Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Warriors

Amazing original poster artwork by Tyler Stout.

The Warriors. Yes! THE WARRIORS! I was planning on waiting awhile to write about this classic but the people have spoken. The winner of this week’s poll question also happens to be my favorite film of all time and one of the main reasons I started this site.

My introduction to The Warriors came from an unlikely source: MTV Cribs. An early episode featured a rapper that I liked. Recent research as to which rapper it was has come up short. I thought it was P. Diddy but it turns out he was never on Cribs. It wasn't Ice-T, I watched the episode just to make sure. It wasn't Snoop Dogg, although he does say "the awards are nice" which sounded a whole lot like "The Warriors are nice." Nevertheless, when it came time to show off his DVD collection, the unnamed artist held up two boxes. First, the obligatory copy of Scarface. Second, a movie I had never heard of. It was to be The Warriors.

He began to sing the praises of the ultimate gang movie. My ears perked up immediately. It turns out that The Warriors has been referenced in numerous films, rap songs, and music videos. One of these just happened to be Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear (Remix)” video – a staple song of my childhood. The video opens with Puff Daddy clinking two Coke bottles together while singing “Baaaad Boyyyyyy. Come out and plaaayyy.” That image always stuck with me and it wasn’t until I watched The Warriors did I realize where it first came from. More on the Coke bottles later.

Craig Mack – Flava in Ya Ear (Remix) (feat. Notorious B.I.G.)

Apparently, The Warriors was the film that everyone needed to see. A few weeks later, I rented the DVD and soon after that, I had a new favorite movie. For those of you who haven’t seen this yet, do yourselves the favor and Netflix a copy. If possible, try to get the original cut. In 2004, Paramount released a new DVD labeled “The Ultimate Director’s Cut.” Not much about the movie changed except for the addition of some comic book frames serving as interludes between certain scenes. They really take the viewer out of the film. The original cut looks great, sounds great, and doesn’t feature these annoying comic book frames.

For those of you who haven’t ever heard of The Warriors here’s some background of the film.

The Warriors is loosely based on a novel by Sol Yurick which is loosely based on Xenophon’s The Anabasis. The film was written by David Shraber (Nighthawks) and directed by Walter Hill (Streets of Fire, 48 Hrs.) The result of their hard work was one of the most incredible action films of all-time.

The film begins: EXT. CONEY ISLAND – NIGHT. From the moment the music hits, it’s clear that you're in for a hell of a ride. Right away, we start to meet members of The Warriors as they discuss the big meeting in the Bronx. Originally, Walter Hill wanted to cast and all-black gang, but the studio told him "no." The ethnic make-up of the gang turned out mostly white with a couple black members. But even with the cast being mixed-race the most interesting thing about this is their numbers: nine delegates from the Coney Island street force.

Walter Hill is known for his use of the “collective hero” in which a number of characters are grouped together to act as one. In this case, we’re following “The Warriors,” not Swan, Ajax, Cleon, etc. Even though the group splits up at one point, they’re still all under the collective banner: “Warrior.” However, every group needs a leader, and for most of the film, this is Swan (Michael Beck). Most of the other members get plenty of screen time but as far as the story goes, Swan is elected the official “Warchief.”

One of the most memorable scenes from The Warriors comes at the very beginning. Nine member from various New York gangs are all getting on Subway trains. Here’s where the fun begins; each gang has their own unique characteristics, and believe me, they’re unique. One group appears to be mimes wearing top hats.

Another Chinese gang wears green pointy hats. A quick eye can spot a young Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix) leading a gang suited up in camouflage outfits. Right away, the campiness factor sets in. For those of you who turn away at the sight of camp, this isn't the movie for you. In fact, this isn't the blog for you.

Roger Hill as Cyrus

The film really takes off at the awe-inspiring “Cyrus scene.” All of the gangs show up at the big meeting, Cyrus' meeting. Everyone reading this needs to realize that this film was shot in 1979, way before CGI was commonplace. Take that into consideration when you see the hundreds and hundreds of extras all wearing different gang outfits. The camera moves through them and we catch glimpses of Puerto Rican gangs, skinhead gangs, and once again, the Hi-Hats donning their top hats and white mime makeup. You can watch this scene over and over again, each time you’ll find a new gang wearing some crazy gang colors.

Cyrus is the leader of the biggest gang in NYC, the Grammercy Riffs, a huge group of black bad-asses decked out in karate uniforms. The crowd falls silent once Cyrus begins to speak. The following scene can’t be done justice in text.

