robert Altman, how do you find and cast such talented young actors?
Vincent Canby wrote that the film "goes partway toward realizing the full effect of a stage play as a film, then botches the job by the overabundant use of film techniques, which dismember what should be an ensemble performance." Canby's issue is that the use of close-ups take away the feeling of watching the full performance, where even the non-speaking actors are in view of the audience.
While Canby may be coming down a bit harsh (do movie viewers want the theater experience?), it is worth noting that Altman followed up this film with "Secret Honor", which very much focuses on the actor. In fact, there is not much else to focus on, making it one of the most sparse films ever made.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In this film Altman is considering the Vietnam war but from the point
of view of the young men who are drafted into that butchery without
even having the slightest choice at their disposal. The war, the heroic
war is supposed to bring the best of man in the limelight of their
personalities. It sure brings the deepest layers of all human beings in
the foreground. So imagine a bunch of macho young men, black and white,
plus a few older Non Commissioned Officers who are having no real
private life because they spend their life killing enemies they
despise. Who would marry these men who are never home and who spend
their time shoulder deep in blood? Their complicity becomes complacent
and we can wonder what makes them go on behaving like bad boys who only
want to play hide and go seek. The draftees are not better but they are
younger so they don't know about bees and flowers and birds and flying
fish. And their sexuality is both in great conformity with the standard
public norm and absolutely uncertain and fuzzy. Bring one real gay man
in that bunch and what was only vaguely misty in the background becomes
sunny bright in the foreground. The college graduate who was cool about
it turns aggressive and even violent. Unluckily a black hustler is a
lot better trained at self defending himself. The young college
graduate will die in his own running blood. One of the older NCOs will
come along and, as drunk as a barrel of gin, he will run into the
situation and against the hustler who will puncture him good and well,
once and for all. It is then the survivors finally understand what they
are in for. The gay young man will start crying a cliché mind you
and the others will hide or try to ignore the mess. The only
interesting element in this film is the acting of the bunch of actors
who are holding the screen and the audience for nearly two hours. They
act so well, so much like on an intimate theater stage, that we totally
enter the game and believe it. Apart from that the male psychology is
explored in details but it is not what it really is or the film has
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne & University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines
the honesty is the basic virtue of a film who is a precise image about army, homophobia and war. a form of manifesto. but more subtle and unmerciful and giving the no doubt message in the right terms. a film about masks and vulnerability. about prejudices and about silent. in fact, a film about freedom. simple, direct and out of excuses. and this did it special. because it propose a uncompromising view about a situation who is far to be a secret. because it did not verdicts. only a coherent picture of an institution, about fears of few young men and the dialogue who becomes a large corridor. and the acting is real inspired.
I first saw this film when I was 15, and was pretty wowed by it, especially it's high level use of the F word. Just recently watching it again, there wasn't that much bad language. Later discovering this was a Robert Altman film, this didn't surprise me, as he did another set piece one, continual scene film, 'Come Back To The Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean' at the same time. There is actually a preview of the latter on this film, if you have a VHS copy, which I luckily do. Streamers works mainly cause of the powerful performances, notably Michael Wright, what you may call a deserter, off his nut, who crashes a dorm of Vets, still waiting on their orders to fight that notorious and unforgotten war. He's so powerfully unsettling, because you don't what he'' do next. It's like watching a bi polar patient. The other notable performance is that of Guy Boyd, a great underused actor, as a gung ho sergeant, who sadly, you don't see much of him in this, either. Modine is very strong too as Wright's rival, while Mitchell Lichstein is unforgettably great as the gay homo cadet, who brings so much to the role, an array of emotions. What happened to him? Streamers is basically a character driven, one scene movie, where the tenseness and anxiousness shows in these pre Vet soldiers, one young kid, slashing his wrists at the start, to get a pardon, with one of the creepiest faces I've ever seen. If part of this character, I give the actor full credit. David Allen Grier, a good underrated actor plays another black GI, and Wright's friend. The atmosphere of these actors, doing their thing in a confined set is electric, even the smaller performances as we near it's end, after a double tragedy were great. The films not for everyone, as there are some confronting issues, in what in a pull no punches tale of innocence lost, and tempers flaring of a bunch of apprehensive soldiers, waiting to partake in that ugly war. The highpoint is watching a drunk Guy Boyd (and he's like this for all his scenes) singing instead of Beautiful Dreamer, Beautiful Streamers. George Dzunda, delivers too, especially near the end as Boyd's compadre. The marching gun display in perfect cadence at the start and end credits in frighteningly unsurpassable. Engaging viewing, where if not for the actors, this dorm would coming down.
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