Title: Streets of Fire (1984)
Director: Walter Hill
Cast: Michael Pare, Diane Lane, Willem Dafoe, Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan, Bill Paxton
Streets of Fire isn’t all that different from director Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979), it’s an alternate world created by the filmmakers, the rules created by the screenwriter, the director and the actors. In The Warriors, Walter Hill mixed fantasy and reality into a world all its own. The first time I saw The Warriors, it struck me as strange because I asked myself, “who the hell dresses up like clown baseball players?” To me, that wasn’t real, gang members wouldn’t be caught dead in that attire, but then I realized, this is an exaggerated representation of reality. It was Walter Hill’s way of addressing his frustrations and thoughts on the whole gang scene that was destroying the lives of young people during the 60’s and 70’s. And so, if we take The Warriors as an exaggeration of reality, a comic book like fantasy world if you will, then it works. You just gotta let yourself go and dive deep into this cinematic world, suspend your disbelief and just go with it. The same can be said of Streets of Fire, it’s a world into itself, the characters and situations depicted here are not meant to be taken as “reality” but a mere exaggeration of it, a Rock and Roll Fable that takes place in “Another Time, Another Place”.
This is a world where cops allow street gangs to fight, a world in which a biker gang can walk into a rock and roll concert, kidnap the lead singer and terrorize concert goers in all sorts of violent ways. And they can get away with it just fine! This is the premise of Streets of Fire, a film in which we have two gangs of young kids that for whatever the reason hate each other. Willem Defoe and his gang of bikers, who all dress like they belonged in The Village People, kidnap Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) right smack in the middle of her concert and it’s up to Tom Cody (Michael Pare) to rescue her from the clutches of Rave Shaddock (Willem Dafoe) and his gang. The plot is that simple, but we need to keep in mind that Streets of Fire is the classic example of style over substance and I mean that in a good way! Streets of Fire is meant to be enjoyed from a purely visceral point of view, the film is clearly aimed to pleasure our senses and our instinct rather than our minds. Not that it’s a stupid movie; it’s just that its emphasis lies in sensory input because it’s a film about passion and violence, and getting things done. This is a film about action, not about talking. The sensory input comes in the form of enhanced colors, and the awesome Rock and Roll soundtrack, speaking of the soundtrack, this is part of the reason why I say that this is a film that creates its own rules because the film seems to take place during the 50’s but some of the music is very 80’s. I mean, some of the songs were written by the great Jim Steinman (from Meatloaf) and what’s more 80’s than his style of operatic rock and roll?
In a way, the whole story behind Streets of Fire reminds me of Homer’s The Iliad, in which a whole war is sparked by the abduction of a woman, Helen of Troy. In Streets of Fire everything starts because Rave Shaddock and his hoodlums abduct Ellen Aim, now that I think about it, Helena sounds a lot like Ellen, maybe the similarities between Streets of Fire and The Iliad aren’t that far off, it looks to me as if the writers were partially inspired by ancient epic poem. And yeah, there’s some epicness to this film, there’s this really cool seen in which Tom starts shooting with a modified shotgun at all the bikers motorcycles and the motorcycles start blowing up in balls of flames! Awesome scene! The ending is this clash between two gangs, the evil bikers vs. Tom Cody and his friends, and the battle is like a battle between two rock and roll gods, they even battle with freaking metal hammers! I was like what? Metal hammers? Who thought that up?
The cast is excellent, Michael Pare is great as Tom Cody, he's the guy you don’t want to get mixed up with, he’s a loner, a rebel. Ellen the up and coming rock star, is his old flame; he broke up with her because he doesn’t consider himself the kind of guy who would tag along with her carrying her guitars. Nope, he’s too much of a loner for that. He talks very little, broods a lot and wears a trench coat. He’s a war hero that steals cars, fights for the love of his life, fires shotguns, fights with hammers, and rides motorcycles! This is the ultimate tough guy. Like Pee Wee Herman in Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985) or Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Tom Cody is too much of a rebel to get tied down by a relationship. But he doesn’t mind a night of passion! Michael Pare’s career was starting to take off, he was apparently going to be the next big thing in Hollywood, unfortunately he filmed another Rock and Roll themed film called Eddie and the Cruisers (1983) and then he went and filmed Streets of Fire and they both tanked at the box office! Yet, the cinematic gods have smiled upon him! This double death at the box office didn’t kill his career completely, he’s continued his career making b-movies and even one or two studio films. And then there's Diane Lane, wow, she really portrayed a girl worth dying for! Every time she was singing on stage, I was transfixed by her persona, totally captivated. Seeing her on this movie is totally worth the price of admission. Rick Moranis is on this film as well, if you can believe it he plays Diane Lane’s agent/fiancée, and some feel he was miscast in the role. I have to admit he does stick out like a sore thumb amongst all the tough guys and gals. Super sexy Diane Lane with a nerdy dude like Moranis? I didn’t buy it, but whatever, it’s a minor flaw in the movie, plus Moranis is always entertaining.
One of the most interesting characters in the film was a girl named McCoy (Amy Madigan) a tomboy who has as much attitude as everyone else on the film. Willem Defoe is a cartoon of a villain, even his facial expressions are exaggerated emotions, he wears this leather bound attire that’s straight of an S&M magazine or something. My only gripe with the film is the motivations for kidnapping Ellen were not fleshed out , Raven Shaddock says that he’s kidnapped her simply to have his way with her for a couple of weeks, and that’s it. Is that enough to warrant an all out destructive war between two factions? Apparently it is. If a woman is good enough to start a war in The Iliad, then I guess it’s good enough of a reason in Streets of Fire as well and like I said earlier, she is to die for in this movie.
When it was released, Streets of Fire failed horribly at the box office. It didn’t manage to make its money back, so the sequels that were planned for Tom Cody were never made, still, when you watch it, look out for that open ending, they kind of hint at the idea of future films. But as it often happens with cool movies that pass unnoticed in theaters, audiences eventually discover them and so the film has garnered its cult following. Streets of Fire was a good Joel Silver production and you can tell a lot of work went into creating this world, which is why I recommend it, it’s a film that deserves to be seen. Walter Hill wanted to make a film that had all the things he considered cool when he was a kid. Cool cars, rock and roll, kisses in the rain, motorcycles, shotguns…basically, it’s an explosion of coolness tinged with a bit of nostalgia coming straight from Walter Hill’s memory banks. Closing statements: I highly recommend this overlooked Rock and Roll Fable; it is a film that aims to remind us what it means to be young and alive, gotta love it for that!