directed by Robert Altman
USA 1983

The 1980s are known as being a dark period for Robert Altman. Having been branded uncommercial by the New post-Star Wars, post-Jaws, post-Heaven's Gate Hollywood, the creative freedoms he and others like Coppola enjoyed during the seventies, as provided by the studio tit, were largely stripped from him as he found himself unable to find studio backing for his projects. Altman's work in the '80s greatly reflected this ostracization, as films like Secret Honor and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean found him moving away from the freeform mosaics that distinguished his 1970s work and adapting stage plays most of which were chamber pieces restricted to a single set. Streamers, adapted by David Rabe from his Tony-nominated play, is as revealing of this dynamic as any of Altman's work from this period, its drama confined to an army barracks at the eve of the Vietnam war, its characters all existentially and ideologically "trapped" by the tenets and schemata of military life.

Surely this theme resonated with Altman, who almost defiantly does his damnedest to turn a work of theatre into a work of cinema. For better or worse, he does not succeed, and the result is much like the filmed plays produced by Ely Landau's American Film Theatre. As far as filmed plays go, Streamers is a very good one, with electrifying performances from Michael Wright and George Dzundza, some strong performances from David Alan Grier and Guy Boyd, and some rather mannered ones from Matthew Modine and Mitchell Lichtenstein, the latter of whom plays a young recruit whose open homosexuality becomes a matter of eventually explosive contention (although not in a way that's anticipated). Rabe's play is both brilliant and flawed, and the film's virtues and shortcomings are those of a lot of contemporary stage work: characters often speak tangentially, but in a forced way that calls excess attention both to the given monologue and to the lack of subtlety in the message the tangent is intended to augment; overwrought metaphors such as the titular "Streamers" (a song sung by military paratroopers after they realize their chutes have failed to deploy) are both needless and needlessly reiterated for dramatic effect; and the characters as well as their environment remain one-dimensional in their lock-step service to the author's statement. If Altman's work prior to and after the 1980s is built upon his unequaled gift for creating a world that vividly exists well beyond the spectator's frame of view, Streamers achieves the opposite. That said, the experience of watching the film remains a potent one, largely thanks to the performances and the often visceral psychological straightjacket that torments the young members of the drill company. If the flawless first half of Full Metal Jacket describes a degree of physical imprisonment on top of the emotional torture dished out by an abusive and meticulous drill sergeant, Streamers offers the flipside, wherein the young enlistees are shown lounging, showering, and at play, while the drill sergeants, always drunk, stumble obliviously into and out of the drama like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. In that way, they're the most characteristically Altmanesque characters in the film
.

Paul Haynes

Posters

Theatrical Release: October 9, 1983 - New York Film Festival

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DVD Comparison: 

Gaumont/Columbia TriStar Home Video (Robert Altman 3-Disc Box Set) - Region 2 - PAL vs. Shout! Factory - Region 1 - NTSC

1) Gaumont/Columbia (Robert Altman 3-Disc Box Set) - Region 2 - PAL LEFT
2) Shout! Factory - Region 1 - NTSC RIGHT

 

DVD Box Cover

 

Distribution

Gaumont/Columbia TriStar Home Video

Region 2 - PAL

Shout! Factory - Region 1 - NTSC
Runtime 1:53:20 (4% PAL speedup)

1:53:08

Video

1.77:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 6.2 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

1.77:1 Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 5.83 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate  PAL

Bitrate NTSC

Audio English (Dolby Digital 1.0) English (Dolby Digital 2.0)
Subtitles French, None None
Features Release Information:
Studio: Gaumont/Columbia TriStar Home Video

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.77:1

Edition Details:
• Disc Format: DVD 9
• French Subtitles
• History of Streamers
• The Career of Robert Altman (60-minute documentary)
• Filmographies for Robert Altman and Matthew Modine
• Theatrical trailer

DVD Release Date: June 11, 2003
Keep case

Chapters 15

Release Information:
Studio: Shout! Factory

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.77:1

Edition Details:

