Monday, July 13, 2015


FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Ever since my essay here hypothesized the influence of Walter Hill's THE WARRIORS on some key examples of Italian cinema, I've been meaning to check out the movie and see if, as I suspected, it conformed to my ideas about uncanny phenomenality. Going by memory I'd tentatively given it that categorization if for no other reason than the protagonists' encounter with the gang called the "Baseball Furies," one of which is in the still above. 

I'm sure I'll never read the 1965 Sol Yurick novel from which the movie took some of its elements, but from two summaries I've read online, it seems to have been entirely naturalistic. The novel focuses on the struggle of an inner-city New York gang to avoid other gangs on their way back to their Coney Island turf, but the gangs they encounter aren't as self-consciously weird as the ones in the film, which director Walter Hill co-scripted with David Schaber.

As in the novel, the film begins with a summit between the various New York gangs, but Hill gives the meeting an apocalyptic vibe, Cyrus, charismatic leader of a gang called the Gramercy Riffs, tells the assembled youths-- most of whom are male-- that if they unite they can rule the city, rather than wasting their lives protecting little areas of "turf." But sooner does Cyrus announce his messianic mission than he's assassinated. The audience sees that the killing is the act of a demented gang-member named Luther, but no one else does, so that Luther easily frames the Warriors for the deed. In the fracas that breaks out, the Warriors' leader Cleon is beaten down. The rest of the gang escapes the meeting-place, and the gang's second-in-command, a youth named Swan, takes command.

Once Hill has established the movie's basic premise, the director focuses almost exclusively upon letting the action unfold. There's no real attention to the individual members of the Warriors, and even Swan is something of a cypher, even though he manages to forge a "romance on the run" with Mercy, a girl from another gang. Whereas the novel's author allegedly wanted to de-romanticize the New York gangs, Hill is to an extent re-romanticizing them. 

That's not to say that the Warriors are romantic heroes. They're not even particularly likable people. At least twice one of the protagonists uses the word "faggot" and it's clear that no one in the gang disapproves: if anything, gayness is a negative against which the gang-members can measure their masculinity. But what Hill is romanticizing is the youths' sheer tenacity, their will to survive the mean New York streets, made even weirder by youth-gangs whose "colors" are not as naturalistic as the Warriors' simple vests. In addition to the already mentioned Baseball Furies, there's also a gang called the Punks, who glide around on roller skates and wear overalls that, to say the least, don't make them look particularly formidable. This is not to say that every gang encountered fufills the uncanny trope of "outre outfits," for some of them, like the Punks and the Lizzies, wear fairly ordinary clothing. Hill, after all, wasn't trying to create a world radically apart from the regular one, unlike the SF-films cited in the above essay. But the script clearly seeks to propel the Warriors-- who are a relatively "ordinary" gang of juvenile delinquents-- into contact with tribes who are positively weird with their fetishes and obsessions.

The action scenes, shot largely in genuine New York settings, are the main attraction of the film; allegedly Hill wanted to shoot WARRIORS with a kind of comic-book flair. However, it should be noted that he does apply some basic psychology to his usually uncomplicated characters. Mercy, a member of the Punks, becomes intrigued with Swan and his persecuted allies when the group passes through Punk territory. After trying to spark a rumble between the gangs, She follows them, which supports Swan's idea that she's a prostitute looking for a new gig. And since Mercy's dialogue suggests that she may have had a checkered past, it's a given that the course of their romance doesn't run smooth, nor is it even certain that it will endure.

In the end, Luther is exposed and the Warriors are exonerated-- though the conflict has demonstrated the impossibility of Cyrus' ambition: the street-gangs are too preoccupied with issues of ego to make any long-term alliances. THE WARRIORS is too wrapped up in the thrills of exotic violence to make any social statements, but there's more than a hint of irony when the gang gets back to Coney Island, and Swan can only say, "This is what we fought to get back to?"

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