Saturday, September 27, 2008

Streets of Fire (1984)

This Music Monday presentation of “Streets of Fire” was a special screening for several reasons. For me, it was special because it marked the first time in over 10 years of attending the Alamo Drafthouse that I was actually able to drag my older brother, Mark, along with me to something really cool. I had taken him to the Alamo Village once or twice before for some new releases, but I'd never been able to take him to the downtown location for something that was truly indicative of what the Alamo is really all about.

In the grander scheme of things though, this screening marked the homecoming of Kier-La Janisse, one of the Alamo's first official programmers, who not only organized some of the original Alamo’s most memorable events, but also hosted and programmed the Music Monday series, and made it what it is today. A few years ago, Kier-La was unceremoniously deported back to Canada, leaving not only a hole in the Alamo’s programming schedule, but also in the hearts of many of her coworkers, not to mention some of the Alamo’s faithful.

I never knew Kier-La personally, but I still remember the trailers from the old days at the original location that made her views on “Streets of Fire” quite clear: “Some people might think that ‘Citizen Kane’ is the best film ever made, but those people have obviously never seen ‘Streets of Fire.’” Back then, the Alamo would play “Streets of Fire” for Kier-La's birthday and that was also the catalyst for this screening, but it also coincided with Kier-La's return to the United States for this year's Fantastic Fest. As a result, she ended up hosting this event and was greeted with the shocking news that the film's stars, Michael Pare and Deborah Van Valkenburgh, were going to be at the screening, live and in person.

Pare was actually kind of a big deal to my family in the 80's. When I was kid, “Eddie and the Cruisers,” “The Philadelphia Experiment,” and “Streets of Fire” were all staples of my household. Once I heard that Pare was actually going to be there, I knew that I had to drag my brother downtown.

Upon arriving and shuffling into the theater, the audience was greeted by Alamo geek/stud Zack Carlson, who basically explained Kier-La's history to the audience before inviting her to the stage to receive a thunderous chorus of applause and warmth. She also received, much to her surprise, a birthday gift unlike any other, her very own 35 mm copy of “Streets of Fire.” After her introduction, the real fun began!!

The film itself, directed by Walter Hill, is an exercise in style and fast-talking. It's all about the mixing and mashing of eras, music, and styles, primarily the 50's and the 80's. It also utilizes a massive amount of fast cuts in the editing, not to mention some rather neat “paper-tearing” swipes.

The plot revolves around young Rock N' Roll sensation, Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) who is kidnapped in the middle of her show by a biker gang led by Raven (Willem Defoe). Raven, along with his number 2, Greer (played by Fear's lead singer, Lee Ving), haul Ellen across the tracks to the wrong side of town where they tie her up in the back room of a seedy bar. Local waitress and Ellen Aim fan, Reva Cody (Van Valkenburgh), then calls her brother, Tom (Pare), back into town to help do what the cop can't, track down and bring back Ellen. Tom is willing to do it for a price, but mostly because Ellen and him have a romantic past. He is hired by Ellen's manager and new beau, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis), and Tom brings on tomboy McCoy (Amy Madigan) for backup. There's a lot of a action, various styles of music, and a totally sweet turn by Bill Paxton who somehow manages to get out-acted by his hair.

The movie played well to the audience, so well that it inspired hoots, hollers, and hands-clapping-along to the music throughout. Whenever a new character would make an appearance on screen, they were welcomed with cheers from the audience. From where I was sitting it was the perfect initiation for my brother into the true Alamo experience.

Personally, I loved William Defoe and Lee Ving in the movie. Defoe in particular oozes creepy sexuality and has some of the best costumes in the film. I also really liked the fact that this movie had a scene with Michael Pare punches Diane Lane, and a scene where Lee Ving punches Rick Moranis.

