Film 43: Streets Of Fire
My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.
Last time we watched The Aviator, a Howard Hughes biopic that reaffirmed my ambivalence towards biopics.
There’s only one film on the list this time:
Streets Of Fire (1984)
A mutual friend of mine and Tim’s suggested we catch this at the cinema as part of CRFC, and having looked it up briefly, there was no way we could refuse.
Willem Dafoe’s face is just amazing. What’s even more amazing is that he has succeeded in playing some non-villain roles with that face. And he’s been great in them too – Sgt Elias in Platoon is the obvious one. But then it turns out he’s a stage actor, with links to experimental theatre groups, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that he can do pretty much anything.
His filmography highlights his love of experimenting too – there are the big things like Platoon, Spider-Man etc. But then there’s the weirder stuff too – Nymphomaniac, Antichrist, The Last Temptation Of Christ. It’s hard to think of another actor who’s career spans such a broad range of projects, from kids’ animation to erotica to Hollywood blockbuster to arthouse indie.
Streets Of Fire and me
Never seen it, never heard of it. A cursory glance tells me it’s from the director of The Warriors, which is exciting. The Warriors is ace. And Jim Steinman is involved, which makes me think of Meatloaf and later era Sisters Of Mercy. And I like that very much. There are also biker gangs.
I’m trying hard not to get too excited.
A mercenary is hired to rescue his ex-girlfriend, a singer who has been kidnapped by a motorcycle gang. 6.7 stars.
Let’s be very clear up front: Streets Of Fire is not very good. Not very good at all.
Michael Pare as Tom Cody is just awful, and unfortunately is the lead. It’s not that he’s wooden, he aspires to wood. That’s not the end of the problems though. The editing is jarring, the action stilted, the costumes mind-bending. It makes very little sense.
It starts with the words: ‘A Rock and Roll Fable.’ Swiftly followed by ‘In another place and another time’. And then the Jim Steinman-penned Nowhere Fast starts. The film takes place in a kind of 50s/80s hybrid place that could be a city, could be the whole of the world. When the main characters drive from one place to another it goes from day to night and back to day again. Two of the leads are ex-military and it’s clear there have been wars recently. Everything has a burnt out look about it.
It has a certain style. It’s the first draft of something great. It’s Mad Max Fury Road made by amateurs.
Which is weird because by this point Walter Hill had already directed six films, including The Warriors and 48 Hrs, so plainly he knew what he was doing.
There are stories from the casting that mean things could have been very different – Tom Cruise was the first choice for the lead, but accepted a different role just before being signed up. But then again the role of the plucky mechanic McCoy, the standout performance in the film from Amy Madigan, was written as and intended for a man (interesting, but not surprising, that the only decent female role in the film was meant for a man).
They originally wanted a Bruce Springsteen song to close the film, but two days to the deadline and the rights didn’t come through. They then approached Jim Steinman to write a couple of songs in a couple of days, and I think that was a blessing. Steinman’s songs are as over the top and histrionic as any of his output with Meatloaf. The closing song is called ‘Tonight Is What It Mean To Be Young’ for god’s sake.
Here’s the chorus of Nowhere Fast:
‘You and me we’re goin’ nowhere slowly
And we’ve gotta get away from the past
There’s nothin’ wrong with goin’ nowhere, baby
But we should be goin’ nowhere fast’
Great, slightly silly, stuff. And that’s what the film is like. The music sets the tone. Why is evil biker Willem Dafoe wearing fishing waders? Why does he walk back into the fire? Why is Bill Paxton… like that? Why does Tom Cody right hook his sweetheart? Listen to the music and it all starts to make sense.
Terrible… but enticing. While the film is clearly going nowhere, at least it’s going nowhere fast.
We’re back to normal service now. It’s Tim’s choice and he’s got a surprisingly good cast to choose from: Dafoe, Diane Lane, Ed Begley jr, Grand Bush, Paxton… And in 2008 a sequel to Streets Of Fire came out, also starring Michael Pare… just sayin’.