If the title of my blog hasn’t spoiled anything by now…well, maybe you haven’t been paying enough attention. Here’s the exciting part! Hundreds of miles from home, the Warriors only have one goal in mind. “We’re gonna have to bop our way back to Coney.” Get home safely. With every gang in the city looking for them, the guys will have to cross turf after turf, territory after territory.

I really enjoy the episodic format that Hill uses. There doesn’t seem to be a moment to rest. Each time it seems that they’re in the clear, here comes something else they’ve got to deal with. From subway fires to violent police officers, Swan, Ajax, Cowboy, Rembrandt, Cochise, The Fox, Snowball, and Vermin, are forced to do what is necessary to make it back to “C.I. - The Big Coney.” Once the group splits up, their obstacles multiply. Without any knowledge of their friends’ wellbeing, each Warrior is forced to look out for number one. I’ve always been a big fan of films that feature ensemble casts. I enjoy having lots of stories to follow all at once. The Warriors is one of these films. Intercutting between four groups of gang members (along with various supportive characters), Hill keeps the pace quick and the stories tight.

The only time the film slows down is when Swan decides to get it on with Mercy, a young Latina woman he met along the way, in a subway tunnel. I don't know where to start with this one.

Similar to low-budget classics such as Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), The Warriors' story revolves around one eventual day. The goals are clear: to survive the night. There's something I love about these types of movies. I call them "anti-epics." I love movies with limited time-frame structures. It's like when I first saw John Badham's Nick of Time (1995). That movie was the first time I had ever seen the use of real-time in a narrative film before. This was long before "24" made it popular. A minute in real life equals a minute in the story. There's something ultimately cool about that. The Warriors covers around eight hours in 90 minutes, but that's still pretty exciting.

Wrapping this up, I've got to talk about some of the major gangs. These gangs are as equally cool as our protagonists and some might even argue that they make the film. This is where the film's episodic plot comes into play. Want to know the plot in one sentence? The Warriors fight a gang, then they run, then they fight another gang... and then they run some more. Here are some of the coolest gangs they fight...before running again.

The Baseball Furies
These guys are incredible. They're dressed in NY Yankee(-esqe) uniforms, they don't speak, and they hit people with bats...a lot. Oh yeah, don't forget the KISS make-up. The film's second best fight scene has these guys rumbling against our good guys in the middle of a park.

The Lizzies
Possibly named after Lizzie Bordon or more likely named because it sounds like "The Lezzies," this all-girl gang uses their ...um... sexuality to lure in the Warriors. Their plan might have been better if one of these girls had learned how to either fight or shoot a gun. Entertaining nonetheless.

The Orphans
They write about their raids in the paper. They have the proof on-hand at all time. With a leader who looks like David Schwimmer on crack and a surprisingly cool looking Number Two (the guy to the left with an afro), the Orphans aren't even on the other gangs' radar but they rumble anyway. When the Number Two holds up the cut out newspaper article, I fall on the floor laughing everytime.

There's so much more I could write about my favorite movie. I could mention the rumors of a Tony Scott remake or go on and on about the video game, not to mention the action figures.

But I'll stop here. I just hope you guys go see this one and if you'd leave me comments I'd love you forever. Before I go, I just wanted to thank my good friend Laura for making my new logo! It's crazy good. Thanks so much, Laura! One last thing, last week, I received a few comments which were great! Thanks so much, Matt and Don. Don also mentioned that he thought the MP3s were cool so I decided to keep it going. Here's another present for my readers. The theme song is AMAZING! You must listen to this. If nothing I've written make you want to see this movie, the theme song will. I promise.

Barry De Vorzon – The Warriors Theme Song
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I also wanted to thank The Warriors Web Site for being the most amazing Warriors website in existence. Most of the pictures on this post are from there and they're just the best. Go check them out.

Oh yeah, I also realized that I promised to talk about the Coke bottles some more. But you're just gonna have to go rent the movie if you want to see what that's all about.

In short, comments are great, but at least vote in the poll question. Thanks to all you Boppers out there.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Assault on Precinct 13

Assault on Precinct 13

Following the release of his first feature-length film, the comedic space film Dark Star (1974), low-budget superstar, John Carpenter, scraped together $100,000 to create his homage to Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo (1959). The result was Assault on Precinct 13, a grim thriller which was shot in beautiful Panavision.

