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The Warriors

The Warriors

By Thomas Grieve • February 27th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
THE WARRIORS (MOVIE)
Paramount Pictures

Original release: February 9th, 1979
Running time: 92 minutes

Director: Walter Hill
Writers: David Shaber, Walter Hill

Cast: Michael Beck, James Remar, Dorsey Wright

The Warriors

I can vividly remember an encounter that took place one cold, dark Halloween night a couple of years ago. Having finally managed to source a pair of white trousers, I was dressed up as Alex DeLarge of A Clockwork Orange fame, and off to the Cardiff Student Union with some friends. On the way we chanced upon a group of around nine or ten guys with brightly painted faces wearing baseball uniforms. Instantly recognizing them as the Baseball Furies, one of the many gangs that inhabit the world of Walter Hill’s The Warriors, I ran over to breathlessly express my approval of their costumes. They were just glad that somebody got the reference.

It’s an incident that sums up the effect that cult movies have. The Baseball Furies have one scene in The Warriors and I would bet that baseball uniforms are scarcer than white trousers in South Wales. The group had obviously gone to great lengths in putting together their costumes, and with little guarantee that anybody would even know who they were supposed to be. Cult cinema means a lot to people and The Warriors sort of encapsulates and embodies everything that draws people to these films.

As many cult classics tend to, The Warriors begins with one of its most iconic scenes. Cyrus, a messianic underworld figure, has gathered a huge crowd made up of nine representatives from each of the various different New York City gangs –“Nine guys, no weapons.” – to hear him speak. Like some kind of gangland Sermon on the Mount, Cyrus pontificates from the top of some scaffolding in a Bronx park:

The Warriors

CYRUS:

“You’re standing right now with nine delegates from 100 gangs. And there’s over a hundred more. That’s 20,000 hardcore members. Forty thousand, counting affiliates, and twenty-thousand more, not organized, but ready to fight: 60,000 soldiers! Now, there ain’t but 20,000 police in the whole town. Caaaan you dig it?”

No sooner than he can finish preaching, Cyrus is shot down on pure anarchic impulse and the leather vested Warriors are falsely accused. Stuck on the wrong side of the city, they are faced with no choice but to ‘bop’ their way back home to Coney Island.

Much of the cult appeal for this film surely comes from the production design. Gangs such as The Gramercy Riffs, The Orphans, The Turnbull A.C.s, The Lizzies, The Rogues and the aforementioned Baseball Furies all possess individual and distinctive visual identities. Hill owes a stylistic debt to the battling gangs of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13. I imagine Hill intended the films setting to be a futuristic dystopia, looking back it feels like a strange mix of the 1970s and a weird alternate dimension.

Coated respectively in sweat and graffiti, the characters and locations work in harmony to draw you into his vision of New York. There has been a trend in recent The Warriors years to attempt to manufacture an aesthetic similar to that created by directors like Walter Hill and John Carpenter. In falling flat on their faces, modern films such as Machete and Hobo With A Shotgun illustrate that there’s a skill to this type of filmmaking.

Narrative is not an obvious strong point of Walter Hill’s film. It is, after all, a series of fights that occur as our Warriors trek from one end of New York City to the other. But strength often lies in simplicity. The Warriors takes its structure from Greek antiquity, specifically a tale from Xenophon in which a group of soldiers fight their way home through enemy territory. The recent director’s cut even features an opening that explicitly mentions the history, but that’s not the version we are discussing here – after all it’s not the one that spawned the cult. Interestingly there is also a comparison to be made here with video game structure. The Warriors’ string of fight sequences work perfectly as levels of a computer game – and were turned into such for Rockstar’s 2005 game of the same name.

It’s not difficult to see that there is something intrinsically appealing in a story that can evoke reference to both ancient texts and modern video games. It’s the timelessness of the story, of heroes fighting to return home that causes this film to stand up above other films that may seek to imitate. A gangland fantasy that oozes with camp cool, rooted securely in a mythological narrative, The Warriors has earned its place in the cult canon. The sometimes-wooden dialogue and often-uninspiring characterization mean it may not be a masterpiece by anyone but the most fervent fans’ standards. It is a hell of a lot of fun.

Can you dig it?

The Warriors

Thomas Grieve

Thomas Grieve

Tom is a Cardiff University Philosophy graduate from sunny Manchester. He favours filmmakers with edge and ambition, ones unafraid to subvert and disturb the status quo. This means directors such as David Lynch, Paul Thomas Anderson, Stanley Kubrick, David Croenenberg and Terry Gilliam.

Usually found in front of a screen trying to catch up on an ever-expanding watch list he also occasionally finds time to write. He tweets once in a while too: @thomasgrieve .

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