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Featured DVD Review: Streamers

January 17th, 2010

Streamers - Buy from Amazon

Robert Altman directed Streamers in 1983, and it's based on the 1975 play of the same name. It is not one of Altman's best known, or most beloved films. In fact, it is mostly forgotten and is making its DVD debut this week to little fanfare. That said, for the most part, second tier Robert Altman would be first tier from most other directors.

Set in a army barracks in Virginia in 1965, Streamers focuses on the lives of several soldiers that are preparing to be shipped off to Vietnam, some of whom are not handling it as well as others. The film starts with the two sergeants, Rooney and Cokes drunkenly playing a prank, but other reactions are a little more self-destructive. Into this environment, we have a group of diverse soldiers, from different ethnic backgrounds, different parts of the country, different social groups, and even different sexual orientations. Matthew Modine is Billy, who is from the Midwest, but is Ivy League educated. David Alan Grier is Roger, an African American that doesn't want his race to be a major issue. Then there's Richie (played by Mitchell Lichtenstein, who later went on to write and direct Teeth) an effeminate New Yorker that comes from a rich background. Billy and Roger have a strong friendship despite their different backgrounds. However, they are a little uneasy with Richie, whom they think might be a little... swishy is one of the terms used in the movie. Another African-American, Carlyle, is added into this mix, but he is a little more aggressive with his racial identity and wants Roger to be same. In an ideal world, their shared fate of being shipped off to Vietnam should be enough to overcome any prejudices they might have, but this is far from an ideal world.

Being based on a play is a good thing and a bad thing in this case. On the one hand, play won awards and the dialogue and character in the film are extremely well written. The film is also very claustrophobic, which at times can help to build tension. On the other hand, some stories are better told on stage and some are more cinematic. I think this one would work better on a stage. It is still successful thanks to the impressive writing, directing, and acting, especially the acting, but one still gets the impression it would work better as a play.

Extras on the DVD are strong and include a 28-minute retrospective that features most of the cast of the movie and interview segments with two of the cast members of the original stage play, Herbert Jefferson, Jr. and Bruce Davison. They talk about the making of the movie, Robert Altman's directing style, the effects Vietnam had on their generation, the effects Vietnam had on the play, the effects the play had on them and the audience. Definitely worth checking out. I would have loved an audio commentary track, but just over 40 minutes of interviews is better than expected for this type of release.

The Verdict

Streamers is only second tier Altman, but considering he was nominated for best director five times, second tier for him is still pretty good. The extras on the DVD are better than expected given the smaller stature of the film and its age, and for fans of the director, it is a solid purchase. If you are unfamiliar with Altman's work, you might want to start somewhere else, but it is worth a rental at the very least.

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