Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Warriors

"Warriors, come out to plaaayaay." -Luther-

"Can you dig it!? Can you count suckers?!" -Cyrus-

"We're gonna rain on you Warriors!" -The Orphans-

"I'm havin' a good time." -Luther-

"What are ya turnin' faggot?" -Ajax-

"I was haulin' ass!" -Cochise-

"We're acting like faggots." - Ajax-

"Maybe all of you just goin' faggot." -Ajax-

"Those lousy skin-headed fucks." -Ajax-

"Yeah, that's right, Warriors. Just keep walkin'. Real tough muthas, ain't ya?" -Mercy-

"Buncha chicken shits." -Ajax-

"Did we lose these fuckin' clowns or what?" -Ajax-

"You see what you get, Warriors? You see what you get when you mess with the Orphans?" -The Orphans-

"You come armying down here - invading our territory - no permits, no parley." _The Orphans-

"Shit! The chicks are packed!" -Rembrandt-

"I'll shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a Popsicle." -Ajax-

"I want all the Warriors! I want them alive, if possible.  If not, wasted!" -Masai-

"I know their on my ass, but now they know I know it." -Swan-

"You're crazy. You're dead - all of you, and you know it." -Luther-

"No reason, I just like doing things like that." -Luther-

"You Warriors are good, real good." -Masai-

"The best." -Swan-

The Warriors (1979) simply was and still is the best gifted with an unforgettable script by Walter Hill and David Shaber.  If there was ever a film that was more infinitely quotable than The Warriors, I've yet to see it in my lifetime.  This ranks toward the top of just about any film list. Scene after scene stealing scene, the performers deliver dialogue like a then contemporary Shakespearean play.  Much of it is also in the delivery.  The actors simply hang on words. They pause.  They give their moments weight between the breaks of silence.  It's a classic.

So I reached back into the classics catalogue, as I'll be inclined to do from time to time, for something from one of the great periods of cinema - the 1970s to the mid-1980s.  Director Walter Hill's The Warriors somehow manages to walk this incredible line of gritty 70s cinema immersed in urban decay whilst walking that fantastical line of being something otherworldly or as his director's cut suggests a comic fantasy.

Admittedly, I'm getting older, and seeing it today it feels like it's from another world.  It's as if it was from another time a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.  But like Star Wars (1977) the 1970s was just filled with creative overload on almost every front.  It was a wonderful, severe but beautifully filmed era in cinema.  Even the accompanying scoring on these pictures lend these films a kind of complementary darkness.  There's often a strange and eerie vibe to a whole host of pictures from the period whether the genre was science fiction (The Planet Of The Apes series, 1981's Escape From New York), drama (1981's Fort Apache, The Bronx) or something in cinema as fantastic as The Warriors.  Hearing the duality of the soul-filled  and heavily electronic score so representative of the 1970s made me yearn to see more from this remarkable period in film.

The Warriors works on so many levels that it holds up incredibly well today.  To prove that out my young teenager was slowly drawn into the film himself.  The use of the word "faggots," "whore" and "fuck you" are rare within the context of cinema today and are almost shocking in their attention seeking appeal.  The seemingly nihilistic and dark The Warriors just feels like a doomsday film tied together by characters bestowed with very little but friendship and hope for something better.  So don't be fooled, throughout the dark journey of this Spartan-like band of warriors as Hill compares them.  They fight and claw their way back to Coney Island with pride despite nothing more than the colors on their vests. What relief I felt when they made it there too. One recognizes a clear desire for love and home and belonging.  Even the Riffs discover the truth about The Warriors and offer respect. The Warriors tells a tale about people with almost nothing materially.  These are people blessed with the fruit of the human spirit and the vital recognition that in each of us we are bestowed with a value of self-worth and self-respect.  From the very beginning, these are people looking for something deeper and more meaningful in a place where things seem futile and meaningless. Even Cyrus was looking for something better for man. The Warriors never fails to move me.  Despite looking the part of a girl who seemingly lived a hardened lifetime, Mercy was positively beautiful to me.

