Saturday, 27 April 2013

Streamers (1983)

Slow And Very Un-Subtle, But To Some Degree, Streamers Works

I think Robert Altman’s goal with Streamers was to show a completely different side to the military; and in some way, he succeeded. These are not the Frank Sinatra “he-men” who we used to see in all of the old war films where the army was presented as some kind of heroism. Although this was not the first anti-Vietnam war film, it was the first one to depict the people in the war in such a way. He wanted present the fact that many of the soldier had no desire to be there, and that they were not the masculine heartless figures that they were presented as. But Altman does not focus on the action on the battlefield, he is much more preoccupied with the tension between the soldiers. One could easily make a point that the “tension” between characters is overly melodramatic and just an overt vehicle for Altman to make a film with a good message. Anyone who would have said that, would be very accurate with such a statement. But Altman did not care about that at all, he did not care about making a subtle film because his entire objective was to make a film where we can all see the struggles the soldiers were having among each other. You simply cannot show this kind of stuff in a subtle sort of film. I won’t just let the fact that Streamers is so melodramatic pass me by, but I think it does deserve some degree of forgiveness.

Streamers was one of the film that Altman did as play adaptations in the 1980s. The others were Fool For Live, Secret Honor and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. This film does film somewhat stagey, and for that, the effect of the film stays as staged as the film itself. The film stops working a little as it progresses and it seems as though the characters are being altered for the sake of the film. Think of it like this, all of these char
acters are in a small room completely sealed off from the great outdoors. At the beginning of the film, everything is perfectly fine - but in the end, they’re choking for oxygen.

The acting in Streamers is superb, and it is rather disappointing that none of the stars are big names. Although Mathew Modine is relatively well known, he is the only cast members with a bigger name. To start us off, he is quite good in the film as the leading character who it seems to me, Altman was able to identify with. You see, Roger Ebert once remarked they he always thought Robert Altman had a character in his films that resembled Altman. In Streamers, I think that character would happen to be the character Mathew Modine played, Billy. I don’t know if Altman had been in the midst of witnessing some form of racial prejudice but I think Billy represented a younger Robert Altman. Michael Wright and David Alan Grier were also quite good in this film. It was partially their acting that helped make Streamers feel like less a play and more like a film. They took it into a stage of realism that helped me forget how truly stagey it was.

Sadly, Altman doesn’t try anything knew with his camera and cinematography with this film. He uses a very dull and boring colour palette and your typical blend of Robert Altman camera shots (without his signature tracking shots, which I think would have helped Streamers).  Everything looks very dull (which could have been the effect Altman intended for, but somehow I doubt it). The reason I bring up such a subject is this: Streamers is a film. It needs a reason to be a film, and not stay a play. But Robert Altman gives it no reason for being a film, he just shoots it with the camera positioned in mid-shots and close-ups. The camera is the greatest tool a film could possibly have, and yet Altman neglected to use it for his benefit. His work with Streamers feels very amateur.

I consider what Streamers did, to be quite innovative. As much a
s I consider it, I cannot possibly begin to imagine how exactly Robert Altman was able to succeed to bring us into it’s setting. It feels distant in it’s message, but not in it’s realism of the characters. As I watch Streamers, I feel like I sit in the corner, in silence watching the events unfold. No, I am not interacting with the character, Streamers isn’t able to go to that level, but I am certainly sitting there with them. I can feel the heat of the tension igniting the room. That is what Altman attempted, and that is how Altman succeeded.

Directed by Robert Altman,
Starring: Mathew Modine, Michael Wright and David Alan Grier
★★★ /★★★★★

1. 3 Women

8. The Company
9. Streamers
14. Popeye

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