The early 1980s produced a number of movies with musical themes. Alan Parker’s FAME (1980) did its best to be a sweary, gritty look at young hopefuls taking their first faltering steps at performance school and it was successful it resulted in a far more sanitised long running television series. Herbert Ross’ FOOTLOOSE (1984) made a star out of Kevin Bacon and featured a tractor battle to Jim Steinman’s Holding Out for a Hero sung by Bonnie Tyler.
Mr Steinman was much better served by Walter Hill’s quite deliriously wonderful STREETS OF FIRE, a self-styled ‘rock and roll fable’ that Mr Hill decided upon as his next project after the phenomenal success of 48 HOURS. If you haven't seen it, it might be quite difficult to envision exactly what a rock and roll fantasy movie from the director of action hits like THE WARRIORS and THE LONG RIDERS might actually be like. But then you actually watch it, and you realise it’s just as Walter Hill as all his other movies - just with over the top 1980s rock music added in (Hill originally wanted classic 1950s tracks but he was over-ruled by the studio).
Basically a Western set in the rain-drenched neon-lit streets of a nameless city, with motorbikes instead of horses, STREETS OF FIRE tells the story of rock singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane, who was only eighteen when she made this). Ellen’s playing a gig in her hometown when she’s kidnapped by the villainous Raven (an almost impossibly young Willem Dafoe) and his bike gang The Bombers. Her manager Rick Moranis doesn’t know what to do until, riding into town with his trenchcoat and his sleeveless shirt, comes Tom Cody (Michael Pare). Tom is Ellen’s old boyfriend and an ex-soldier, and soon, with his sidekick McCoy (Amy Madigan) he’s taking on the entire gang in an attempt to get his girl back.
If you loved the early 1980s you’re going to love STREETS OF FIRE. Occasionally it feels like a big budget Empire picture but most of the time you know you’re watching a movie by Walter Hill. There are lots of terrifically choreographed action scenes (I love that Hill worked them all out using Matchbox toys) and the editing is superb. There’s no doubt at any point that Hill knows what he’s doing and he’s the undisputed star of the film. Mind you, the actors are just a 1980s neon-drenched dream as well. See Bill Paxton with his gelled hair ten feet high! Watch Ed Begley doing his best Worzel Gummidge impersonation! What about Diane Lane and her Joan Jett hairstyle? Or Willem Dafoe and his weird black latex dungarees? Leading man Michael Pare sounds as if he could use a good nasal decongestant most of the time but who cares when you’ve got a man-slamming smackdown face-off between him and Dafoe where the underlying homo-eroticism threatens to melt the screen?
And songs! Lots of them! There’s a lot of very fine doo-wop in the middle but the movie is topped and tailed by the kind of Jim Steinman explosion-filled epics that must have caused many a record producer to hide their chequebooks from him. And they’re great. You’ll be humming this stuff well after you’ve ejected the disk.
Oh yes, the disk. Second Sight have brought out STREETS OF FIRE on Blu-ray and it looks excellent, with a splendid image transfer that’s as good as it could be. Extras include a feature-length documentary on the making of the film that’s well worth watching. There are also music videos and the original electronic press kit.
STREETS OF FIRE is a cracking, fast-paced, stylish action movie that’s so 1980s you’ll wonder why you aren’t ejecting a VHS cassette to put back in its clamshell box by the time it’s finished. Great fun,- it's a film I wouldn’t normally have even looked at and I ended up enjoying it immensely. Highly and heartily recommended.
Walter Hill's STREETS OF FIRE was released on Blu-ray by Second Sight on 18th November 2013