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January 27, 1984 - Image 12

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1984-01-27
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Stream
of agony
Streamers
Starring Matthew Modine, Michael
Wright, Mitchell Lichtenstein,
and David Allen Grier
Directed by Robert Altman
Now playing at the State
Street Theater
By Larry Dean
T HERE ARE A number of ways
people can interpret films. For
example, there must be a few reckless
ones out there, living on the artistic
razorblade-edge, who lay claim to
liking any or all of Vice Squad, Under
the Rainbow, or Yentl.
It's common knowledge that such a
critical underbelly throbs with a ticket-
buying life of its own, so we may as well
fess up and deal with this inconsistency
of human beinghood on a purely
metaphysical level by consulting the I-
Ching Book of Celluloid Phenomena.
This book, a time-worn tome, exists
today only in a sparse couple of texts.
One is safe behind the usual six inches
of reinforced glass and mesh steel at
the I-Ching Museum in the lowermost
bowels of Burton, Michigan, that
misbegotten of all metropoli. Under the
video camera's watchful eye, vast
ranks of armed guards, and the most
advanced of burglar alarm systems,
this copy of the I.C.B.C.P. can be
regarded as safe from harm or theft.
However, there it is no more than a
museum piece, serving as conversation
for art historians and "friends of the
museum" who like to boast about how
much they gave for the benefit of the
public good to their peers; there, it
cannot be used as a handy reference
guide.
I, luckily, happen to own one of the
other surviving copies. Hand-written by
the monks who cared for it, gold-
embossed and iguana-hide bound, the
book kept its appearance up over the
eons due to its remarkable craftsman-
ship of make. Back then, books were
built to last, much like our American
cars once were.
Every once and awhile, I pull the
book down from its nook to consult its
ancient wisdoms, for, as the elders say,
a good bit of advice never wears out.
When I saw John Carpenter's The
Thing and the audience howled with in-
dignation, I recalled that the I.C.B.C.P.
had foretold of such a reaction cen-
turies before Carpenter ever even
heard of the terms 'best boy' or 'dolly
grip,' and was satisfied by my decision
that the film was underrated genius.
The same is true for Little Murders, A
Fine Madness, Shriek of the Mutilated,
Lord Jim, and a score of other movies
that have since entered the collected
unconscious of our fine, arts-conscious,
governmentally-supported society.
In this case, I am again put to the task
of unshelving the weighty volume as
help in resolving my ambivalences
toward Robert Altman's latest venture,

Streamers. Since the big A is in the big
A-squared to produce his Secret Honor
project, the proverbial red carpet of
servility has been unrolled to reveal
midnight screening of his Come Back
To the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean,
Jimmy Dean (another play adaption,
by the way): and since the air is all a-
crackle with his name much as it was
when Lawrence "Larry-to-his-friends"
Kasdan was in town, then some
decision needs to be reached on this
very affective film adaption of David
Rabe's play of the same name.
Rabe is the author of the trilogy of
Viet Nam-inspired plays, of which
Streamers is one-third, the other two
are Sticks and Bones and The Basic
Training of Pavlo Hummel. Rabe ob-
viously has put in his duty time, and as
an exchange, he has given us three very
passionate and unsettling works in the
above-mentioned plays.
Streamers translates very easily to
the realm of film. Like the play, it takes
place entirely within the barracks of.
some Viet Nam-bound soldiers. From
the start, there is tension in the air:
forget the atmospheric opening credits
with soldiers showing off their flashy
gun handling in a foggy, dream-like set-
ting, because this is all showmanship on
Altman's part, his little way of saying,
"The story you are about to see is true;
the names were changed . . ." and so
forth.
The initial dilemma that faces our
boys in uniform is that one of the men
has slit his wrist. He is reluctant to let
another trainee help him out - he is
even pleased and elated by the
situation! This is a gut-wrenchingly
visceral scene that, following on the
heels of some playful detonation hijinx
by the resident sergeants, manages to
cut quite deeply an imprint of the kind
of mental crowbarring both Rabe and
Altman intend on delivering.
The suicidal victim is helped out by
Richie (Mitchell Lichtenstein), an ef-
feminette soldier who toys with Billy's
(Matthew Modine) own sexual con-
fusion over roles and role-playing. The
referee for this carnal cock fighting is
Roger (David Alan Grier).
Two sergeants (played by Guy Boyd
and George Dzundza) command the
barracks and spend their off hours
boozing it up in honor of the absurdity of
the war, which, ironically, they enlisted