Hill delivers a masterstroke of visual acuity, then urban realism infused with exaggeration creating something startlingly unusual in film.  Gangs weren't mere street thugs.  These were super groups with outfits and colors that spoke to us as kids. I was blown away by its power as a young teenager in a neighborhood where my friends gathered and watched a second or third generation VHS copy raw.  Despite the visual loss and snow grain on the picture, we absolutely identified with these people.  I'm not sure they should have been role models, but there was something entirely sympathetic about the Warriors.  As kids, we empathizes with their desperate flight and efforts to survive a city that weighed heavily upon them.  The entire battle of the film was like a symbolic morality play of urban decay and the lack of opportunity for those without power.  The powerless were oppressed and needed to battle and fight to obtain economic freedom.  The picture visualizes these ideas like modern day poetry and cinematic theatre.  It wasn't long before my friends were in the front yard imitating Ajax, Swan, Fox and the lot. We were The Warriors.  But hell who didn't want to be Swan or Ajax?  These guys were just plain bad asses.  Where was my parental supervision on this?  I mean, this was a major oversight Mom.  Granted, I thank you.  I have her to thank for her leniency on films like The Warriors, The Thing (1982) and Blade Runner (1982).  These were formative gifts. You have to excuse some permissiveness when it comes to great cinema.

As a kid, I didn't connect with The Warriors because they were a gang in New York City. The funny thing is, just as Walter Hill intended in comic book fashion, I connected to The Warriors like they were a superhero group heavy with expletives. It's that simple really. To me, they were courageous and all powerful like a band of heroes and like the historical Greek warriors Hill saw them as. Lighting, color and angles all lend themselves to fantasy-styled framing. The Warriors gave our sensibilities that too.

The film is astoundingly powerful even today.  I never expected to behold the viewing experience in 2013 that I had as a young teen.  To hold that kind of power is a true testament to the writing, the camera work, the use of silence, the use of music, the use of slow motion right down to the final moments played to Joe Walsh's potent In The City. In fact, miraculously, Walsh gained considerable respect by the kids in my neighborhood with that track.  From that point forward, as much as we loved Glenn Frey and Don Henley, Walsh was forever crowned the reigning king of bad ass for The Eagles on the shoulders of a single song even though he was not a founding member.  That's a nice achievement. Hearing it again has spawned a CD burn of their very best on this night.

The film had incredible, endless highlights as a kid for me and those same scenes still stand out  The battle against The Furies and The Orphans, the bathroom fight sequence, the struggle with The Lizzies, the twisted but stunning turn by David Patrick Kelly as Luther, the James Remar moments that solidified his acting cult status for years to come, the moving subway scene as the beaten Warriors sit across from two well-to-do couples, the clicking of the bottles and the final scene with the yelling of "SWAN!"'s name.  These are profound, poetic moments in cinema.  The Warriors is a striking film that holds up remarkably well today boppers.  So many films lack cachet or the permits and parley of The Warriors.  This film qualifies.

It's more than a nostalgia trip seeing this film.  Beyond the fond memories of this classic there is an incredibly rewarding viewing experience to be had here.  It's worth seeing just witnessing the rich characters and the colorful script.  Luther is the epitome of chaos and evil - a nasty beast in New York City.  He is the precursor and what The Dark Knight's The Joker would mean to Gotham City.  Like The Joker, Luther takes pleasure in darkness and has no problem watching New York City burn. I actually happened upon Kelly cast in Twin Peaks shortly after seeing this film.  Don't you love those strange coincidences when things like that happen?  How weird I would see Kelly in two different projects years apart in one night.  Kelly would also appear as a Luther character in Hill's excellent 48 Hrs (1982) along with the living legend that is James Remar.

The Warriors is easily one of the best films of that decade.  Hill was red hot coming off a production credit for Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), a franchise he maintained an association with as producer straight through to Prometheus (2012), but The Warriors while maybe not achieving the same kind of cinematic status as Alien is easily an out and out classic in the same stratosphere and a true high point in the Hill's own strong and visionary career.

The extras highlighting the cast and creators is a hoot.  My, how we all age.

Not unlike the sometimes unsettling, dark, uncompromising vision of the scoring for the period, these films were often crafted with endings far removed from the polish of Hollywood.  Somewhat surprisingly, The Warriors serves up a terrific and even hopeful one.  They rarely make films of this strength today.  These were movies folks.  They were very different from the technically sophisticated and fast and furious films of today.  There was something much deeper going on.  Thank God.

