It couldn’t be more obvious that this was the film version of a play. It all takes place in a barracks with a small group of sergeants and draftees waiting for their orders to ship out to Vietnam. The play was by David Rabe.
These soldiers are in the 101st Airborne, the “Screaming Eagles.” A streamer is a chute that fails to open. I just looked it up, and it is as I thought: There were very few parachute drops in Vietnam. The helicopter changed the way we fought, and parachutes were not really suitable for a jungle war. The 101st still exists, and fought in Nam, and still fights, and they train with chutes, but they are now primarily a helicopter-borne force.
Several of the DVDs we have been watching on this Altman Odyssey we have embarked on feature interviews with the man himself as extras. I usually don’t watch stuff like that, but with Altman I’m interested in what he has to say. On a DVD of Fool For Love he says that he likes a lot of improvisation, he doesn’t want anyone to look like they are acting. I agree, but he forgot to use that principle here. Everyone is acting up a storm. It’s all loud, prolonged speeches that sound like nothing I’ve ever heard anyone say. And, thinking about it, I have decided that that works on the stage because there is a distance between the actors and the audience. They are not up in our faces. I think back to the plays I’ve seen, and I realize that many of them feature “acting” like we see here. And it works. But in a film we have close-ups, cuts, all the craft of that medium, and it’s just too much. For me, anyway. I really think I could have enjoyed Streamers on the stage. Here, not so much. It might have worked better if the camera had kept its distance, but I’m not even sure about that. I think it really needed some re-writing, as Altman has been prone to do in many of his films. It needed to be more conversational and less declamatory.