***½/**** Image A Sound B Extras C
starring Michael Beck, James Remar, David Patrick Kelly, Deborah Van Valkenburgh
screenplay by David Shaber and Walter Hill, based on the novel by Sol Yurick
directed by Walter Hill
A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS
**½/**** Image A Sound A Extras B+
starring Robert Downey Jr., Shia LaBeouf, Chazz Palminteri, Rosario Dawson
written and directed by Dito Montiel
by Walter Chaw Walter Hill's The Warriors adapts a Sol Yurick novel which was, in turn, inspired by Greek soldier Xenophon's Anabasis, the account of a mercenary army stranded in the heart of Mesopotamia circa 400 B.C. that fought its way north to the coast of the Black Sea and then to safety. Accordingly, The Warriors is about the titular New York street gang--based in Coney Island, naturally--fighting its way through enemy territory from The Bronx back to the coast. That they've ventured so far from home has to do with a giant gathering of the city's gangs to a rally/riot called by charismatic kingpin Cyrus (Roger Hill) in the hope of uniting the Big Apple's diverse miscreants under a common flag. Shades of Abbie Hoffman's Chicago Democratic Convention Yippie movement if you squint hard enough, but closer to the truth to locate the shard of revolution eternally sharpened against the promise that if all the minorities were to rise up collectively, they'd be the majority. Luckily for the majority, much of the minority is what it is because of its total inability to stand behind a common cause. Sure enough, once Cyrus is assassinated and the Warriors blamed, our heroes face a midnight odyssey through badlands patrolled by harlequin-painted baseball goons, Amazon/succubi, and overalls-wearing neo-hillbillies.
But in the hands of Walter Hill, The Warriors has become something like a minor classic of unity amongst the disassociated, not to mention a decent summary of the disarray of the Seventies paving the way for the Dante-esque reign of Reagan. Yeah, it's really good. The various elements of the epic are in place: the call to the hero, the call to arms, communion with the dead, the journey into the underworld, the Herculean tasks, the temptress, the mentor--all of it applied with a rough grace, gesso-thick, to a comic-book canvas. Note, in particular, James Remar's performance as the gang's enforcer, who's undone by his libido in the second major sacrifice the crew makes to the night--and understand The Warriors as a cautionary tale for young men entering the jungle: a Little Red Riding Hood where the wolves are succubae and the woodsmen are already dead. It's possible that Hill's appeal lies in his fatalism about the limits of masculinity: there is truth in the picture's beauty but by no means the finality of femininity embodied in Keats's urn. Excalibur is looking for the Grail; the Grail isn't looking for shit. The Warriors is mesmerizing pulp--just as it was before Hill went back and did stuff to it. (More on that below.) I can't think of a better inauguration into the macho wonderland of '80s cinema than this 1979 film. In a lot of ways, it is to that decade what Bonnie & Clyde was to the '70s.
Dito Montiel's A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (hereafter Guide) is exhibit A in the case against neophytes attempting the same kind of blood-red braggadocio. Unlike Hill, who's made a career out of examining male relationships and their place in the formation and evolution, such as it is, of society (suddenly, Hill is something like the quintessential director for the post-apocalyptic new millennium in American pictures; do Miami Vice or the Bourne flicks or even science-fiction laments like Sunshine or The Fountain find rhetorical counterpoint in their fully-furnished bleakness without Hill?), Montiel is all earnest overcompensation, molding wordy Bukowski out of his personal disasters. That being said, there are moments of real grace in Guide, chief examples a scene with a mentally-defective brother and an elevated train as well as a reunion between the Prodigal and his ailing, bellicose father. Indeed, it's hard to determine why there isn't more time spent with the crux of these moments: Channing Tatum as Dito's unbalanced childhood pal Antonio and Robert Downey Jr. as the adult Dito.
The problem with the film has a lot to do with its lack of balance--its inability to separate the tang of what's meaningful to nostalgia from the piquancy of what could be true in the story. You know what I really love? I love the scenes with young people in the middle of a hot New York summer, talking to one another like panthers circling. It's a short trip to Guide becoming a shot of religion like Coppola's The Outsiders (a film to which it bears a lot more resemblance than it does to the oft-cited Mean Streets): a blue trip down a melancholy byway. Not so good are those times when it puffs up its chest like its teen outcast toughs and starts acting like the movies it wants to be instead of contenting itself with the movie that it is. Guide is beautifully-shot and well-acted (sometimes extraordinarily acted (Tatum, Downey Jr.)) and it sports a lovely if obvious period soundtrack--yet there's a bluster to it that undoes its gorgeous discomfort. A more mature filmmaker makes a better film--though I don't know if a different filmmaker captures the moments of devastated human splendour Montiel captures here.