There were plenty of important films that influenced who I am today. Unbeknownst to me way back when Walter Hill was a significant player in that development with The Warriors and 48 Hrs..  Many of these films aren't just great memories.  They were solid movies with terrific character studies.  I'm grateful to have lived to experience and assimilate films of this caliber when the camera stood still and absorbed the moment.

The Warriors was good - real goodCan you dig it?! I still can.

The Warriors: A. Writer: Walter Hill, David Shaber. Director: Walter Hill.

These are two classic moments and should be viewed only if you have seen the film.

* with the exception of two images, all were taken from my wee little black camera.


Sean Gill said...

Great writeup, SFF! I, too, had a young, formative viewing experience with this flick, and just a few days after moving to Brooklyn made the first of many pilgrimages to Coney Island in its honor. Every gang is so well-thought-out and larger than life, even the ones who receive only a glimpse of screen-time. And as you say, it was a career maker for two of my all-time favorite character actors, James Remar and David Patrick Kelly. Yep, THE WARRIORS is good. Real good.

Unknown said...

Well done, SFF!

Love this film as well. I say it much later in life but it still made a huge impact and it's a film that still holds up today.

Hill has to be one of the best directors that conveys kinetic action and violence. At times, THE WARRIORS feels more violent than it is and it's in the way Hill frames it, choreographs it and edits it.

As a big fan of this film, I was rather stoked when a few years ago they released a video game that allowed you to play the various characters from the movie and they even got several of the cast members back to voice their respective characters. Best of all, you got to play the various characters through the events depicted in the film! How cool is that?

SFF said...

Thank you Sean for sharing your own experience here. That is really cool. It would make me want to visit there immediately too.

I was rocking out to In The City coming back from a baseball practice last night. It just transports you back to that film and that era almost instantly.

But you're right, shot for shot, frame for frame, character for character, so much is given to the viewer from beginning to end in this film. Nothing is wasted. It truly is like a graphic novel come to life.

Also, for fans of James Remar, people should definitely check out Sean Gill's site where he has a label dedicated to the actor and covers a good number of the films of which he has been involved. Great stuff over there Sean.


Thank you too my friend. So influential this film right? It is just relentless as a visual experience.

I would love to try The Warriors game out. It sounds really good.

And one last point, like both of you I love Walter Hill's films. I do hope to cover 48 Hrs. here in the future. Sean did it over at his site.

And J.D. I've read your review of Extreme Prejudice a few times and I have it on my watch list. I wish I was on Blu-Ray but I think I'm going to break down and get that film on DVD to remedy the fact I've never seen it. It looks like a great Hill/ Nolte film.

Finally, I'd also like to see WIld Bill if Sean recommends it.

Another 48 Hrs, as a film, doesn't interest me at all for whatever reason. Am I wrong on that feeling?

Cheers to you both.

Unknown said...

Yeah, ANOTHER 48 HRS is a waste of time. Strictly a paycheck movie, IMO. If yer a stickler for aspect ratio and don't my watching movies streaming, iTunes actually has EXTREME PREJUDICE letterboxed. Otherwise, the DVD is pan and scan but you're not losing too much, image-wise.

WILD BILL is something of an underrated film. Helluva cast but it has its flaws. Still, I think it is a pretty brave attempt on Hill's part and definitely worth checking out.

Sean Gill said...


Heh, thank you for the James Remar shout-out. I'm not as big on WILD BILL as J.D., but it's definitely worth seeing for great character bits from the likes of Remar, John Hurt, Bruce Dern, and Keith Carradine, among others. It dips into camp with the Calamity Jane hot tub scene and then there's groan-inducing video art sequences (hey, at least you get to see Diane Lane though), but you should still check it out. I do have to say my favorite telling of the Hickok legend is still the first six episodes of DEADWOOD (also involving Walter Hill!).

And J.D.,
I did not realize that EXTREME PREJUDICE is in widescreen on iTunes- that's sort of exciting, though of course it's the kind of film that I think simply cries out for a Criterion Blu-Ray.