So I was a little worried about August 2nd’s prompt for the photo challenge (“gold”) because yesterday was a bit busy. I was going to be going direct from work to a movie, and that didn’t afford much time for photo hunting (we will politely ignore the fact that I work in the bloody Diamond District and could have just snapped a shop window on my way to the subway, a fact which I didn’t remember until about 8:43 last night). But when I learned that the venue I was heading to had a fried chicken dinerette kind of setup in the lobby, it seemed like fate.
Because the movie I was seeing is a longtime favorite and I would not be stopped. It’s also something that will almost certainly not be showing up on my list for the Movie Crash Course – it’s the 1979 cult film The Warriors.
I hadn’t even heard of it until a few years back, when I was browsing through a breezy book about “movies inspired by real historic events”. They went through some of the obvious ones – Silkwood, JFK, and the like – and included a couple of not-so-obvious choices (apparently The Hills Have Eyes was in part inspired by the account of a group of medieval Scottish cannibals). And apparently, this film – or, more accurately, the novel on which was based – was inspired by the ancient Greek text the Anabasis, a non-fiction account of how a team of mercenaries who had been part of a civil war in Persia ended up trapped there on the losing side, and had to fight their way back to Greece. The Warriors, I read, moved the action to New York City, and involved a Brooklyn-based street gang getting framed for murder in the Bronx and having to make their way home. It seemed unusually highbrow for a 70’s movie about street gangs, so I curiously looked it up.
And then during the opening scene, I saw how the movie dressed up some of these gangs.
It was fantastically ridiculous and I was all in.
It’s a basic plot, that’s close to The Anabasis – an enigmatic gang leader named Cyrus, head of one of the most powerful groups, has invited all the gangs up to a neutral spot in the Bronx where he advocates the city’s gangs all uniting to overpower the NYPD and take the city over. The Warriors are based in Coney Island but still travel the whole length of the city to see him.
But right when he’s won everyone over, a member of the Rogues – a chaos-loving group – shoots him and then frames The Warriors for it.
The rest of the movie follows The Warriors as they fight their way back to Coney Island, with all of the city’s other gangs and the police on their tail.
Okay, yes, this isn’t high art. But there are details I just love, like those outrageous costumes or some overwrought catchphrases. And there are even quiet and surprisigly human moments, like when the character Mercy – who starts out as a Token Woman who tags along with The Warriors out of curiosity – gives a surprisingly poignant defense when the lead Warrior, Swan, asks her why she has played her life so fast and loose. There’s another wordless scene towards the end, when The Warriors are on a subway on the home stretch back to Coney Island; at one stop, two other teenage couples, clearly just come from their high school prom, get on and sit across from Swan and Mercy, all cuddles and giggles and hijinks. They catch each other’s eye, and study each other; Mercy looking at the girls’ satins and silks and coiffed hair, the girls looking at Mercy’s dirty feet and torn skirt, and at Swan’s gang colors and cut cheek. At the next stop, the couples quietly get up and move to a different car. It’s only a couple minutes long, and there are no words spoken in it, but there are a surprising number of things said anyway.
The venue I went to knew the cult appeal of the film, and gave a local artist a chance to sell some of his original works inspired by the film; all cartoonish movie-poster-inspired things. I also saw a guy dressed up like one of the Baseball Furies (the gangs with the ball uniforms and the Kiss makeup) posing for pictures. But the audience watching with me was best of all. Everyone was being quiet and respectful, if giddy, through most of the opening, maybe laughing at some of the ridiculous gang costumes.
But then we hit Cyrus’ rally speech. About midway through, Cyrus tries to engage the crowd by shouting “Can you dig it!” at them three times. The first time through, someone in the audience chimed in, then more people the second time – which gave license to all of us to round things off with the final “Caaaaaaan yoooooooooooou DIG IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!“ And that set us all off on quoting favorite lines along with the film, all the way through, cheering favorite moments, finishing with an estatic chorus at the end, chiming along with the head of the Rogues goding the Warriors into a fight – “Warriorrrrrrrrrrrrrs, come out to play-ayyyyyyyyyyyyyy…..”