Streets of Fire (Blu-ray)
(Shout! Factory, 5.16.2017)
As even the most devoted Walter Hill fanatic would probably acknowledge, his peak period of stylized, high-energy filmmaking -- that included The Driver, The Warriors, Southern Comfort, and several other exercises in heightened masculinity -- concluded with 1984’s Streets of Fire. Riding high on the success of 48 Hrs., Hill and his collaborators were given an opportunity to do just about anything. While it’s not really acknowledged anywhere on this jam-packed 2-disc Blu-ray set, Hill was obsessed with Kathryn Bigelow and Monty Montgomery’s weirdly overlooked The Loveless (he even mentored Bigelow through an unrealized attempt at a studio debut), so he decided to borrow that film’s early rock, Leone-inspired biker movie sensibility (not to mention star Willem Dafoe) to create a hyperbolic genre musical that embraces extremes in almost every area -- except its soundtrack. Rather than highlight the kind of real deal rockabilly that gave Bigelow’s debut its attitude, Hill saturates Streets of Fire with middle-of-the-road, Jimmy Iovine-polished pop rock. Nonetheless, this film remains a powerful shot of adrenaline that comes closer to the spirit of The Warriors than any film Hill made before or since.
As fans of Streets of Fire undoubtedly know, a UK Blu-ray was released four years ago with a problematic transfer, an 82-minute documentary (Rumble on the Lot), a pair of music videos, and the film’s EPK materials. For the new Shout Select release, Shout! Factory ports over the documentary, music videos, and EPK -- which is now broken into a few different sections -- and also throws in a massive bonus: Shotguns & Six Strings, a second feature length documentary that runs 18 minutes longer than the first.
Between the two documentaries and the EPK, this disc is loaded with intriguing revelations. For one, co-writer Larry Gross explains that an intentional effort was made to keep all the characters under the age of 30, in order to tap into the mainstream appeal that was fueling the careers of Steven Spielberg and John Hughes at the time. We also learn that Tom Cruise and Eric Roberts were both in negotiations to play the lead, but Hill ultimately had to settle for Eddie and the Cruisers star Michael Paré, who happened to be a huge fan of the director.
As for the female cast, Diane Lane -- then enjoying one of the best teen acting careers in movie history -- found herself in competition with Daryl Hannah on two films at the same time: Streets of Fire and Splash. Meanwhile, Amy Madigan shrewdly managed to talk her way into playing McCoy, a sidekick role originally written for a man.
If the extras and the film itself make one thing abundantly clear about Streets of Fire, it’s that this was never going to be a triumph of dense plotting or thematic complexity. Hill was excited about the cinematic potential of artifice, combining his memories of the past with the artistic potential of the present. The result is a feature length music video that’s unmistakably tied to its era. Fortunately, the ever-contrary Hill brings just enough rebellion to the table to keep this otherwise glossy experience vital -- and even somewhat enigmatic -- 33 years later. -- Jonathan Doyle