• A Look Back at Streamers With Cast Members From the Film and Stage, Including George Dzundza, David Alan Grier, Mitchell Lichtenstein, Matthew Modine, Bruce Davison and Herbert Jefferson, Jr. (29:00)

DVD Release Date: January 19th, 2010

Transparent Keep Case
Chapters: 6

 

 

Comments ADDITION SHOUT! Factory - Region 1 - NTSC (January 2010): This looks to be the exact same source for both disc transfers. I think it is an unconverted PAL rendering as there is prevalent 'ghosting' on the Shout! Factory release (see last capture). Although many Altman fans have been waiting for this title to surface in NTSC - this is not something to get overly excited about.

There is a half hour 'Look Back at Streamers' with cast members from the Film and Stage, including George Dzundza, David Alan Grier, Mitchell Lichtenstein, Matthew Modine, Bruce Davison and Herbert Jefferson, Jr.  This is actually pretty good but the transfer is a disappointment. Audio is acceptable but there are no subtitles.

This is quintessential Altman but for what is offered the prices seems high. Certainly no reason to double dip but completists may fine enough excuses to indulge.

Gary W. Tooze

***

Gaumont DVD: Streamers is one of a small handful of Altman films without an R1 or R0 NTSC DVD release (a few of them, including Brewster McCloud, HealtH, and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, having no DVD release anywhere, as of October 2006). This R2 edition from France is part of a three-disc Robert Altman box set that also contains The Player and Beyond Therapy. Streamers is 16:9 on a dual-layered disc, and although the bitrate is high, it might not be apparent with a transfer that is decent at best. Increasing the gamma slightly improves an image that's often very grainy and appears to lack proper color balance, while occasionally exhibiting what could be evidence of MPEG compression artefacts (see, for instance, the red text in the title capture). Some of the trouble, which perhaps I'm overstating, may be with the source, as black levels are sometimes spot-on, and other times not. It could have been a lot worse, though. French subtitles are optional.

Sharing the disc with the main feature is a one-hour overview of the career of Robert Altman, which is actually an installment of the Encore series "The Directors" (available on DVD in Region 1 from AFI), with French narration and forced French subtitles. It's an excellent collection of interviews with Altman and with actors who've worked with Altman, whose humanism is very evident here in his warm regard for his performers and in his description of the collaborative building of a sand castle as a metaphor for making movies.

Other supplements include the theatrical trailer (full-screen and quite battered), a one-screen history of the film (in French), and filmographies for Altman and Matthew Modine. out of for this disc.

 - Paul Haynes

 


DVD Menus

1) Gaumont/Columbia (Robert Altman 3-Disc Box Set) - Region 2 - PAL LEFT
2) Shout! Factory - Region 1 - NTSC RIGHT

 

 


Screen Captures

 

1) Gaumont/Columbia (Robert Altman 3-Disc Box Set) - Region 2 - PAL TOP
2) Shout! Factory - Region 1 - NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


1) Gaumont/Columbia (Robert Altman 3-Disc Box Set) - Region 2 - PAL TOP
2) Shout! Factory - Region 1 - NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


1) Gaumont/Columbia (Robert Altman 3-Disc Box Set) - Region 2 - PAL TOP
2) Shout! Factory - Region 1 - NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


1) Gaumont/Columbia (Robert Altman 3-Disc Box Set) - Region 2 - PAL TOP
2) Shout! Factory - Region 1 - NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


1) Gaumont/Columbia (Robert Altman 3-Disc Box Set) - Region 2 - PAL TOP
2) Shout! Factory - Region 1 - NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


1) Gaumont/Columbia (Robert Altman 3-Disc Box Set) - Region 2 - PAL TOP
2) Shout! Factory - Region 1 - NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


 

1) Gaumont/Columbia (Robert Altman 3-Disc Box Set) - Region 2 - PAL TOP
2) Shout! Factory - Region 1 - NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


'Ghosting' on the Shout! Factory release
 

 


DVD Box Cover

 

Distribution

Gaumont/Columbia TriStar Home Video

Region 2 - PAL

Shout! Factory - Region 1 - NTSC




 

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