Streets of Fire ★★★★

I've been a huge fan of Walter Hill's The Warriors for a long time now, but it was only a few weeks ago that I watched his previous The Driver and realized that it's insanely good too; so that's inspired me to sorta cherry-pick my way through the rest of his oeuvre for the first time, to see just what's there within the career of this admired but often maligned director. For my next film after The Driver, I thought I'd take on the project that has the most radically up and down reviews out of everything he's done, and for good reason; made during a tiny window in Hollywood history when it suddenly became fashionable again to make big expensive movies completely on soundstages, specifically to deliberately heighten the artificiality of the moviemaking process (see also: New York New York, One From the Heart, 1941, Cannery Row, etc), 1984's Streets of Fire is ostensibly a Broadway-style musical, but with the visual design being an intriguing blend between '50s greasers and doo-wop with '80s punk and New Wave (including a 28-year-old Willem Dafoe as the main baddie, looking like he just stepped off the lot of Liquid Sky), and with the music itself being the kind of bizarre blend of the two eras that you might hear, for example, on a typical Meat Loaf or Bette Midler album from those same years.

I found it really illuminating to come across this quote from Hill about the movie after I watched it, that he was attempting here to make what his teenaged self in the '50s would've considered a perfect film, full of the things that he thought were "great then and which I still have great affection for: custom cars, kissing in the rain, neon, trains in the night, high-speed pursuit, rumbles, rock stars, motorcycles, jokes in tough situations, leather jackets and questions of honour." That line basically describes the running script of Streets of Fire verbatim; and if you can embrace the spirit of a 14-year-old Walter Hill watching a movie like this in 1957 and loving it, then you'll find it extremely charming and fascinating too, while if you can't, you'll have the same reaction that most of America did when it came out, which is to frown and mutter, "What the fuck is this shit?"

After all, let's not forget that every single one of these heightened-artificiality soundstage films from this era failed miserably at the box office, clearly a case of the '70s "film school brat" generation wanting one thing out of cinema but their audiences wanting something completely different; and it's no coincidence that all of these filmmakers went on to do extremely crowd-pleasing efforts as their very next projects after these failed soundstage experiments. (Martin Scorsese's next film after New York New York was Raging Bull; Francis Ford Coppola's next film after One From the Heart was The Outsiders; Steven Spielberg's next film after 1941 was Raiders of the Lost Ark; David Ward's next film after Cannery Row was the baseball comedy Major League; and Walter Hill's next film after Streets of Fire was the Richard Pryor comedy Brewster's Millions.) All of these soundstage-auteur films from this era are flawed in one way or another, but all are worth checking out, especially for amateur film buffs like myself who wish to better understand that weird transitional period between the "New Hollywood" '70s and the "Blockbuster Era" '80s, with Streets of Fire being no exception. Next on my Walter Hill watchlist, the pre-Rambo 1981 Vietnam-vet freakout drama Southern Comfort, so keep an eye out in a few weeks for my writeup of that.

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