Streamers: Another Altman adaptation

for.
Within this framework enters Carlyle
(Michael Wright), a poor black man
from the inner city with a temperment
worse than that of Norman Bates. He
comes seeking the company of Roger,
another black soldier, but soon his
presence touches all the men in a
variety of different ways - Roger is
frightened by him, Billy angered, and
Richie attracted. It is how these
emotions are handled within the course
of Streamers that lends it its unbridled
dramatic flair and relentlessness of
issue.
The acting is far and away better
than the ensemble acting in, for exam-
ple, The Big Chill, which has
"Hollywood" stamped all over its glitzy
surface. Altman has a knack for
picking red hot actors, and there's not a
dud performance in the bunch. Add to
this the fact that most of the faces will
be unfamiliar to you - thus, the
realism of the characters seems that
much more a possibility; if anything,
they look more like someone you know
in "real life" as opposed to an actor
whose name you can't place.
And who better to helm this produc-
tion than Robert Altman, director of
Nashville, M*A*S*H, A Wedding, and
the dismal Popeye, as well as Quintet,
Health, Three Women, and other
voyages into the uncategorizeable and
the bizarre? When Altman abandons
the occasional bent for slickery that
produces such luscious narcolepsy as
Popeye in favor of his more jerky, sim-
ple style of storytelling, he can weave a
film like Penelope used to weave her
tapestries for Odysseus' imminent
homecoming. His films then become

lyrical, weird, unfocussed parables
(like Three Women), documentary-
style slice-of-life epiphanies (Nashville,
M*A*S*H), or powerful tone poems, of
which Streamers is a good example.
Quite often, his camera pans
leisurely to a character's hand as he
talks to the others, or else keeps tabs on
the objects in the barracks, as if they
were as important to the story as the
human elements, which, actually, they
are. No big symbols here, but a sense of
the -symbolic out of the ordinary, of
some importance in all this musterable
lunacy hanging in the air like napalm.
Altman proves that, for him at least,
less is better, and the result of that
restraint is a subtle, ticking timebomb
of a movie.
So why do I need the I-Ching Book of
Celluloid Phenomena if Streamers is
such a swell flick? Well, for all its good
points, I don't see it as too sincere of a
film on the basis that the material, to
begins with, is packed with so much
energy and tension that very little
needs to be done with it to make it suc-
ceed on its own terms as a film. That,
plus I don't think it's going to be enor-
mously popular with the general
public; the people I saw it with were
more concerned with jabbering about
hockey, business, comfy feet, and other
assorted mediocrities to let the power
of Streamers hit them at gut level.
Maybe it was just defenses going up;
but what should be happening is that
they should be going down, instead.
Walking out of the theater, I heard one
philosopher mumble, "I dunno,
M*A*S*H was a lot funnier."
I guess quality isn't always very fun-
ny.

Take
a byte
The Illustrated Computer Dic-
tionary/The Bantam Fast and
Friendly Computer
Guides/Mastering Your Timex
Sinclair 100 Personal Computer
By various authors
Bantam Books
By Mark Kulkis
''H] ACKER: COMPUTER jargon
i.for a person who is intensely
interested in and/or very
knowledgeable about computer sof-
tware."
The book shelves are bursting with
books designed for greenhorn "non-
hackers" these days. In all likelihood,
there are probably more books about
computers on the market than there are
books on dieting. If you find yourself
byting your nails in frustration or con-
fusion over the ongoing "computer
revolution," then one or more of the
following books may be .for you : The
Illustrated Computer Dictionary, The

