Two Cents Throws More Fuel on the STREETS OF FIRE

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick:

We often describe our cultier picks as being “one of a kind”, but believe us when we say that there is only one Streets of Fire.

Off the back of the blockbuster success of 48 Hrs. (aka the movie that made Eddie Murphy a movie star) writer/director Walter Hill was afforded the chance to indulge himself. And boooooooooy, did he.

The only real precursor to the peculiar DNA of Streets of Fire is Hill’s own The Warriors, which we recently covered. Like that earlier film, Streets of Fire is set in a cartoonish, stylized alternate reality (what the film’s opening credits define as “Another Time, Another Place”) that is nonetheless depicted with all the grit and grime you could possibly imagine.

A sort of…fairy tale/Western/comic book/two-fisted pulp action/musical grab-bag, this “rock’n’roll fable” opens with fledgling superstar Ellen Aim (a suuuuuuuper young Diane Lane) being kidnapped off-stage mid-concert by a biker gang led by the vampiric Raven (a suuuuuuuuuuper young Willem Dafoe).

The local law has no way to combat a gang so crazed and ruthless, so Ellen’s old friend calls her brother Tom Cody (Michael Paré) to come to the rescue. A former local troublemaker turned former soldier, Tom Cody is also Ellen’s old flame. He sets out to save the damsel in distress, teaming up with fellow hard-edged veteran McCoy (Amy Madigan) and Ellen’s slimy manager and new beau, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis).

Anchoring the film are songs composed by famed Meat Loaf collaborator, the late great Jim Steinman. Steinman, who never met a teenage heartache that he couldn’t turn into a 10-minute rock ballad of the most brilliantly overblown variety, proved to be the perfect fit for Streets of Fire, a film that isn’t so much style-over-substance as it is style-as-substance.

Streets of Fire was a pretty severe flop when it was first released, and critics largely shrugged at its music video stylings and “what if instead of characters, explosions?” methodology. But a cult audience has continued to grow exponentially each year, and today there is a large tribe who know that tonight is what it means to be young.

So let the revels begin! Let the fires be started! And let’s all of us dance for the restless and the broken-hearted.

Next Week’s Pick:

Next week, we journey from Walter Hill’s mean streets to the newest fantasy land from Disney Animation!

Raya and the Last Dragon is available on Disney+!

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight on Thursday!

Our Guests:

Austin Wilden:

As Highlander is to Queen, Streets of Fire is to the late Jim Steinman.

While he’s not the sole contributing songwriter like Queen were in the former case, Steinman’s style gets exemplified in the bookending concerts by Ellen Aim and the Attackers. The declarative, ballad style a perfect reflection for the earnest melodramatic nature of Streets of Fire. If “Bat Out of Hell” or “Total Eclipse of the Heart” were on this soundtrack, they would not sound out of place at all. (I bet anyone familiar with the movie could even name spots where they’d fit perfectly.)

Which isn’t to talk down the contributions of the other singers and songwriters on the soundtrack. The songs given to the Sorels standout as well, especially “Countdown to Love” being used as a way to punctuate the first moment of peace the characters get after their assault on The Battery.

What make “Nowhere Fast” and “Tonight is What it Means to be Young” stand out even among other solid music in this movie is that reflection of the film’s overall energy. We’re welcomed into the heightened environment, an evolution of the tone Walter Hill established with The Warriors, by “Nowhere Fast.” Its energy and lyrics reflecting Ellen’s emotions of being back home in Richmond performing, even if she admits later she didn’t write these songs that connection is still present in the film’s text. “Tonight is What it Means to be Young” works even better as the note the movie ends on. The original poster for Streets of Fire describing it as “A Rock ‘n Roll Fable” and the lyrics about ideal dreams of love versus the reality of living as “the desperate and the broken hearted” make sure no one forgets that this was indeed a fable of “another time, another place.”

As a member of Ellen’s road crew says while watching the final concert: “Love Live Rock ‘n Roll” (@WC_WIT)

Brendan Agnew (The Norman Nerd):

Kudos to Streets of Fire for not only opening with a show-stopping 5-alarm banger of a song in “Nowhere Fast” as a dope musical introduction to another time and another place, but also for calling its shot using the song?

To clarify, this film is a prefect circle. It begins and ends in the same place with the principal characters all back on their designated turf — physically speaking. And at 93 minutes, it damn sure goes “nowhere” fast. But as archetypal embodiments of Campbell-ian mythic structure go, it comes up wanting only against the likes of The Lion King in terms of “let’s just make this bit of the Hero’s Journey the literal text in the film” and swinging hard enough to pull that off.

I won’t be the first to pine for a stronger leading man (Paré is… fine), but the rest of the cast is an absolute treat and our hero swings a hell of a hammer, even if he doesn’t quite pull off looking badass in suspenders. And I cannot overstate how hard the soundtrack goes at the same time the production design is sprinting to keep up with the music (and keeping pace) that coalesces into a genre blend utterly unique and inviting.

Also, there’s a bit where our heroes blow the shit outta a whole squad of police cars, and that Walter Hill guy knew a thing or two. (@blcagnew)

The Team

Brendan Foley:

From the moment Streets of Fire introduces Willem Dafoe’s villain with him slowly moving through a feverish concert crowd, backlit to an impossible degree so his figure is entirely dark silhouette, I knew I was in love.

And the film more than lives up to that exhilarating opening, unmoored from anything so boring as reality. This a world where every line of dialogue is snarled, where there’s an unnamed war that’s splashing up all kinds of ex-soldiers on the shores to go on valiant quests to save fair damsels, and where people settle their disputes with HAMMER DUELS.

I registered my complaints with The Warriors when we covered that film. For me, Streets of Fire has always been the Walter Hill movie that successfully turned his outsized, comic book visions of rain-slicked cities into a proper, propulsive movie.

The fly in the ointment is and has always been Paré as the film’s lead. Tom Cody needs to be a larger-than-life MAN who feels like he just strode out of a paperback and commands the center of the film through movie star machismo alone. Paré looks the part well enough, but he’s a flat blank as a screen presence, blown off the screen by every single supporting player.

If Tom Cody had lived up to his legend, Streets of Fire would be a classic of ’80s cinema. As is, it’s still a ludicrous amount of fun and an absolutely kick-ass way to spend 90 minutes at a pop. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw:

I’m gonna go to bat for Paré on this one. I understand the opinion of my cohorts that his performance here is uncharismatic, but he understands the assignment. He’s not the hero. He’s the angry, lonely drifter who won’t come out of this with a happy ending. From his first appearance, Tom Cody is all smoldering fire and sad blue eyes, with a war raging in with soul.

Streets Of Fire is the ultimate companion to The Warriors in my opinion. Both opt for a unique urban setting that’s unquestionably “gritty” but separated from reality through a veil of fantasty and rock & roll. Even though they’re quite different, as have a lot of the same motifs and showing up: themed gangs, extended chases, subways, street fights, a fractured romance, and a showdown on the home turf. For some reason it never found quite the same audience as The Warriors, but it seems people have started discovering it in the last few years for what it is: one of the best films of the 80s. (@VforVashaw)

Get your Ellen Aim and the Attackers “Tonight is What it Means to be Young” shirt from our friends at RoughCut!

Further reading:

Next week’s pick:

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