STUDIO: Shout! Factory
MSRP: $19.99
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
•Beautiful Streamers: A Look Back with the Cast
•The Stage Cast Remembers… Interview Segments

The Pitch

That other Matthew Modine Vietnam-critical film meets that other Robert Altman Vietnam-critical film.

Rodney knew he would have to get plenty liquored up for Hollow Man’s return that night.

The Humans

Starring: Matthew Modine, Mitchell Lichtenstein, Michael Wright, George Dzundza, Guy Boyd, David Alan Grier

Written by David Rabe

Directed by Robert Altman

The Nutshell

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” doesn’t exist yet, so there’s a lot of telling, and it’s very telling. David Rabe’s award-winning Broadway play becomes a film thanks to Robert Altman’s “stage to screen” period.

“Why? What does it look like we just finished doing?

The Lowdown

After Popeye, Robert Altman went through a period in the early-to-mid eighties where he was trying to adapt stage plays that he appreciated to the silver screen. A classic like the one man tour-de-force Secret Honor came out of this, rescued from modern obscurity by the Criterion Collection. But for the most part it seems like an overlooked section of Altman’s filmography. Shout! Factory have now released one of the few remaining features from this period previously unavailable on DVD, Streamers.

Based on the play by David Rabe, Streamers tells the tale of a small group of enlisted men waiting to ship off to Vietnam, and the emotional and social differences that they must come to terms with when one of them outs himself as homosexual. The film is additionally notable for marking the film/tv debut of David Alan Grier, who would go on to be better known for his characters on In Living Color. The film is made up of mostly unknowns for that time; this was four years before Matthew Modine would play Joker in Full Metal Jacket. These two actors are part of an ensemble that plays off one another quite well, as is necessary for stage originating material such as this. As Modine says in the retrospective featurette, the film, which is set in a single barrack for the entire length of the film, was a combination of the best elements of stage and film. There was a fully functioning set that they could interact with and be surrounded by 360 degrees, but with the simplicity and focus on performance that the stage provides.

Call me Wayans one more time, motherf****r.

The downside here is that when one translates any material, whether it be stage or literature or otherwise to film, you are changing the language through which you tell the story. A play is more tell than show, film is just the opposite. There is no flat rule that plays can’t work on the screen (it would take *holds up brass balls* to say that), but here by allowing Tony-nominated playwright Rabe to adapt his own material, Altman sacrificed the elements that make up a “film” in favor of staying true to the original work. On a stage I could imagine the events and conversations taking place in Streamers coming across as engaging, but on film it feels boring and flat. The single location the entire film takes place in feels mirrors the trapped feelings of the characters, but it is dreadfully restraining to the audience as well.

Altman’s usual bag of tricks, such as overlapping dialogue and zoom lens cameras are on display here. While the diagetic sound fits with the overall tone and stage-like atmosphere of the film, the zoom lens and other camera moves feel incredibly awkward. The problem is that on the whole the camera just has nowhere to go, nothing to focus on besides the people, so like the film as a whole it kind of meanders. The subject matter, addressing racism and homophobia in the late 1960’s, should be much more engaging but the story drags and the whole thing feels much longer than its 106 minute running time. The film relies on an exaggerated subtlety of interaction that may have been common of the era. Perhaps it is a generation gap that draws a disconnect with this reviewer, or perhaps this was a mostly forgotten Robert Altman film for a good reason.

Gay-Out: The spray that outs gays was quickly banned from military use.

The Package

Streamers is presented in 16:9 Widescreen. The transfer is mostly clean but shows its age with a soft focus and is quite grainy. For some reason there is no scene selection menu, though you can still skip chapters once the film is playing. They are placed about every 20 minutes though, something that is sort of odd for a modern DVD.

The special features are improperly listed on the back of the packaging, which lists a single retrospective feature, though there is slightly more. “Beautiful Streamers: A Look Back with the Cast” is a in depth look at the differing incarnations of the material, made up mostly of talking heads including film actors Matthew Modine, George Dzundza, and Mitchell Lichtenstein, along with stage actors Bruce Davison and Herbert Jefferson, Jr. Additionally, there are several clips of the stage actors discussing the material at length, separate from the main piece. All in all it gives more context to the production, which makes this reviewer more interested in the stage version than its filmed counterpart.

3.5 out of 10