Home Video Hovel: Streets of Fire, by David Bax
There’s a shot in the Buster Keaton short “Cops” in which Keaton, standing in the middle of the street, grabs hold of a passing car, the sudden velocity causing his body to go nearly horizontal as he’s speeded out of frame. I imagine the sensation he experience in that moment is not unlike the feeling of watching Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire, which blasts onto the screen with a surge of energy–all quick shots, loud music, loud costumes and bright lights–and then never lets up.
That opening sequence serves, among other purposes, to introduce us to the Richmond, a neighborhood of an unnamed but very Chicagoish city. The Richmond is full of good people who just wanna have a good time and rock out (Streets of Fire‘s opening titles let you know you’re watching “A Rock & Roll Fable”). Tonight, their music of choice comes courtesy of Ellen Aim, a local girl turned star who’s come back home to perform a benefit concert. Only one song in, though, the theater is stormed by a biker gang called The Bombers and Ellen is kidnapped by their leader, Raven (Willem Dafoe). The next day, Ellen’s ex-boyfriend, prototypical tough guy Tom Cody (Michael Pare), returns from the military. Almost immediately, he’s hired by Ellen’s current boyfriend/manager, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis) to go into The Bombers’ hangout and get her back. Forcing Billy to come along and enlisting the help of another ex-soldier, McCoy (Amy Madigan), they set out across the city and spark an archetypal showdown between Tom and Raven.
Streets of Fire soaks in its blaring, idiosyncratic style. It takes place in a retrofuturist alternate dimension where 50s greaser and rockabilly culture never stopped, only metastasized. The cops drive Studebakers, the bad guys carry switchblades, everybody’s got slicked-back hair and everything’s awash in neon, as if you’re cruising a boulevard that never ends. At one point, someone even uses the term “juvenile delinquent.” Hill’s not content to stop at one aesthetic choice, though, also layering on leather, bondage and au courant video footage, all of it painted with a coat of fast-talking, hard-boiled dialogue.
It all works, somehow, probably because of the sustained, seamless, heightened tone. In that sense, Streets of Fire has a lot in common with yet another genre, the musical. Each scene has a centerpiece production. Some of them are actual musical numbers and some of them are, you know, sledgehammer fights.
Shout’s transfer comes from a 2K scan of an interpositive. It’s consistent in terms of grain and density and it’s especially commendable in terms of color timing. It’s not clear how much dirt removal or other cleanup was done but there are a fair number of scratches and artifacts that remain. The audio (available in both stereo and 5.1) is terrific; it’s loud, dynamic and visceral, just like the movie.
Special features—an entire second disc of them!—include a new, feature-length making-of, another feature-length look back, a handful of featurettes on everything from costumes to extras choreography, some music videos and more. This is a hell of a package.