Altman on Homophobia
“Streamers” is a powerful and potent movie which deals to an extent with the issue of gays in the military and Altman touched the subject long before the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and deals with it in a sublime manner. For those of you who are not familiar with the film here is your chance to se it and catch two birds with one stone—the greatness of Altman and the exploration of one of the most controversial issues in America today.
I do not think there is another film that deals with homophobia with more honesty. “Streamers” takes place in a confined space which is highly pressurized; an army barracks. The men are awaiting orders to be sent overseas for active war duty. As they bide their time, they talk about themselves and each other. The present government policy on gays in the military is not so different than it was before the rule came into being. American society had already placed boundaries on where a homosexual could be and the army always held a reputation for overt homophobia. When the one gay soldier in the army barracks comes out while they are sitting around and exchanging stories and at tine the movie was made that was quite something extraordinary. Richie teases another soldier, Billy, with come-ons and Billy does his best to call his bluff.
The core of the film is about the dramatic consequences of communication that is censored and the movie is stunning. This is a movie that may leave you weak when it is over. The tension of the film keeps you on the edge of your seat and I found myself profusely perspiring. I believe that this was due to the fact that as a gay male, I felt something about the tense atmosphere. When I served in the Israeli army, I did not get into a situation like this but it well could have happened. Altman skillfully leaves some of the emotions to the audience and this also causes a great deal of tension. The diverse nature of the personalities of the six men in the barracks makes any type of relationship between them almost impossible and as their respective tensions and prejudices culminate in a violent and nihilistic explosion, we are give a look of the frivolity and needlessness of war. Although the film is somewhat claustrophobic and highly disturbing, this is what good cinema is. In many cases I felt that I was watching anal male “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe”, another film that is shot in a closed set and where emotions run wild.
The cast is brilliant and each actor wears his role like a pair of comfortable old shoes. It is movies like “Streamers” that allowed Altman to be hailed for his great direction. He never shied away from the controversial, from the important. As he deals with themes of homosexuality, life, death, male bonding and war, he shows us what a good movie should be.