Arts & Letters

Movies

Streamers

Streamers (parachutes that won't open) was a Broadway play, then a television drama, and now Robert Altman has made it into a film. Set entirely in an army boot camp in Virginia, it still has the trappings of the original stage play.

Whether as theater or as film, it is a drama of raw power and concentrated emotion. It is set in the time of the Vietnam war but is not at all about war; it is about the conflicting emotions of men, until recently strangers to one another, who are thrown together in close proximity. Fear of death, fear of homosexual impulses, fear of confrontation with each other and their own deepest feelings, combine to produce an excruciatingly intense drama.

The performances, by a cast of unknowns, are superb. Best of all perhaps is that of George Dzunda as the Vietnam-weary officer. When he appeared in The Deer Hunter, for a few crucial moments the fate of the entire film was in his hands: at the end of the film, tears streaming down his face after the funeral, he prepared breakfast for the grief-stricken survivors and, as if to deflect their attention, started to hum "God Bless America," whereupon others took up the tune until everyone joined in. It was a tremendous chance to take, the chances being that coming where it did it would sound false and ruin the climax of the film, but thanks to his performance the end of the film was brilliant. He enacts a similar scene toward the end of Streamers, an unusually difficult and delicate thing to bring off, but he does it with extraordinary ability.

The film, however, is so harrowing that it could hardly be called entertainment, and it will certainly not suit everyone's taste.

Never Cry Wolf

Wolves are still perceived as the enemies of man, as vicious predators. The literature is full of myths about attacks on man by wolves-Red Riding Hood and the wolf, Saki's famous story about wolves' attacks, and so on. One result of man's tragic misperception of wolves is that they have been almost wiped out on the American mainland.

Actually, wolves are among the most highly evolved species in the world. Their complex system of signals, their manner of dividing up territories, their code of etiquette in the training of their young, and their relations with other animals, all marvels of complexity and utility, have been the subject of numerous documentaries, notably Wolves and Wolf-Men.

Now from Disney Productions comes a full-length film, Never Cry Wolf, filmed over a year's span of time in the wilds of Alaska. It illustrates another facet of the life of wolves, amidst the most stunning Arctic scenery. A man is sent to Alaska to test the theory that the wolf is responsible for the depletion of caribou herds.

As things turn out, it is man and not the wolf who is responsible for the slaughter of the caribou-the wolf lives largely on small rodents. But between the landing in the Alaskan wilderness and the final proof of the truth about wolves, there is a remarkable series of incidents, with a fascinating narrative, a serious purpose, and a pervasive sense of humor, all of which make the film richly informative and fascinating to watch. For anyone who cares about animals or about scenic beauty, this is one of the most rewarding films of this or any other year.

Rumble Fish

Compared to most contemporary films about the problems of youth, Rumble Fish is profound and disturbing. It concerns the problem of growing up in a city (Tulsa), with no parents worthy of the name, no money, nothing to do, wondering how to spend each day that comes along. It is a saga of alienated youth, which makes most youth-oriented films superficial and fatuous by comparison.

From another point of view, however, a person could well say that the characters largely deserve their fate. People have come out of the slums before and made their lives succeed; these show no motivation at all in that direction- neither the main character (Mat Dillon) nor his ex-motorcycle champion brother (Mickey Rourke).

With whichever attitude one comes to the film, it seems clear that for director Francis Ford Coppola the art (some would say artiness) is more important than the story. Mists constantly swirl about the scene; the streets are always wet, the sunsets are always lucidly dramatic. But then, the film is not an attempt at cinematic realism. It is a vision, presumably of life as seen from a specific point of view, in which the physical universe is imbued with the tortuous conflicts of the characters, much as the rocks appear agonized and tormented in El Greco's painting "Christ in Gethsemane." To criticize the film for not abiding by the standard of realism is to miss entirely what Coppola was trying to do.

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