Friday, March 1, 2013

Lazy Movie Weekend: Can you dig it?

Other than my birth and the introduction of the Happy Meal, probably the most significant event to happen in 1979 was the theatrical release of The Warriors and America's introduction to the only movie about gangs that really matters. I was in my early teens the first time I saw this movie probably on USA Up All Night or WGN midnight movies. I watched a lot of random and age inappropriate movies when I was in my early teens. Since I've started writing this blog and revealed more of these things, my mother has been horrified. I think she should take it in stride; I could have done drugs or had a kid or been arrested (or all three at the same time). Watching age inappropriate movies seems tame.

The Warriors is one of those odd movies that I feel everyone should know but I always have to explain it to people. I do remember meeting the husband of a former co-worker and immediately bonding over our mutual love of this movie. I ended up being one of the few people he ever spoke to at work social events and usually our conversation returned to The Warriors. I will totally be your friend if you like this movie even if we have little else to talk about (or lots to talk about-it doesn't really matter).

I've been wanting to write about The Warriors for a long time. Unlike other movies I've written about, this one is not particularly funny or uplifting. Don't get me wrong - there are some hilarious things in this movie (themed gangs?) but it's not funny. After reading Bad Shakespeare's recent post about thinking about movies like we do literature, I realized that this is ultimately what I do with movies I love. I spend a lot of time analyzing and dissecting these movies. It's like I think I'm going to be graded on my critique of the themes in You've Got Mail. I liked Bad Shakespeare's point about filmmakers constructing novels on screen. That's what The Warriors is for me, a novel on screen.

