Tuesday, October 25, 2005

"Warriors! Come out to plaaay-yaaaay!"

Last night I watched the newly released "Ultimate Director's Cut!" of Walter Hill's infamous gang-flick, The Warriors (a flick I've talked about before). After fast-forwarding through most of the previews, I finally got to Hill's introduction to the new cut. His initial endorsement of the product I'd just torn the celophane from was not exactly cheering.

Hill glowered and growled something about how he normally disapproved of efforts like this, but that this product sat closer to what he had envisioned. "There may be the argument that some people like the other version better, and that's fine," he said. Then, just as I was reconsidering all the DVDs I'd passed over in favor of this one, his intro finished and faded to: the "Ultimate Director's Cut!"

Unfortunately, Hill's public second-guessing is right on the (misspent) money. Without going into the trouble of a frame-by-frame analysis of the two cuts, I'll just say that the newly added conceit of making the film a living comic book, interspliced with four-color panels and balloons like "The Baseball Furies?! Holy ****!!!", is exactly the sort of overly self-conscious distraction a cheesy thrill-ride like The Warriors does not need. I wondered what possessed Hill and company. Thankfully, a possible answer awaited me in the "bonus material" that came with this edition.

The bonus material amounts to a four-part commemoration of The Warriors, including interviews with Hill and several of the film's principals. Some of the actors in that flick looked very much like they were on the heroin weight-loss program, and I was curious to see who the film's real survivors were. Michael Beck ("Swan") reappears from out of freakin' nowhere, saying the sorts of things guys say when they consider themselves professional actors. Ditto, James Remar ("Ajax"). David Patrick Kelly ("Luther") gives deliberate consideration to his anecdotes, subtly and powerfully suggesting the man has more breadth to him than his usual wound-up psycho roles suggest. Deborah Van Valkenburgh ("Mercy") sits and smiles beatifically, a refreshing and genuine beauty who has steadfastly refused the cosmetic surgeon's blade. I found myself quite taken with this woman's manner of reminiscence; she is the most mindful of the interviews, and makes pointed mention of actors who are no longer with us, for unspecified reasons that lead one to make the obvious guess.

But Hill and his technicians deliver the real information. Not all of it is as interesting as they might think, but the documentary is tightly edited, and the self-indulgent meanderings are mercifully short. Hill marvels at the group synergy that makes a film really work, and comes up with example after example for which he takes no credit. Just one example: he gives sole credit to Kelly for the creepy taunt (see title) set to clacking finger-bottles.

Hill also seems to carry a burden of collected regrets. He casually mentions how the script called for a romance between Fox (Thomas G. Waites) and Mercy, but how it became apparent to everyone on the set that a) there was no chemistry between these actors, and b) the real chemistry was cooking between Van Valkenburgh and Beck. One quick rewrite later, Fox gets thrown in front of a subway train, and the problem is solved. Says Hill, "(Waites) and I weren't communicating very well - I've always felt badly about it - so finally I came up with a way to get rid of him."

Another of Hill's seeming regrets is the public response to The Warriors. I was a paperboy at the time; I followed all the stories related to The Warriors with keen interest. To my adolescent eye, the fights and killings that (we were told) inevitably came with the movie's screenings were of a piece with the pregnant ladies who fainted during Rosemary's Baby, or threw up watching The Exorcist (digression: I actually saw a woman faint during a scene of cinematic brutality, when I attended the opening night of Scorcese's Cape Fear. So much for the urban myth!). That is to say, the news was part of the film's sensation. Hill finds this genuinely troubling, and where someone like Oliver Stone would puff out his chest and claim this all as confirmation of his artistic genius, Hill winces and mutters the protests he's surely voiced countless times over the years.

And so we return to the annoying superimposed comic book format of the "Ultimate Director's Cut!". It seems to me that any viewer with a smidgen of intelligence will quickly identify the film's stylized violence as "comic book". No-one gets walloped with baseball bat to the ribs, then climbs back to their feet five minutes later for a sprint across Central Park - right? It's like watching "Pro" Wrestling: you don't need a disclaimer to know this spectacular stupidity shouldn't be attempted without some supervision.

