Friday, January 15, 2010

Vietnam in Microcosm

Streamers (Shout Factory)
David Rabe’s shattering play about Vietnam-era soldiers whose interactions in their barracks are a microcosm for a racially split society still resonates decades later. For Robert Altman, who was in the midst of adapting several American plays to the screen in his inimitable way (others were Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean; Fool for Love; and Beyond Therapy), his 1983 adaptation of Streamers is his toughest, finest work from that period, and it cements his legacy as a superb director of actors.

The soldiers are played by a collection of performers either unknown or not yet stars: Matthew Modine, David Allen Grier, Michael Wright, Mitchell Lichtenstein, Guy Boyd, and George Dzundza, all chillingly real individually and collectively. The claustrophobia of the original play’s single set is smartly retained by Altman, adding to the film’s cumulative power. Unfortunately, there’s no commentary from Altman, who died in 2006; yet Shout Factory scores with 40 minutes of extras comprising interviews with the actors from both the film and the original stage version.
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