Streets of Fire
Shout! Factory, bless them, has issued on Blu-ray Streets of Fire, the 1984 bad movie classic, a self-described “rock and roll fable”. I loved it.
It’s a mashup of motorcycles, guns, macho posturing, fights, DA haircuts, 50s cars, over-the-top romantic gestures for a doomed relationship, and retro-flavored music. Diane Lane plays Ellen Aim, local girl made star, who’s returned to her old bad neighborhood for a concert. She’s kidnapped by a hoodlum (Willem Dafoe, first appearing in rubber overalls and no shirt), so her old boyfriend, Tom Cody (Michael Paré, in the movie that was going to make him a star), is summoned back to town by his sister (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) to save her.
This is all covered during the opening credits, which take 15 minutes to complete but are scored to “Nowhere Fast”, written by Jim Steinman, so it’s all good. That guy writes great anthems! He also contributed the final number, “Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young”. (Although every time I think about this movie, my brain starts playing another Steinman song, “Holding Out for a Hero”, with its driving introduction.) The trailer does a really good job of summing up the film.
The two other main roles are Ellen’s current boyfriend and manager, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis), who grudgingly agrees to help Cody in this rescue, mainly by paying him, and McCoy (Amy Madigan) as Cody’s backup, in a role that reads oddly for the era because it was originally for a guy.
This is an amazing movie, although the dialogue and its delivery are sometimes atrocious. Here’s a sample exchange, after Cody has met McCoy in a bar (tended by Bill Paxton) and she’s begged a place to stay for the night, since she’s a soldier, new in town. She’s taking off double shoulder holsters as she prepares to sleep on the couch.
Tom Cody: Well, don’t go pointin’ that thing at me, I wouldn’t like it.
McCoy: I don’t go pointin’ it unless I’m gonna use it.
The visuals are the appeal of this movie, all dirty Chicago streets, illuminated by tons of neon. It’s always night, because they filmed on the Universal street backlot under a giant tent to mimic life under the Chicago El. Streets of Fire is Blade Runner filtered through a 1930s Warner gangster flick with an 80s soundtrack.
The first hour is the mission, to assemble the characters and get Ellen back. (Yes, she’s just a prize in this film, as the men fight and argue over who gets her.) The movie slows down at this point, when everyone starts yelling at each other. Everyone in this movie is angry all the time, except for the four-man vocal group who turn the hijacking of their beaten-down tour bus into their big showbiz break. But there’s still one more huge fight set piece to come. The final showdown has Dafoe and Paré facing off, backed by hundreds of extras, in a sledgehammer duel.
Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray transfer has some speckles and softness still visible, but I’m not surprised, given the age of the movie and how little anyone cared about it after its release. It looks much better than the original clips used in the extras, and those special features are the reason to get this package. This hour-and-a-half movie comes with a new documentary feature on a second disc that runs an hour forty, Shotguns and Six Strings: Making a Rock ’n’ Roll Fable.
I found the ten chapters overly comprehensive and somewhat obsessive about the movie, but fans will love it. It covers how the movie came to be and the problems they had, from casting to design to music to stunts to the tarp they filmed the whole movie under. Lots of people participate, from director/co-writer Walter Hill to screenwriter Larry Gross (who worked with Hill on previous hit 48 Hrs.) to producers to costume designer to editor.
The doc includes current comments from Hill, Michael Paré, and Deborah Van Valkenburgh and archival interviews with Hill, Diane Lane, and Amy Madigan, plus cultural commentators. One of those says you most love this film if you first saw it when you were eight years old, and that’s about the level it’s aiming for. All the best things about movies in one film, regardless of whether it makes any sense.
But that’s not all! There’s a second extra feature, “Rumble on the Lot: Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire Revisited“. This documentary (an hour 23 minutes) is very similar. It was made in 2013 by a German company, seemingly for a European Blu-ray release. It consists of then-current interviews with Hill, Paré, Amy Madigan, and art director James Allen. There’s a lot more Hill here than in the other doc, but if you watch one, you’ll get most of the information from the other, although I appreciated hearing Madigan talking about her vision for her role.
Hill talks about how the goal was making an action film musical, heavily influenced by Westerns, and there’s also some discussion of how this movie was a graphic novel “before there were graphic novels”.
Also included on the Shout! Select Collector’s Edition are the trailer, two music videos (two versions of “Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young” and “I Can Dream About You”, each mostly lip-syncing footage from the movie intercut with clips), and a bunch of old electronic press kit items. They’re broken into 13 minutes of “on-air promos” and five “vintage featurettes” (total of 11 minutes): “Rock and Roll Fable”, “Exaggerated Realism”, “Choreographing the Crowd”, “Creating the Costumes”, and “From the Ground Up”.
As always with Shout!, this is an excellent package. I don’t recommend watching it all at once, since it can be overwhelming (and the two documentaries a little repetitive), but boy, this is a wonderful guilty pleasure.
“Streets of Fire is Blade Runner filtered through a 1930s Warner gangster flick with an 80s soundtrack.”
There is no more perfect sentence in the English language.