Monday, March 19, 2012

I'd Love To Turn You On - At the Movies #35 - Streets of Fire (1984, dir. Walter Hill)


If you have made it this long in life without having experienced a screening of Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire then it must be said that you have done something wrong that can easily be remedied by picking up the DVD case below, purchasing it from your friendly Twist cashier and racing home to watch it as soon as humanly possible. “But hey” you say, “What’s it about?” and I will quiet your mouth with my finger and tell you “That’s not important because tonight is what it means to be young.”
Actually, what it’s about is pretty integral to the experience so let’s start there. Directed by Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hours) and written by Hill and Larry Gross, who had collaborated on 48 Hours previously and had developed a tone of “gritty fun” in Hollywood’s eyes. This led to a request from Universal Pictures to apply that “gritty fun” to a film that would attract the youth of the time (circa 1984) and capture all the momentum that the recently launched MTV was building in the youth market with all the pow and zing of a music video. Hill and Gross agreed to the idea but began quickly hammering out an idea that on one hand would seem attractive to the youth of the time but was based more on ideas that would have excited them in THEIR youth: spaghetti westerns, comic books, Nicholas Ray films and the wild and dangerous vibe of old school Rock N Roll. Put all of that in a blender, shake it up, pour it out and you’ve got yourself a tall glass of Streets of Fire.
The film is set in, as the credits indicate, “Another Time, Another Place…” which is a great descriptor of Streets’s world. The music and talk and style are all 1980’s but the cars, styles, sets and clothing are all circa 1957. In this world we meet pop star Ellen Aim (a baby faced Diane Lane) as she’s about to take the stage at a raucous and electric sold-out show. She barely gets to finish a song before she’s kidnapped by Raven Shaddock (a baby-faced Willem Dafoe) and his gang of vinyl wearing motorcycle thugs. Into this situation a hero must emerge and who better than Tom Cody (Michael Pare), who is Ellen’s ex-love and Raven’s long standing enemy? Tom is helped by his brave sister Reva (Deborah Van Valkenburgh), a plucky new sidekick McCoy (Amy Madigan in a great role that was rewritten as a woman just for her) and Ellen’s new boyfriend/manager Billy Fish (Rick Moranis showing a great side as a D-bag). At this point the story couldn’t become more simplistic; the hero and his gang must rescue the damsel and take out the thugs but it is here that Hill’s direction, Gross’ writing and the hot cinematography by Andrew Laszlo take a rote plan and execute it into a vivid, colorful and absolutely fascinating rock ‘n’ roll fever dream. Oh, and the music! We gotta talk about the music!
With some original music from the incomparable Ry Cooder, the Streets soundtrack is absolutely owned by Jim Steinman whose collaborations with Meatloaf and Bonnie Tyler created some of the best, and I do mean best, rock ‘n’ roll ballads of the late seventies and early eighties. I dare you not to lose your cool the next time that you hear “Nowhere Fast” or “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” playing at a party. In fact, just step a few feet over from this display and pick up the Streets of Fire soundtrack while you’re at it and infuse your ears with the aural satisfaction that it craves from a movie soundtrack. It’s this music in Streets that gives the entire masterful soufflé its real flavor and leaves you wanting another piece.
What are you waiting for? Pick up this DVD right now and correct the biggest mistake of your life then save the dates of June 1 & 2 for a big screen presentation of Streets of Fire in the Denver FilmCenter’s Watching Hour program. You’re welcome.
- Keith Garcia

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