most "comprehensive guide to com-
puter language."
The bad thing about the book is that I
can't see it being of any real use to
anybody. If you already own a com-
puter, chances are that ypu possess
some sort of manual that describes the
necessary computer terms probably in
much greater detail and clarity than
the dictionary does.
If your manual does not give ample
definition to computer terms, then don't
count on this book being any great help.
Although the definitions in the dic-
tionary are accurate, they are short
(usually one of two sentences in length)
and many times don't tell you what you
really want to know. I severely doubt
that this text will "help you make sense
of the computer language in adver-
tisements, in your manual, and on your
computer."
For instance, let's say you're in the
market for a home computer, and you
want to know how much memory you'll
be needing. You can't decide whether to
invest in a 2K or a 16K machine.
Looking up "K" in the dictionary, you
find that this is an abbreviation for
"kilo." You turn to the next page, and
discover that 1 kilo= 1,024 bytes. What
the heck is a byte? (A group of eight
bits, silly!). Don't even attempt
looking up "bit;" all you'll find is a
lengthy description of the binary code
used by computers. If you buy this
book, THEN you'll be wasting your
money.
GOTO: The Bantam Fast and Frien-
dly Computer Guide. If you're looking
to purchase a computer, here's the book
to get. All three books are basically the
same, differing mainly in the price
range (and thus capabilities) of the
computers they describe.
Home/Family Computers are the
ones $100-1,500; Professional/Per-
sonal Computers are $5,000-15,000.
The books cover 90 percent of the same
material, and some of the chapters are
identical in all three books. (So
whatever you do, only buy one of these
books.)
The books' structure is set up to give
the reader enough information about
computers to be able to knowledgeably
compare the benefits and prices of the
various computer systems on the
market. The books are divided into five
chapters (each one page long), each
chapter describing one aspect of a
computer system (monitor, software,
etc.). The descriptions are clear and
understandable, and include many
helpful allegories between computers
and cars (the keyboard = the steering
wheel) and stereos (the floppy disks =
the records). The books include
illustrations on nearly every page, and
a complete chart in the back for rating
the benefits/capabilities of the various
brands and models of computers.
To sum up: these books do indeed

....... ...... ...........................

"make it easy" to choose the right
computer for your own needs.
GOTO: Mastering Your Timex Sin-
clair 1000 Personal Computer. The
beauty of this book is that you don't
even have to own a Timex Sinclair to
benefit from the valuable lessons in
BASIC programming which it contains.
This book is one of the clearest step-by-
step explanations of how to program in
BASIC that I've ever read. It covers
usage of all the reserved words in
BASIC, including graphics, with plenty
of examples to sharpen your understan-
ding of the language. Of course, since I
already knew BASIC, I didn't read the
entire book, and thus cannot go into
specifics regarding its content.
However, the sections I did read were
top-notch; I would suggest that anyone
with a desire to learn (or brush up on)
the BASIC computer language should
pick up a copy of this book.
These five books are but a sampling
of the myriad computer books you can
buy. A good tip is to know specifically
what you're looking for (how to
program, how to choose the right com-
puter, etc.) before you buy any of these
books. And be sure to always keep your

BANTAM I
OOMPL
BUSN
COwmMx :

miN

mw

eyes open for f
books as: Jane
Book.
100 PRINT "en
999 END

Coming Attrac

Ray Bradbury has a new book
coming out. It's called A Memory of
Murder, and it's a never-before-
published collection of 15 of the
master's early suspense classics, in-
cluding "The Small Assasin," a story
that Bradbury considers to be "one of
the best stories, in any field, that I
have ever written." The stories will.
run the full range of mystery and
suspense. (Price: $2.95 To be
published by Dell Books on February
2).
A book entitled Who Farted? is
scheduled to hit the racks soon. From
the excerpts that I received, the book
appears to be a compendium of old

movie stills, fro
to assume that
each of the pho
the movie stills
intended to be us
effect is quite a
To be publish
(Pocket) Bo
February).
Norman Mail
Guys Don't D
published by Ra
The only detail
that the novel t
cetown, Massa
with an unfal
violence and pas

FLY ICELANDAIR
MARCH THRU MAY
$450 ROUND-TRIP*
Detroit - Luxembourg
CORNER MAYNARD AND LIBERTY
(Kinko's Entrance)

fU
Bantam Fast and Friendly Computer
Guides: Home/Family, Business/Of-
fice, and Professional/Personal, and
Masterint Your Timex Sinclar 1000
Personal Computer.
Let's start with The Illustrated Com-
puter Dictionary. Simply put, this is a
dictionary of any and all terms that
you're likely to come across when
dealing with computers. One thing the
book can't be criticized for is being in-
complete; without a doubt, the book is a

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4 Weekend/January 27, 1984

9 Weeke

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