Back in 1982, Walter Hill, writer and director of The Warriors, had just finished 48 HRS. (starting Eddy Murphy’s mainstream success). He stated in his production notes that he wanted to do a rock and roll movie. After getting together with writer/friend Larry Gross to write the script that convinced Universal Pictures to shoot what later became 1984’s Streets of Fire.
Streets of Fire starts off by showing its 1980’s colors with a neon rich concert, headed by Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) and The Attackers. While the concert feels right in the 80’s, the people look like they just jumped out off the set of American Graffiti (the 50’s and early 60’s). During the concert performance, the sound of motorcycle engines disrupts the band. Raven (William Dafoe), the leader of the local biker gang known as The Bombers, kidnaps Ellen and takes her back with him. Reva, a local waitress, looks on in awe from within the crowd. Shortly after, Reva calls up Ellen’s ex-boyfriend and her brother Tom Cody (Michael Paré), thinking his years as a soldier would come in handy in rescuing Ellen. When Tom arrives in town, he accepts this rescue as a job, nothing more and nothing less. After pursuing some fire arms, Tom drives off to rescue Ellen. Accompanying him is Ellen’s current boyfriend and the man who is paying Cody, Billy Fish (Rich Moranis); as well as recently met ex-soldier McCoy (Amy Madigan).
In keeping with its “rock and roll fable” story, Streets of Fire comes with a fantastic soundtrack. Bands like Face to Face (taking the role as the aforementioned Attackers) and The Blasters (who also make a full appearance) make up the American roots (rock/blues/rockabilly/five other subgenres) soundtrack. What I found interesting was how much time they would dedicate to showing a song. For instance, the songs “Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young” and “Nowhere Fast” bookend the film, this forces the opening credits to end around the fifteen minute mark. This is a ninety something minute movie, and almost ten minutes of that run time is spent just showing Ellen Aim and the Attackers perform. Now I am not complaining, but it was just a little weird to still be seeing the opening credits so far into a movie, and have it not be a T.V. show.
When I said that this was an 80’s movie that tried to look like a 50’s period piece, I was not kidding. Now, while everyone is sporting their overalls (Armani designed overalls), sport blazers (Armani designed sport blazers), and pompadours; this movie still looks like it takes its roots from the “shoulder pads on women decade”. The 80’s even shows up in the way it does scene transitions, taking razor-sharp edge wipes to make sure I feel perpetually in a really long music video (and you thought that Interstellar 555 was unique). Heck, there is even a part in the movie where the characters are walking down a street with multiple T.V.s all showing a singing Ellen Aim. Half of the extras look like those American Graffiti types that you are used to, but the other half look like they were just hired straight from an 80’s night club. The only thing that I can think of that is similar to this is the music video for Stray Cats Strut by the band Stray Cats(I apologize for the Vevo).
Some people would consider Streets of Fire a more successful film overseas than in the States; in particular Japan. To start, the animes Megazone 23 Part 1 and 2 and Bubblegum Crisis draw heavily from Streets of Fire. Megazone 23’s has a Pop idol by the name of Eve who plays a similar role to Ellen Aim. There is even a scene at the beginning that has the main characters going to see Streets of Fire in the theaters. Bubblegum Crisis’ famous song “Konya wa Hurricane” is also heavily influenced by the opening performance in Streets of Fire. The rockabilly look also continues to permeate at least a niche culture in Japan. The pompadour wearing motorcycle “yankees” keep the spirit of Streets of Fire alive; leaving lasting iconography towards the delinquent look. You can take something as simple as Yu-Yu-Hakusho or better yet Cromartie High School and see Streets of Fires’ influence. Now you could say that much of the look stemmed from a Yakuza influence, but I believe that Streets of Fire did its part.
Pros: Fantastic soundtrack that recalls hours of karaoke bar singing. A nice step back into what the 80’s had to offer stylistically. McCoy is one of the coolest female characters probably ever. To quote Jem, the wardrobes are “truly, truly outrageous”. It also contains the famous “sledge hammer fight” (I will not spoil for those not in the know).
Cons: While I did think that Ellen Aim was doing ok as a character, she just did not seem to have any chemistry with any of the other characters that felt something towards her. This is quite apropos with Raven, who after a certain point in the film seems to stop caring about Ellen, and starts wanting to beat Tom’s face in. I also thought that Raven would play a bigger character (I guess you could consider him similar to Tim Curry as the Prince of Darkness in Legend).
You can pick up Streets of Fire pretty easily, considering this movie is in the “failed summer blockbuster” side of cult status instead of “low access” cult status. This movie sits right up there with Commando, The Fist of the North Movie (animated or live action, take your pick), or RoboCop for a movie you need to sit down and watch with a big group of people. So unless you are someone who hates anything that reminds them of the 80’s (be that any terrible person), I suggest checking out Streets of Fire.