“Warriors, Come Out to Play” - The Warriors 35th anniversary
Philip Hunter discusses the one and only, The Warriors, which is set to be re-released for it's 35th anniversary on 23 August.
19 August 2014
“Can you count suckers?”
The gang-prophet Cyrus asks this of the masses gathered before him: 9 delegates from each of 100 of New York’s gangs, with over a hundred more gangs still absent. That’s 20,000 hard-core members; 40,000 counting affiliates. 20,000 more unorganised but ready to fight.
60,000 soldiers held back by just 20,000 police. 60, 000 gang members that could take the city if, instead of scrapping for “10 square feet of ground”, they keep the general truce and unite as 1 gang.
“Can you dig it?”
That was the dream that brought The Coney Island Warriors all of the way to The Bronx. An idea ripped apart by a bullet from the gun of Luthor, the insane leader of a gang called The Rogues. The only witness is Fox of The Warriors and so Luthor blames them to cover his crime. A crime committed for no reason at all.
With the truce now off, The Warriors have to make it from The Bronx back to Coney Island through turf belonging to other gangs, each of which is now out to get them. A simple idea for a movie but one in actuality lifted by Sol Yurick, writer of the novel on which the movie is based, from an ancient Greek book Anabasis by writer and soldier Xenophon.
In Anabasis the Persian prince Cyrus the Younger hires 10,000 Spartans to help him seize the throne from his brother. After Cyrus is killed the leaderless Spartans must battle through enemy territory to get back to the sea. The Warriors own journey mirrors this, trapped in enemy territory (with the truce off, all gangs are now enemies) with their adventure ending where the water begins, the fair at Coney Island taking the place of the Black Sea.
Director and Co-writer Walter Hill says he saw the movie as “kind of a science fiction story” taking place in a vaguely futuristic world. His desire to have the film begin with the text “Sometime in the future” was quickly nixed by the studio although the striking choices of gang attire gives us a clue that this does not take place in the real world of gangs. The purple waistcoated Boppers, the yellow satin jacketed Electric Eliminators, mime-faced Hi-Hats, the school-bus riding Turnbull AC’s and of course the iconic Baseball Furies. None of these gangs dress as any gang member ever has before or since. No, these aren’t the kind of gangs you’re used to; this is something else. Also, I swear that when I first saw The Warriors there was a gang of garden gnomes. I’ve never seen them in any version of the movie that I’ve watched since. Perhaps they were only included in the extended TV version or it’s possible I was just dreaming.
This is a very visual movie. It has a look that director Walter Hill wanted to be “Extremely lurid and use the full colour palette… comic book-like.” We start with the neon of the fairground, eerie blue-green lighting of passing subway stations. An early scene involving a rainstorm allowed cinematographer Andrew Laszlo to wet down the streets and produce more interesting lighting effects.
Hill envisaged the movie as a series of “splash panels”, a term borrowed from comic books to describe those panels which are bigger than all of the others to convey quickly to the reader a sense of character and setting or to convey the dramatic weight of the actions depicted. The frequent use of screenwipes as transitions between scenes evoke the impression of comic book pages being turned.
The music that accompanies the opening titles, an electronic score from Barry De Vorzon, the composer of Xanadu (the score not the soundtrack) wouldn’t be out of place in a John Carpenter horror movie. De Vorzon claimed the movie to be the first to use an entirely electronic score (aside from the closing song). These synthetic sounds, new for their time, add to the alien, futuristic feeling.
The Warriors was initially dismissed as a simple gang exploitation movie; a claim bolstered by the incidents of gang violence which accompanied the release - events which caused Paramount to pull what was the #1 movie on its opening weekend from theatres. An act that perhaps relegated the movie to the status of cult-classic rather than box office smash.
The less said about the 2005 so-called “Ultimate Director’s Cut” the better. The changes are mostly visual edits rather than the adding of excised footage that you would usually find in these versions. The inserted comic book style still images bring to mind an attempt to mimic the aesthetic of the marketing for the video game franchise Grand Theft Auto; the cut coming hot on the heels of the gang-related GTA: San Andreas. A short prologue referencing Anabasis adds nothing. There are other, smaller changes such as adding white bars to transitions to add more comic book reference. In all the running time is extended by just over a minute but the overall movie is massively diminished by these changes, rather than enhanced. Walter Hill must have been spending too much time with his friend George Lucas.
The Warriors has left a lasting mark on visual culture. Tributes and references show up in movies and TV shows with even The Simpsons getting in on the act. Baseball Furies pop up all over the place. D12’s video for Fight Music directly lifts from The Warriors. Whilst I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard somebody say “Come out and play-ay” in reference to the movies closing scenes. There was even talk of a remake with the action transposed to LA, although that has quietened down with the passing of Director/producer Tony Scott who had it on his back burner of projects for some time.
Hill once said “You have to wait 20 years before you can tell if a movie is any good or not”.
35 years after The Warriors first beat their way onto our screens I’d say the verdict is definitely in.
Can you dig it?
You can find Philip on Twitter at @crookedfiction
The Warriors is showing for one night only on 23 August at 9pm. Tickets are available now from the Box Office, by phone on 0871 902 5737 and online.