We love movies, among other things.
November 2009, issue 49
"Warriors, come out to play-yay!!!" Luther (David Patrick Kelly), The Warriors (1979).
You Dig It?!?!"
The Wizard of Oz: Classic family favorite about a young girl who runs away from home, finds herself over the rainbow, and sets out on the long journey back to Kansas with the help of a ragtag group of friends.
The Warriors: Classic cult house favorite about ragtag Coney Island gang members, stranded in the Bronx, framed for the murder of a charismatic gang leader, trying to make it home alive in brutal, late seventies New York City.
And these two films are our picks for an unlikely, but vastly enjoyable, holiday double feature. Made forty years apart, both are visually striking fantasies adapted from other sources. Wizard, of course, comes from the classic L. Frank Baum children's stories, while Warriors is adapted from a Sol Yurick novel that itself was based upon the ancient Greek "Anabasis" by Xenophon, the story of Greek mercenaries caught behind enemy lines in Persia.
And make no mistake, they are both fantasies. Wizard, of course, takes place in the fantastical land of Oz, where trees talk, monkeys fly, scarecrows dance, and witches abound, both good and bad. Walter Hill's The Warriors takes place in a stylized New York City that, while much grittier than today's Disneyfied 42nd Street and closer to the darker, more violent NYC of the seventies, is still almost as fantastical as Oz, inhabited as it is by flamboyantly named and costumed gangs, and filmed and acted in a pulpy, action comics style.
The Baseball Furies wear baseball uniforms, KISS-style makeup, and wield baseball bats as weapons. The High Hats look like European mimes, with whiteface, red shirts with black striped sleeves, and, naturally, top hats. The Boppers dress in matching bright purple vests, with zoot suit pants and fedoras. The Gramercy Riffs, the largest, most powerful gang in the city, are disciplined and militaristic, skilled in martial arts, and this all-Black gang is most often seen in Shaolin-style monk's robes, although at the film's end they are in more utilitarian black t shirts and jeans, and wield hockey sticks as weapons. The Warriors themselves wear brown leather vests with their logo on the back, usually shirtless, like the Indians in old Hollywood Westerns. And these are only a handful of the gangs in the film.
All these starkly differentiated gangs lend the film a surreal air, as does the greenish, fluorescent glow of subway car windows, the empty and richly tagged subway cars themselves, and the deserted shots of Coney Island, especially the Wonder Wheel, that bookend the film. Anybody who ever watched Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego as a kid will also feel something surreal in the radio deejay's voice whose commentary follows the plight of the Warriors on their long night's journey to Astroland and the sea: it is Lynne Thigpen, who played the Chief on that great kid's quiz show.
And, let's face it, the Wizard of Oz, which we've examined in other contexts here, is surreal on its own terms (on anybody's terms!), too, whether or not you listen to Pink Floyd while you watch it. Besides the aforementioned, trees, monkeys, scarecrow and witches, you have the Munchkins, who grow babies in flower patches and support such local institutions as the Lollipop Guild and the Lullaby League; you have your Horse of a Different Color; your giant, green, mean-voiced Wizard head; your narcotic poppy field; your good witch who travels via giant soap bubble; and on and on. It's a trip, friends. And a great movie. And let's not forget that the whole thing is practically the very definition of surreal -- it's all a dream come about from a blow to the head. And don't forget the visions in the twister: the woman in the rocking chair, the men rowing the boat, and on and on. The Dadaists wish they'd come up with this stuff. If The Warriors is de Chirico, then Oz is Dali. Only better than Dali, who was a hack, after all.
So from now on, you can think of these two films as your visual turkey and cranberry sauce in November, your pumpkin pie and whipped cream, your mashed potatoes and gravy, your...oh man, I'm getting hungry now.
"A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others." -- The Wizard (Frank Morgan), The Wizard of Oz (1939).
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Thanks to The Freshman News, published by the Student Mentors Program, which lists the MC as a great place to "chill." They must have loved this issue.
The missing link between these two films, of course, is Sidney Lumet's The Wiz, which takes the L. Frank Baum characters and story and makes New York City its Emerald City, with Diana Ross as Dorothy, Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, Lena Horne as Glinda the Good Witch and Richard Pryor as the Wiz himself. This underrated film from 1978 is a treat for Oz lovers and NYC lovers alike.
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This issue of BCLMC is brought to you all the way from the back row by Media Assistant Patrick Jewell. If he only had a brain. Tell your friends.
BCLMC BROOKLYN CAMPUS LIBRARY MEDIA CENTER