FOOTAGE FETISHES: “THE WARRIORS”

“Can you dig it?”

As any fan of speculative cinema knows, the future depicted in movies rarely turns out the way it’s shown on screen (I’m not counting post-apocalyptic films, for obvious reasons, and I’m not in any big hurry to discover if they’re accurate or not). In general, people either complain about the lack of flying cars and moving sidewalks or lament their inability to wear ankle-length greatcoats because it isn’t raining all the time like in “Blade Runner.” Whether you longed as a youngster to soar through gleaming arcologies or brood in a bleak, dystopic cityscape, Hollywood’s portrayal of things to come has seriously disappointed our sense of instant gratification.

Take 1979’s “The Warriors.” Director Walter Hill originally wanted to include a subtitle at the beginning of his film that read, “Sometime in the future…” This never made it to the finished product, but that doesn’t change the fact that his film endeavors to show us a New York City where the gangs are in de facto control, even if the squares aren’t actually aware of it yet. I’m no expert on the Big Apple, but I have friends who live there and, last I heard, none of them currently feel the need to scurry home before dark so the gangs won’t get them.

They’re all deathly afraid of Knicks fans, however.

“Be looking good, Warriors. All the way back to Coney.”

“They are 100,000 strong. They outnumber the cops five to one. They could rule New York.” No, they’re not talking about “Sex and the City” aficionados, but rather street gangs (or the Armies of the Night, as the poster tells us). When “The Warriors” came out, I admit to feeling a certain level of morbid fascination with the concept that a horde of juvenile delinquents could rise up and crush New York’s Finest on a whim. It made my safe and relatively uneventful upbringing in Central Texas all the more desirable, by comparison, which I’m sure my parents were only too happy to hear.

Anyway, every movement needs a charismatic leader. Communism had Lenin, the mentally challenged have Jerry Falwell, and the gangs of New York have Scorsese…I mean Cyrus. Cyrus is the visionary head of the Gramercy Riffs, the most powerful of the bazillion brightly colored gangs that plague the city, and he’s called a gang summit in the Bronx. Making the trip all the way from Coney Island for the meet-up are our heroes, the Warriors. More on them later.

Cyrus tells those assembled that the gangs must unite and take over the city. The gangs, for their part, are understandably excited (no word on whether the plans include greater infrastructure support and youth literacy programs, however). Tragically, Cyrus’ Great Society is not to be, for just as he reaches the climax of his speech he is gunned down by Luther (the inestimable David Patrick Kelly), leader of the Rogues. The police show up and, in the ensuing panic, Luther fingers Cleon, leader of the Warriors, for the shooting. Cleon does his best to put up a fight, but he’s no match for the dozens of kung fu-fighting Riffs that descend upon him.

The rest of the Warriors have, by this time, wisely exercised the better part of valor. The remaining crew – Swan (the “war chief”), Ajax (the hothead), Cowboy (so named for his omnipresent Stetson), Snow (so named because…he’s black), Cochise (likes feathers), Fox (anything but), Vermin (the stud), and Rembrandt (the tagger) – take stock of the situation. Realizing that the truce is quite probably off, and following a brief power struggle between Swan (Michael Beck) and Ajax (James Remar), they make for the nearby train station. Unbeknownst to them, the Riffs have declared open season on the Warriors (I believe their leader’s exact words were, “I want them alive if possible. If not, wasted.”). His sentence is passed along to the multitudes of pissed off gang members courtesy of a mysterious DJ, who dutifully relays the thinly veiled instructions like a latter-day Axis Sally.

The DJ is portrayed by none other than The Chief, Lynne Thigpen, who is probably spinning the wheels of steel to make some extra income on top of her Carmen Sandiego gig.

The story continues in part two of FOOTAGE FETISHES: “THE WARRIORS”>>>




Posted on November 18, 2003 in Features by

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