Not limiting his homage to just Rio Bravo, Carpenter also uses this opportunity to reference Howard Hawks films such as The Dawn Patrol (1930), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), and Red River (1948), as well as Cecil B. DeMille's Unconquered (1947).

In Rio Bravo, John Wayne's character, John T. Chance (a pseudonym used by Carpenter for the film's editing), must defend a small jail from a violent gang of outlaws attempting to free a prisoner.

Assault on Precinct 13 features Austin Stoker as Ethan Bishop, a police officer who must defend a Los Angeles police station against a vengeful and well-armed gang.

Austin Stoker as Ethan Bishop (Top)
Laurie Zimmer as Leigh (Left)
Darwin Joston as Napoleon Wilson (Right)

When the gang attacks, Bishop finds himself surrounded by an interesting crew. Two female secretaries, Leigh, a badass-under-pressure (Laurie Zimmer) and Julie, a complaining stick-in-the-mud (Nancy Loomis). Two prisoners, Wells, a dangerous felon with a knack for finding bad luck (Tony Burton) and Napoleon Wilson, an anti-hero like no other who's headed for Death Row (Darwin Joston). This ragtag crew defends themselves against a group of determined killers armed with stolen weapons, all of which are equipped with silencers.

The film's conflict really begins when a father and his young daughter are introduced, driving through the dangerous Los Angeles neighborhood. Kathy, the young girl, is played by Kim Richards, a Disney actress best-known for her role as Tia in Escape to Witch Mountain (1975).

Kim Richards (left) from Disney's Escape to Witch Mountain

A run-in with the gang members sets the story in motion, leading to a chain of events, that no one could have expected. Carpenter states in an interview that "the movie is driven by random violence, chance, and fate." It this element of randomness and the gang's mysterious motivations that gives Assault its charisma.

The first time Assault was presented to the MPAA it earned an X rating. This was mostly due to the infamous "Ice Cream Sequence." The Ice Cream Sequence (posted below) was deemed too violent for U.S. audiences. They informed Carpenter that he would have to cut it out to receive an R. Not wanting to lose edit such an importance scene, he talked to his distributor about his problem. The distributor arrived at a simple solution: cut the scene out for the MPAA and release the film intact to theaters. The con worked. Theater-goers experienced the film with the Ice Cream Sequence intact.

[This clip contains major spoilers!]

[This clip contains major spoilers!]

A group of strangers with little in common are forced to band together to overcome unsurmountable odds. With the power and phone lines cut, the band of unlikely heroes carefully shoot off their limited rounds at the killers crawling through the windows. One by one, they keep coming. Parallels are often drawn between John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 and George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). Carpenter is quoted as saying, "Everyone who's made a low-budget film has been influenced by [Night of the Living Dead] and if they say they weren't, they're lying."

In what Carpenter would call "one of the grimmest shooting experiences" of his life, the cast and crew shot for 24 hours straight, 8AM to 8AM. The crew moved quickly, shooting the principle photography in twenty days. Once principle photography was completed, they shot the finishing piece of the puzzle, the film's prologue which followed various members of the gang as they take a disturbingly graphic blood oath. This gang, whose members seem more like machines than human beings (in a good way), will not be stopped.

Anyone who has seen Assault remembers the remarkable score. Just like Dark Star, Halloween, and well...pretty much all of his films, the music was created by Carpenter, himself. Keyboards. Synthesizers.

Dun-nun-nun-nunun. Dun-nun-nun-nunun. Dun-nun-nun-nunun. Dun-nun-nun-nunun.

The director/writer/editor/composer based this memorable theme on the score from Dirty Harry and from the baseline of Led Zeppelin's "The Immigrant Song."

Here's the film's theme. A gift. Give it a listen, put it on your iPod, press it onto wax, give it to a neighbor, whatever you want. That's the nice thing about a gift, you can do what you want with it. Feel free to re-gift it. I won't mind.

Assault on Precinct 13 - Main Theme (MP3)
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This is one of those films where all of the elements come together to create a film of such solidity that one would be hard-pressed to find many faults in either its form or content. The story works. The look works. The music works overtime. Plus, the British like it, so it's got to be good. When the film was released in America, critics deemed it too violent. But when Carpenter took it to England for a screening at the British Film Institute it was received extremely well. Carpenter affirms that the European support for his films is the reason his career took off. "In America, I'm a bum." If that's true, then he's a bum who made a kick-ass siege movie worthy of praise world-wide.