THE FILM: STREETS OF FIRE (1984)
THE PRINCIPALS: Water Hill (Director), Michael Pare, Diane Lane, Willem Dafoe, Rick Moranis, Grand L. Bush (hero!), Rick Rossovich (also hero!)
THE PREMISE: Have you ever played Double Dragon? River City Ransom? Pretty much there you go. Fight through an urban hell to rescue the woman you love from the clutches of an evil dick.
Come to think of it – all of those side-scrolling beat-’em up’s started coming out of Japan in the mid-’80s…and Streets of Fire was huge there…
Anyway – “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” isn’t vague (or – since we’re on the internet – “vauge”) enough, and it sounds like a fairie tale. When you’re a two-fisted sonofabitch like Walter Hill, you set your movie in “Another Time…Another Place”.
The time and place of Hill’s classic Streets of Fire is a world that feels familiar but foreign – like a civilization from the old-school Star Trek series that based its culture on TV signals and radio transmissions from 1956 that are only just now reaching the planet. Hill’s neon-splattered vintage-retro-futuro dystopian utopia (‘cause sure – it’s a nightmare of gang violence and pick-axe fights, but it’s got style and bombast and Jim Steinman’s in the studio. If we’re allowed to choose our urban hell, I’ll take the one with Ellen Aim over the one we’re all sharing with Carly Rae Jepsen) is filled with thuggery and gunfire and mortal peril – but, as was the case with his previous gang film, The Warriors - Hill is less compelled here to speak to social ills and gang violence and more interested in scribbling a modern myth in the ashes of Baby Boomer nostalgia.
And what nostalgia: Hill’s protagonist, Tom Cody – in his suspenders and long coat, and brandishing a lever-action rifle – is evocative of the Wild West heroes Hill would have been weaned on at the movies and on TV…the city streets are lined with old Fords and Mercurys and Studebakers…the denizens of the Richmond district look like bobby-soxers…and Ry Cooder tinkers with Duane Eddy and Link Wray in his (sadly unavailable) score.
The only real vision of the new (wave) comes in the form of the devilish Raven Shaddock (played with a Supaaa-Rapeyyy sneer by Willem Dafoe), with his rubber fetish wear and Flock of Seagulls haircut. That his second is the feral former Fear front man Lee Ving could very well be a statement; the ‘50s (represented by a weary blue collar asshole with more balls than brains and just enough pride left to fight for who the fuck knows what) is coming to rescue the ‘70s (represented by Jim Steinman and Stevie Nicks’ contributions to Ellen Aim’s oeuvre) from the ‘80s (repped by the Green Goblin dressed like he’s modeling for Tom of Finland).
Of course – I’m just spewing bullshit here, anyway. Raven’s motorcycle gang is comprised of a bunch of leather dudes decked out in Marlon Brando’s Wild One finest, so more than likely it’s all just good-natured pastiche.
So the deal is, rockstar Ellen Aim is a totally foxy Diane Lane, and so Willem Dafoe kidnaps her so’s they’ll fall in love. It makes sense. I’d do the same thing. I’ve plotted it.
Thing is, she’s the former love of Soldier Boy Tom Cody – and so, after some prodding by his big sister Reva (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) and some payment from Ellen’s manager/current boyfriend Billy Fish (Rick Moranis), Cody teams up with wayward warrior McCoy (Amy Madigan, in a role originally written for a Hispanic dude) and sets out to rescue Ellen.
Can Cody get Ellen back? Will their passions reignite? Will Raven swear revenge? Will Cody and Raven have an epic pick-axe fight on Wacker Drive?
The answer to all of these questions is a resounding fuck yeah!
IS IT ANY GOOD? It’s so got-damned good I have to watch it twice a month in order to stay sane. It’s seriously one of my favorite movies of all time. I want to be Tom Cody when I grow up. If I ever met Michael Pare, I’d probably hug him until the cops showed. I own an HD-DVD player just so I can watch the film in High Definition (the DVD sucks, and Uni won’t put it out on Blu Ray for some stupid reason). I have two copies of that disc, just in case something happens to one of them. I also own it on VHS and Laserdisc. I own actual “memorabilias” from the film – including multiple posters, a souvenir picture book from Japan, and the soundtrack on cassette, compact disc, and vinyl. A girl I know used to sing Ellen Aim songs to me before I went to sleep at night, and it made me feel all weird like when I used to climb the rope in gym class. I’m going to go curl up in my blankee and watch Streets of Fire right now, and you should do the same.
So…um…yeah. It’s okay.
IS IT WORTH A LOOK? It is the look – for me, cinematographer Andrew Laszlo nailed the vibe he was going for on The Warriors with this film. Hill and Laszlo were in complete control of their environs, tenting half of Chicago and two Universal backlot cityscapes to create the endless nights and rain-slicked streets of their Rock and Roll Fable.
RANDOM ANECDOTES: When Walter Hill asked Michael Pare what the young actor would do if someone he loved was abducted, he said he “wouldn’t hesitate to pick up his guns and take care of things.”
The film was supposed to be the first part of a trilogy. It’s been said that the first sequel – The Far City - was actually scripted. Unfortunately, the film underperformed, and sequel plans were scrapped.
Most of Ry Cooder’s awesome score for this film is unavailable, but his apocalyptic slide-guitar squealer “Bomber Bash” – used when Cody assaults the nightclub where Dafoe’s Raven is holding Ellen – is available on Music by Ry Cooder. PICK IT UP AT AMAZON.
Director Albert Pyun (Cyborg, Nemesis, Sword and the Sorcerer) has directed an unofficial sequel to the film. Road to Hell is currently playing festivals.
Also – I made this. It prints pretty big. If you’re a fan, I think you’ll like it. You take that shit to Kinko’s – instant movie memorabilia!