“Warriors, come out to plaaaay!”
Upon my revamping of this series, I have come to discover that the majority of cinema that yields the biggest impact on our culture is, more often than not, cult classics. These are the films that garnered a minimal commercial success upon their initial release, yet caused such a stir or influence that their existence lives on in the hearts of true cinephiles. One of the greatest cult classics is the 1979 film The Warriors from director Walter Hill. The initial release received a mild commercial success and was on a relatively minor distribution list that included mainly art houses and few commercial theaters. The theaters that were lucky enough to release the film had a very short period in which a viewer could attend a screening. This was due in part to the harsh reviews from critics. Ironically enough, the main complaint across the board was that the film lacked any characterization and relied to heavily on visuals, which seems to be the formula that modern theatrical releases are utilizing. Was The Warriors just a piece of cinema ahead of its time? Without a doubt, yes.
When it was originally released, The Warriors was so openly and harshly criticized, for its depictions of violence, that most of the theaters showing the film pulled the reels from their projectors in fear of a public backlash. If there is any film you could potentially compare this to, in terms of cult standing, it would be either; A Clockwork Orange (1971), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), or Cligula (1980). These films were all subject to the same misfortune and slander that The Warriors received, yet all of these films have come to shape modern cinema and have influenced our culture in more ways that can be accounted for. In recent years, The Warriors has come to be recognized for the brilliant piece of pop culture that it is. It has been ranked as 16th on Entertainment Weekly’s list of “Top 50 Greatest Cult Films” and 14th on it’s list of “25 Most Controversial Films Ever Made”. This has helped the film’s cult status to grow and bring in a new audience and generation.
While the film may lack profound dialogue and relatable characters, in my opinion, the story is one of the strongest points. Based off the 1965 novel of the same name by Sol Yurick, this film follows the path of a gang, known as The Warriors, on their quest deep into the Bronx to attend a proposed meeting to instill a truce amongst all of the gangs in order to take over the city. During the gathering, the leader of the biggest gang, known as the Gramercy Riffs, is assassinated and the Warriors are framed for the crime. Outnumbered and deep behind enemy lines, their mission has become a fight for their own survival. The Warriors have no choice but to fight there way back to Coney Island and the safety of their own turf. Based in what is meant to be a futuristic, run down metropolis, the environments of the story help to emphasize their dire need for survival. The story borrows heavily from the Greek tale ‘Anabasis’ by Xenophon. All along their quest for sanctuary, they are met with opposition and violence from rival gangs, police, drugs, “sirens”, and mutiny. All the while any news on the Warriors is being broadcast by a mysterious radio personality whose dialogue doubles as a haunting narration. This film takes elements from some of the most classic tales of survival, revenge, and endurance.
The visuals within the film shed light on the bleak future of gangland warfare. Each rival faction is distinctly dressed, sometimes a little over-the-top, but the costume design is one of the aspects I enjoyed the most about the film. With an assortment of colourful characters such as; the Gramercy Riffs, the Baseball Furies, the Orphans, the Lizzies, the Rogues, and the Punks, The Warriors does rely heavily on visuals to weave its story but this is not intended to be the main focus of the film. Some people complain that the overly elaborate visuals are distracting and unnecessary, but I argue that they are exactly the same elements that are praised in the cinema of today, i.e.; Avatar by James Cameron or 300 by Zack Snyder. As far as themes of the film go, I do not think there are any that would mean much to anyone. It is clearly a solid piece of cinematic entertainment with no strings attached. Containing an abundance of memorable lines, characters, and costumes, this film has carved its place in history. So, before deciding that The Warriors is too visually distracting, allow yourself to observe the subtleties of the atmosphere of the film and indulge in the emotional need to survive. I truly believe that The Warriors is an under-celebrated achievement and if you can get your hands on the “Ultimate Director’s Cut” DVD, I think you will be impressed with the addition of comic book style visuals and transitions. “Can you dig it?”
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