The Q & A after the film was fun and informative. I was surprised to see not only how down to earth Pare was, but how humble and goofy he was. Seriously, the guy was very entertaining and kind of a goofball. His insight into the production of the film (one of Universal's most expensive at the time) and particularly Walter Hill was very interesting. Apparently, Hill had little regard for Pare's safety on the set when it came to pyrotechnics and his acting direction boiled down to the phrase “just talk fast.” By far though, the most interesting thing Pare said was in regards to Rick Moranis who he called, I believe, an “obnoxious turd.”

So you would think that with all this awesomeness going on that it would be nearly impossible to sour my brother's experience, but folks, let me just say that it happened...well, sort of. The final detail about this screening that made it “special” is the fact that it was shown in conjunction with a “rough cut” of “Road to Hell (it's rare for a film's title to so frankly describe itself,)” an unofficial sequel/tribute that stars Pare, reprising the character of Cody, and also has Van Valkenburgh in some scenes.

The director, Albert Pyun, has directed a lot of films, including “Sword of the Sorcerer” and “Cyborg.” His wife, Cynthia Curnan, has written very little else besides “Road to Hell.” The “film” spawned from a debate between the two of them about the ending of “Streets of Fire.” Albert thought it was among the most romantic ever, but Cynthia felt it was tragic and that it doomed Tom Cody to life of war and loneliness. Simply put, the film is fan-fiction on the most retarded level.

As Albert Pyun's introduction of the work finished, my brother, my girlfriend, and I looked at each other and tried to decide if we were going to stay. We agreed to and my brother got up to go to the bathroom before it started. As my girlfriend and I waded through the opening few minutes of grainy digital production, hollowed sound-mixing, and truly horrible green-screen effects, a decision had to be made. Should we wait for my brother to return and risk dashing his triumphant night at the Alamo, or should we leave before he gets back? We bailed with the quickness, and we might have been the first to leave, but we were certainly not the last. Some reports indicate that by the end of the screening, there were between 10 and 15 people remaining out of nearly 200.

From what my friends who actually managed to stay all the way through have told me, Cynthia Curnan's re-visioning follows a mentally-broken Tom Cody through a confrontation with 2 loud lesbian strippers that eventually ends with Cody torturing and killing the two of them after an hours worth of philosophizing about the nature of man and war. All of this is as a result of Cody never being able to get off the loss of Ellen. That's right, they turned Tom Cody into a serial killer!?! Anyway, you can read a full review of “Road to Hell,” written by one of the truly brave souls, here.

“Streets of Fire” screened at 9:00 on 9/22/08 and was presented by Music Monday.


bobb x said...

i left "road to hell" early too, but i'm genuinely envious of y'all for getting out as early as you described. truly night & day was the difference in experience & quality between the main feature & the so-called sequel. i was truly agog at how awkwardly bad "road to hell" was.

as we were fleeing the theatre, i had commented to the friend, with whom i had attended, that it was as though someone had snuck in a high school film project into the projection booth.

in retrospect, i felt embarrassed for paré & van valkenburgh having to be there to highlight where they are career-wise that they'd have to participate in something like that. such a downer after what was such a fun experience of watching "streets of fire" in the circumstances you mentioned with that crowd.

Albert Pyun said...

Hi All,

I feel properly rebuked and flogged. Deservedly so. First, clearly we blew it at the screening. The film was just so far away from being ready to screen. But we did learn a lot from it and the final version I hope reflects that. It's still loopy and expressionistic but the story structure has been reworked and, hopefully, improved.

We had only finished shooting in july so the September rough cut screening from my laptop was a pretty poor endeavor all around. My apologies to everyone. It was really arrogant and selfish of us to ask people to sit through such a raw thrown together first cut. Shame on me.

Maybe there's some way to get everyone who attended a free DVD of the final film. If they would even want to give the film another go. I realize everyone has only so many minutes of their life they are willing to potentially throw away.

And, yes, we did sneak into the projection booth! But the projectionist really did put up a good fight to try and save the audience.

Albert Pyun

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