The Warriors is a peculiar fluke in the zeitgeist - one of those rare B-films that has social ("real life") repercussions. Perhaps Hill is trying to atone for not making his point of view on the matter more obvious at the time. Perhaps he feels particularly compelled to add the superfluous comic book frame now that a new "Warriors" video game has hit the shelves (kids, watch you don't get "bopped" while lining up at EB Games!). But when I look at something like The Warriors, and contrast it to the creaky large-screen fare he's offered of late, I have to wonder if this reticence, this "I'm playin' it safe from now on" attitude, doesn't perhaps explain why Hill can't quite get his groove back.


DarkoV said...

WP You truly have patience for youth, or the adult view of youth. I couldn't get past 10 minutes whenit came out.
The uniforms.
Wild, rough, disrespecting authority type of youths shouldn't be wearing dis-unique vests! And leather ones to boot!! Yipes, it was a makeover of gangs as we knew them. Even the Sharks and the Jets danced around with unique clothes. And these guys were dancing and singing gangs.
And then the chest hair, coiffed to the last hair of their existence. Sorry!

I did fall for Kurt Russell's "Escape from New York", Tension, comedy, Different outfits.
You get the idea.

Whisky Prajer said...

Yes, all that and Lee Van Cleef! I liked "Escape" when I saw it in my yoot, but was disappointed when I revisited it (circa Escape From L.A.). It seemed, in retrospect, a little spare.

F.C. Bearded said...

I've been fielding "Warriors" questions for a little over two weeks, ever since the Evil's discovered that the soon-to-be-released video game was based on a movie. "Y'ever hear of a movie called Warriors, dad?" Blah-di-blah ad naus.

So then I had to piece the whole story out of tattered rags of memory: wasn't that guy from "Sex & the City", didn't he play "Ajax"?

Now the game is bought and played-through; they're telling me what happened.

Bleak Mouse said...

DV - "A makeover of gangs as we knew them"? Yes, Hollywood, to whom I always turn for hardcore social realism and deep insight into our nation's problems, just dropped the ball on this one. Whatever could they have been thinking?

Actually, I recall The Warriors as being exactly what I expected, and quite fun at that level. But that was many and many a year ago.

WP -- I think that Mr. Hill is engaging in a bit of incompetent latterday revisionism, lest anyone think he is not a sophisticated ironist, rather than a sometimes- brilliant tall-tale teller. The entire notion of the "director's cut" is vastly overrated. It's very sad to see that movies that were cut by studio flunkies for time or for ratings or just for the hell of it are often superior to the director's "original conception."

My favorite Walter Hill movie, which I watch frequently, is the overlooked The Long Riders, which is quite thrilling and not TOO ridiculous.

Thanks for steering me clear of the current revision of The Warriors.

Whisky Prajer said...

FCB - the game looks very much like something I'd happily waste my time on. And I hear you can unlock a bonus level that includes a song-and-dance number! DV, warm up your thumbs for some button-mashing!

Herr Bleak - I'll have to give The Long Riders another spin. I remember liking the Caradine brothers, and the knife fight in the saloon. After that, things get pretty hazy. As for "director's cuts", I tend to prefer the ones that are actually shorter than the theatrical releases: Blood Simple and Blade Runner being the only two that come to mind.

Bleak Mouse said...

The knife fight scene is a classic of glorious macho nonsense. I'm quite enthralled with the rest, too, but I'd been waiting for the ultimate Jesse James movie since as was about eight years old. Others may not feel so strongly about this great American legend, only remotely related to fact.

I actually prefer the version of Blade Runner with the voice-over narration insisted on by the studio for the movie version. This is decidedly a minority view. I wasn't aware that there was another version of Blood Simple, but I love the VHS one I have.