Paramount presents the "Ultimate Director's Cut" of The Warriors on DVD in a lush, gorgeous 1.80:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that finds New York at night drenched in primary colours and wet. The freshly-animated transitions, aping the pages of a comic book, are a redundant gesture given the luridness of Andrew Laszlo's cinematography. The DD 5.1 audio is meanwhile a little muted at some points, a little artificially pumped-up at others. It's not a terrible remix in the long run, and a lot of slack is cut for what I suspect to be a lo-fi master--but I wanted more depth. Sporting rare and ubiquitous participation in essaying the better-known production stories from the media-shy Hill, a four-part, 62-minute Laurent Bouzereau documentary graces the disc. I loved hearing about Remar's audition (in the heat of it, he handcuffed himself to a boardroom table); also interesting are the anecdotal tales of the picture inspiring real street gangs to rumble. Everything you need to know, however, is encapsulated in Hill's brief video introduction to the film itself, wherein he says the inserted comic-book panels best represent his original vision. I still wish he hadn't bothered, but it's no George Lucas boondoggle: The Warriors is The Warriors, neither more nor less so with the additions. A trailer and a slipcover cap the presentation.
As for Guide, the flat-remarkable cinematography of Eric Gautier (Rois et reine) is treated to a 1.78:1, 16x9-enhanced transfer that's lush and dirty. It looks like a Christopher Doyle-shot piece in a lot of places--the floating POV, the seedy decay of its place--and the colours are appropriately washed-out. The accompanying DD 5.1 audio is clear and booming with logical separation; a great A/V presentation all around. The requisite commentary track sees Montiel and editor Jake Pushinsky offering a heartfelt dialogue that gets irritating in the way that people without much distance from a project get irritating. The worst is in the first fifteen minutes or so, as Montiel comes off as defensive and angry, threatening Richard Roeper for being stupid (which is not a bad thing--nor a rare thing, I imagine) and admitting that he gets mad when people laugh in the wrong places and don't laugh in the wrong places. Girded for the worst, Montiel evens out and manages for the rest of it to say interesting things--revealing in the process that one of my favourite scenes evolved out of the commitment of the actors, thus building my admiration for Tatum to Icarian heights. Onward: the textbook "Shooting Saints: The Making Of..." (21 mins.) intercuts a self-deprecating Montiel with the usual talking-head recollections from cast and crew. Downey Jr.'s involvement is credited with the film's existence, of course; less interesting than that, though, is the producer's comparison of Montiel's brain with that of Downey Jr. I'm not saying she's wrong, I'm saying it's an irritating observation.
One alternate opening and four alternate endings (13 mins.) continue the bonus materials. The opening has the voices of real Antonio and real Dito talking to each other about olden times, while the alternate endings range from making the "present-day" thread of the film an official framing story instead of a suspected one to a reunion with Antonio as he's played by Eric Roberts. What the fuck happened to Eric Roberts, by the way? Not what's he doing, but what happened to him? I mean, how hard can you hit someone with the crazy stick without killing him? (See also: Gary Busey.) These elisions feature optional Montiel commentary (not bad commentary as it goes), as do the eleven deleted scenes (19 mins.), which are mostly just sepia-tinted vignettes with more trains passing by in the background. When Dito says, "It drives you nuts at the time, but then you miss it," you begin to understand a lot of the street poetry that's made him something of an underground neo-Beat sensation. The scenes look finished--as in, quite good from a technical standpoint. A primordial version of the "Rooftop Scene" (6 mins.) performed by Montiel himself at the Sundance Lab is included along with three trailers for the film and a 2-minute interview with the real Monty (Montiel's father), a portion of which is played after the end credits of the movie proper. It's heartbreaking. An audition for one of the young girl roles (2 mins.) plus trailers for Journey to the End of the Night, Wilderness, A Little Trip to Heaven, and The Proposition round out the platter, distributed by First Look in the States and Maple in Canada.
- The Warriors
93 minutes; R; 1.80:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French DD 2.0 (Mono); CC; English, French subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Paramount
- A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
98 minutes; R; 1.78:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1; CC; Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; First Look/Maple