Dowload the podcast: Episode II:Streets of Fire
By: Rob Rector
Tagline: “A Rock & Roll Fable”
Personal Pre-screening Recollections: Tonight it what it means to be young indeed!
There are some films that come along at just the right time in your life and consume your thoughts, affect your decisions (“What would Indiana Jones do if his mom asked him to clean his room?”) and make you want to be that person on the screen. Tom Cody was one of those people for me.
Street of Fire affected me on several levels:
Musically : Granted, the film’s most popular tracks are rather weak, resembling some overly embellished piece of pomposity that even Meat Loaf would have snickered at. Soundtrack aside, it was the film’s score that really got to me. I felt hip among my elders to proclaim my passion for blues-guitar virtuoso Ry Cooder (who scored many a Walter Hill film).
Visually: The rainy streets, the violent neon. It was all so Blade-Runner-esque to me. And because Harrison Ford was a childhood idol, anything remotely resembling his films was of automatic interest.
Narratively: I know I’ll get crap for this, for the plot could be written on the back of a cocktail napkin, but each scene was stages like it could comfortably fit in a comic-book panel, which it seemed as though it was trying to emulate.
Perversely: In the first half hour, I could get my steady diet of cuss words, booze-swigging, chain-smoking heroes, and get flashed of nippledge from a rather homely stripper (but let’s face it, when you are in those formative years, that nipple could be placed on a woman’s earlobe and still elicit interest). And all of this was safely under the just-about-to-be-changed PG rating, which meant no parental supervision!
Critically: I can remember using one of my spiral notebooks purchased for school (which, of course, was typically blank inside) and beginning my career of a film reviewer. It was the kind of booklet that had the little colored tabs on the side, which I used to alphabetize the volumes of films I was devouring at that age. Streets of Fire got four stars (the highest). I really wish I held on to that little book. *silent weep*
Physically: Thank you, Diane Lane for that wonderful trifecta of “The Outsiders,” “Rumble Fish” and “Streets of Fire” for jump-starting my puberty.
Emotionally: I recall being crushed upon learning that “I Could Dream About You” was sung by a white guy Dan Hartman). Yet I still continued a slavish devotion to all actors in the film, including Stoney Jackson, who only pretended to sing the song. I remember watching him all his Jheri-curled glory in the “Miami Vice” ripoff “The Insiders “(featuring a Phil Collins-led Genesis theme “Just a Job to Do”), where he played a reporter teamed up with a honky to solve crimes. Right around the same time as Flip Wilson’s Cosby Knock-off “Charlie & Company”
Cinematically: Walter Hill was a cinematic god to me, between this, 48 Hrs, Brewster’s Millions, Extreme Prejudice and Trespass (not to mention that The Warriors was on constant rotation on HBO back then), he defined machismo (even though I failed to emulate it in real life).
Heroically: I was convinced between this and Eddie and the Cruisers, Michael Pare was destined to become a star. Only now do I realize that those two films would be the apex of his ability. I followed every player in his/her next project, from the aforementioned Stoney Jackson (perhaps the coolest name ever!) to Moranis to Dafoe.
Viewing the film today
It came as no surprise that this film held up as well as it did, partially because it was set in an ageless alternative universe, filled with ersatz 50s-era style, retrofitted with 80s sensibilities.
Pare stars as Tom Cody, a delinquent who is summoned back to his home town by his sister played by Deborah Van Valkenberg of “Too Close for Comfort” — Ted Knight, rest in peace) after his former flame Ellen Aim (played by Diane Lane) is abducted onstage by a gang of bikers.
Ellen is currently shacking up with her nebbish promoter Billy Fish (played by Rick Moranis), and together they team with McCoy (played by Amy Madigan) a drifter/former soldier to rescue the chantreuse back from the clutches of Raven Shaddock (played by Willem Dafoe).
That’s it. Honestly. The film’s plot is as economical as its 90-minute runtime.
But its brevity allows viewers to focus on the many other aspects of the film – from the host of supporting actors (hey, there’s Bill Paxton, testing out his portrayal of Chet from Weird Science a year in advance; poor Robert Townsend,relegated to a non-speaking role. So this is what led him to Hollywood Shuffle; Ed Beagley Jr.? Is that you?) to the steamy, rain-slicked set design.
As I watched, I was still amazed at how much they were able to slip into this PG-rated picture – drinking, swearing, smoking, non-stop violence and gunplay and even the aforementioned boob shot from a Sandra Bernhard lookalike stripper at the Torchy’s nightclub.
The cinematography is really what keeps this film from aging. Even the film’s puddles are vibrant, shimmering with the neon-soaked streetscapes (a la Blade Runner). It certainly isn’t the pulpy dialogue, which seems straight out of a cut-rate Dashiell Hammett or Mickey Spillaine novel (Sin City owes a helluva lot to this film.)
The film is a textbook definition of “style over substance,” but when a film oozes this much style, it’s easily forgiven.
I don’t care if he looks like a pissed off Gorton’s fisherman in his rubber clamming trousers, Dafoe still can summon legions of hell with his scream. He creates some of the film’s most iconic scenes with just a stare.
I noticed, too, that the score is so much better than the soundtrack which was the most popular thing about the movie after its release (made for $14 million, the film only grossed $5 million at the box office). I wish legendary guitarist Ry Cooder would make more films solely for the opportunity to say the words “Ry Cooder.”
The acting ranged from wooden to spasmodic, but little in between. Pare was perfect in the roles of stoic bohunk, required to be little more than a 3-D cartoon. How badass is Tom Cody, you say? So badass that in the first scenes in which he appears he’s antagonized by a butterfly knife-wielding gang, he slaps the leader silly, takes the knife, closes it and hands it back to him, telling him to “Try again.”
Every character possesses that hyperbolic sense of self. For example, Moranis is not just a nerd – complete with a wardrobe so mismatched, sparks fly when they come into contact with one another – he’s a nerd with a smart mouth, a yellow streak and a look that is just shy of a “Hit Here” tattoo on his forehead. But that was the picture’s whole wonderfully deranged plot.
I still consider myself a devotee and fervent supporter of this film, even now that I view films with a much more critical eye. It’s whisp of story and vacancies in dramatic deliveries are far eclipsed by the sheer visceral candyland in which it places it’s audience.
Sure, Streets of Fire wears some of its 80s heart on its sleeve, but it’s just loopy enough and short enough to remember “what it meant to be young.”