Sunday, April 9, 2017

Ask Me a Question: The Warriors & Streets of Fire w/ Walter Hill

The Warriors is one of my favorite films of all time. Like Big Trouble In Little China, I first discovered the film on late night TV. But instead of TBS it was Joe Bob Brigg's Drive In on TNT. A friend's dad recognized the film, having seen it upon release in 1979. Soon a VHS copy was on repeat and I realized the TV version had additional scenes not featured in the theatrical. I loved the flick so much that middle school me found Sol Yurick's source novel from a neighboring library who then sent it to my local branch. It's not a long novel but I figured on reading it in a few chunks. After many a page, the book did not resemble the finished film much at all so I kept reading, waiting for the fight and chase scenes so prevalent in the film, to happen. They never did. Years later on the special edition DVD, writer/director Walter Hill mentioned being inspired by the Xenophon's Greek tale Anabasis where an army of soldiers are stuck deep in enemy territory and march their way back to the ocean. I found a copy of the text on Google and read that tome years ago.

Back in 2011 Edgar Wright hosted a screening of The Warriors where producers Lawrence Gordon and Frank Marshall along with actor James Remar and Hill attended. Cut to this weekend and The American Cinematheque's Aero Theatre was hosting a retrospective of the acclaimed filmmaker to celebrate the premiere of his latest work, The Assignment. On Friday night we hit newly renovated Margo's on Montana for Happy Hour (fantastic burger, fries and mussels) and headed over to the show. We were walking behind a small group and I realized one of them was Ajax himself, James Remar! Tied with Swan, Ajax was my favorite Warrior and part of my first e-mail address on Yahoo. The group was taking a picture with the marquee so I volunteered to take one of all of them then told Remar he was my favorite Warrior to which he was very gracious and a little surprised I recognized him. A terrific character actor, Remar has been many a Walter Hill film, was the original Hicks before being replaced by Michael Biehn, The Phantom, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and oh so many more. If I had more time I would have asked him about being directed by Jean-Claude Van Damme in The Quest! Once the theater filled up though, Remar was inconspicuous no more. Apaprently Wesley Snipes, star of Hill's prison boxing flick Undisputed was in the audience as well!

From the opening shot of Coney Island's Wonder Wheel with Barry De Vorzon's mood setting synth enhanced music, The Warriors is still as iconic and awesome as ever. Hill's bread and butter has always been creating a comic book fever dream world; Hard Times, The Driver, The Warriors and Streets of Fire are all ample examples of that. The outlandish make up and costumes, the gang meet up and ensuing pandemonium after would be street soldier general Cyrus is murdered by the squirrelly Luthor (David Patrick Kelly) who then frames The Warriors, causing them to bop their way back to Coney Island with every gang in the city on their tails, is thrilling, funny and inspiring. As a kid I wanted to be cool like Swan, warlord of the The Warriors played by the steadfast Michael Beck who deserved much more of a career afterwards. Or brash like Remar's Ajax who's always looking to fight or find some chicks aka strange wool. The personalities of the gangs is still strong, the fights and chases still kinetic and the shot on the streets of New York aesthetic still impressive.

After the film, Walter Hill received a standing ovation before taking part in a bit of a quiet Q&A. Hill discussed how the film was set up after another fell apart and owing much of his career to producer Lawrence Gordon. He commended the young, unknown cast for being in top shape, enduring a hard shoot but never complaining. Shot mostly at night, the film was behind schedule nearly immediately and studio Paramount was not happy with the results, thinking this "New York youth movie" would be similar to their hit Saturday Night Fever. Remar was nearly blown up during the car explosion scene and Hill joked he should have sued the studio for millions but probably settled for $50 from Frank Marshall. Hill also spoke about the recently deceased Bill Paxton (View In Peace), saying he truly was a great guy and a great friend who could pick up where you left off even after not seeing each other for a year.

On his carte blanche financial flop Streets of Fire, Hill spoke about making it a musical with action and guns to change things up and how Edward James Olmos came in to read for the sidekick role and said it was a poorly written Latino stereotype. Hill didn't disagree and when Amy Madigan came in, said the McCoy role was the best in the film and suggested rewriting it as a woman to create a new angle, thus creating arguably the most scene stealing role in the beautifully crafted, understated love story masquerading as an action film with a truly outstanding soundtrack. I also love the costumes with their emphasis on suspenders. When asked about the potential sequels mentioned in the script, The Far City and Cody's Return, Hill responded it was simply a matter of enticing the studio to make the film since they're always looking for franchises. Even though he had absolutely no ideas for sequels but it was his job to come up with stories.

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