Around the same time I first saw this movie, I was very into reading Greek and Roman history and mythology. At the time, I had no idea that this movie had source material very closely related to what I was reading but now that I know that it all just makes sense. Both the book (yes, there was a book first) and the film are based in part on the Greek story Anabasis by Xenophon, a student of Socrates. The story is about the Ten Thousand Army, a Greek army of mercenaries, marching to seize the throne of Persia. They ultimately fail and have to march back home. This will all make sense once we start to discuss The Warriors in more detail. Here are two important words for you to know:
  • Anabasis: An expedition from the coastline into the interior of a country
  • Katabasis: An expedition from the interior to the coastline
Armed with this knowledge, are you ready? Can you dig it?
  1. It should be dark when you watch this movie. It's filmed almost exclusively at night so watching during the day is wrong as an experience and makes it hard to see.
  2. The Michael Beck conundrum: I previously wrote about Michael Beck and the movie Xanadu. In this movie he plays Swan, the gang's second in command and was poised to become a much bigger star than he actually became because of The Warriors. However, he donned roller skates (and very tiny shorts) and pined and pouted for Olivia Newton-John's muse Kira and (more than likely) the silliness of Xanadu canceled out any credibility from The Warriors. I love both movies equally but I can see why Mr. Beck would be bitter. 
  3. The Warriors all wear vests. I probably don't need to say any more but I will. These men can wear vests. Gentlemen, take note. Learn from the masters.
  4. Cleon establishes the hierarchy of the gang (through an odd assortment of flashbacks) and the Warriors leave the confines of Coney Island (the coastline) to go to the Bronx (the interior) for a huge gang meeting. Instead of marching, they take the subway. I like to imagine this is how Greek armies would travel today.
  5.  I'd like to point out that Cleon uses the word "conclave" in the opening sequence. 
  6. Themed gangs! We've got mimes, guys in fatigues, and the Baseball Furies (more on them later). Is this how gangs really work? If I had a themed gang, our theme would probably be characters from musicals. Except Cats. I hate Cats.
  7. Many of the gangs actually buy subway tokens to get to the conclave. Like proper gentlemen. And then thousands of gang members converge in the Bronx. This is probably better than thousands of hipsters converging in Brooklyn.
  8. "Can you dig it?" Seriously, Cyrus (the leader the Grammercy Riffs and the gang leader of gang leaders) is the greatest. If I could say "Can you dig it?" like him then my life would be very different.
  9. Of course, Cyrus is not with us for very long. His death starts the whole thing off and a Warrior knows who did it. The Warriors, not actually realizing they're being framed for murder, do exactly what anyone else would do: they regroup in a cemetery. The plan: make it to the subway platform at Union Square. Once the Warriors get there, they're home free.
  10. Quite possibly the greatest DJ voice of all time: Lynne Thigpen. Yes, she was also the Chief on Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego? - but this is just so much better. She dedicates the song "Nowhere to Run" to the Warriors.
  11. Tony Danza was originally supposed to play Vermin but took the role on Taxi instead. I'd say he made the perfect choice because I could never take this movie seriously if Tony Danza was in it.
  12. "When we get there that's when we made it." Wise words, Swan, wise words.
  13. The Gramercy Riffs (Cyrus's gang) is taken over by Masai who begins to get creepy updates from random stooges. Like the Nome King in Return to Oz.
  14. So Luther, the actual bad guy. Luther is that dangerous combination of stupid, psychotic, and mean. All I ever want to do is punch him despite his oddly photogenic hair.
  15. Ajax (my 3rd favorite Warrior played by James Remar) says the best line of the movie: "When did you turn into a fucking diplomat?" Swan makes a face because that's what he does.
  16. In addition to conclave being used, Swan and the Orphans use the word "parlay" like they're pirates.
  17. Enter Mercy. Every movie has to have a love interest and so we have Mercy. And her shoes which trouble me the entire movie.
  18. One of my favorite moments is when Swan throws a Molotov cocktail like a boss. And a car explodes. That's how you make an exit.
  19. You know that part in The Wiz when they're in the station and it comes to life and tries to kill them? I always think of that every time the Warriors enter any subway station. And yes, Fox does get thrown in front of a subway car. By a cop. I did not just hallucinate that moment.
  20. Holy cow, the Baseball Furies. Greatest gang concept ever. The director, Walter Hill, is an avid baseball and KISS fan so this gang was his homage to both. What I find creepy is that none of them ever speak. I would have loved if they had spouted KISS lyrics in their taunts. But that's probably not really appropriate for this movie.
  21. Never trust a group of women hanging out in the subway late at night or one woman just randomly sitting on a park bench. Gentlemen, think with your brains. That is all. And yes, that is Mercedes Ruehl.
  22. The Lizzies - the girl gang. Seriously, boys are dumb (except Rembrandt since he knows this ain't right). My larger question about this gang is how does one acquire a gang lair? Do you have to pay rent? Are you responsible for damages to said gang lair? Because that's going to suck for the Lizzies.
  23. Mercy: I can't go in there. It's a men's room. Swan: Are you kidding? Given their earlier conversations about Mercy's profession, this just makes me laugh and laugh.
  24. If you're keeping track, the Warriors have defeated five gangs by the time they get on the train home to Coney Island: the Turnbull ACs, the Orphans, the Baseball Furies, the Lizzies and the Punks. Remember, the Warriors were here.
  25. The scene where the prom couples get on the subway and sit across from Mercy and Swan who are filthy and beat up. Mercy goes to fix her hair and Swan stops her because they don't need to prove themselves to anyone.
  26. The sun rises on Coney Island and it is magical. "This is what we fought all night to get back to?" says Swan with a hint of disdain. He then launches into a weird conversation about leaving Coney Island. I'm guessing he was thinking, "I'll move to California and be an artist. And fall in love with a muse."
  27. And of course the most famous quote of the movie: "Warriors, come out to pla-ay." Luther continues to creep me out no matter how much time passes. And the bottle thing is just annoying. Seriously, I want to punch him.
  28. Which brings us to the last stand on the beach at dawn. Very Greek epic of the Warriors and the Rogues. Luther proves he is one crazy dude, Swan throws a knife like a boss (this is my favorite way to describe people), and the Gramercy Riffs arrive to exact justice on the Rogues. 
  29. And the Warriors walk off into the sunset and do whatever it is gangs do when they're not fighting (Nap? Play cards?) all while "In the City" by Joe Walsh plays in the background. 
Did you get all that symbolism? Are you going to start using anabasis and katabasis in your daily conversations? I had something like 10 pages of notes from watching the movie but distilled it down to the essentials. I think for my birthday this year (in addition to wanting an a cappella group to follow me around all day singing my favorite songs), I'd like to host a double feature of The Warriors and Xanadu - two of my favorite movies, both featuring Michael Beck, both including Greek mythology/stories as major plot points. This sounds like an excellent birthday to me.

If someone wants to come as a Swan/Sonny combo (including roller skates and a Warriors vest), well, you might be my new best friend.

Next time: In anticipation of the new David Bowie album, I discuss my love of all things Bowie and wish that I had been born when cool things happened. Like David Bowie. In concert. All the time.

Helpful Warriors resources:


  1. Loved it. I seem to remember a roller-skating gang. (it has been a while)
    Who were they?

  2. That would be the Punks but only one of them is on skates. I remembered an entire gang too but it's just the one guy. They're the last gang they Warriors face.