Streets of Fire: A Rock & Roll Fable
A few years ago you could pick up a new VCR for around £40, I decided to purchase one and keep it unused until my old one stopped working. By the time this happed around six months I had not got around to buying one, best laid plans and all that! Fortunately I managed to pick up a decent second-hand one a couple of weeks ago and have been watching my old videos. As I rarely review new movies these days I decided to start a feature reviewing my old videos. To begin with we have a bit of a cheat, a reprint of a review from a couple of years ago:
Director and co-writer Walter Hill set out to make his idea of a perfect movie but not his perfect movie in 1984, his perfect movie when he was growing up in Long Beach, California in the 50’s reading comic books. Following the name of the movie and it’s subtitle a Rock & Roll Fable there is a further title card saying “Another Time, Another Place“, that kind of sums the movie up, it’s an urban fantasy. Instead of being set on far off planet or in a distant time the movie is set in world we can almost recognise as out own. The style of the movie is derived from this, a sort of future/retro blend. The cars and bikes mainly come from the 50’s most notably a stunning custom Mercury Convertible. The music is very 80’s and somewhat dated although some of it is pretty good. The costumes are a strange blend of 50’s and 80’s with the biker gang employing every leather clad stenotype committed to celluloid.
The plot is relatively simple. Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) is a big time singer (her singing voice is dubbed by Laurie Sargent), she comes back to her home town for a concert. Unfortunately things don’t go to plan, at the end of her first song the stage is invaded by a biker gang lead by Raven Shaddock (a young Willem Dafoe who looks like he hasn‘t had a change of cloths since The Loveless two years before) who kidnap her. The police don’t seem to be doing much so local dinner owner Reva Cody (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) sends a telegram (I told you it was retro) to the only person who can help, her brother and Ellen’s ex, Tom (Michael Paré) a former soldier and all round brooding hero type. Along with McCoy (Amy Madigan ) and Ellen’s manager Billy Fish (Rick Moranis) Tom sets of f to rescue Ellen. There are a few familiar faces along the way including Bill Paxton and Elizabeth Daily.
The cast, even the ones who became big stars were all pretty young and inexperienced when the film was made. Although a little by-the-numbers, the script is pretty good keeping the plot lean and simple. Depending on your point of view the dialogue is either brilliant or terrible. What sounds wooden and staid spoken by average and inexperienced actors in a modern movie would have sounded tough and great coming from Humphrey Bogart or Edward G. Robinson in the 40’s or 50’s. Shot on location in Chicago, LA and on the Universal Back lot the city looks like a dystopian version of Chicago, the studio set included The Richmond main street complete with an elevated railway to match Chicago’s ‘L’. The unnamed city is split into at least four districts (three we see plus The Bayside that is mentioned but not seen) Each one has a distinct look. The Richmond (where Ellen and Tom are from) is an inner city working class neighbourhood, it looks old-fashioned all the colours are neutral subdued, the cars are old and dull. The Battery is a rough industrial area frequented by the kidnapping bikers. The colours are darker and harsher with lots of black leather. The Parkside District is vibrant and bright with a more 80s look complete with bright colourful neon lights and 80‘s fashion.
The acting is a bit of a mixed bag: despite only being eighteen Diane Lane had already made ten movies, her performance isn’t bad but she could have given it in her sleep, she does look as stunning as ever. Michael Paré is wooden at best as usual but pulls of the quiet brooding type well. Rick Moranis is truly bad, over acting all the way. Amy Madigan isn’t great but does deserve credit for her part in the production. She plays Tom’s tough, ex soldier sidekick, a part originally intended for a middle aged man. Convinced it was the best role in the movie she talked Hill to re-write the part for her. Willem Dafoe is the real revelation here showing what a great actor he would become with a cold villains stare.
The great shame of the movie is the lack of the song Streets of Fire by Bruce Springsteen from his 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town. The song gave the movie its name and was intended to be used towards the end of the film. Springsteen was initially keen for the song to be used but when it was decided it would be used as Ellen Aim’s final song it meant re-recording it by a female singer and negotiations stalled. As is often the case with Walter Hill movies Ry Cooder provides the score and on the whole it’s a good one. A lot of the songs are written by Jim Steinman hence the Bonnie Tyler/ Meat Loaf sound to Ellen Aim.
The movie meets the first and most important criteria of a cult classic, it bombed at the box-office grossing just over half its budget. In his early career Walter Hill made some great movies, while Streets of Fire doesn’t live up to his best (The Warriors, The Driver, 48 Hrs and Southern Comfort) it is still a lean mean movie with the look and fun of a comic book movie. If you haven’t already seen the movie I suggest you give it a go, you may hate it but what’s the harm in giving it a try. If you do like it check out Trouble in Mind starring Kris Kristofferson, Keith Carradine and Lori Singer.