Friday, March 12, 2010

"That's our train. We gotta make it!"

One of the first things I recall about Pauline Kael's rave review of The Warriors, which may have been the first Kael piece I ever read, was her allusion to the then-recent Saturday Night Fever at the start of the article. I don't have a copy and it's not available online so far as I can tell, but the gist of Kael's review was that the working class young protagonists of Saturday Night Fever seemed quite rough-edged and downtrodden at the time of its release in 1977, but that The Warriors was eye-opening because its characters were even lower on the socioeconomic scale.

Watching Saturday Night Fever again for the first time in several years, I most enjoyed the invaluable mid-'70s Brooklyn footage contained throughout the film. Here's a New York movie that mostly stays out of Manhattan, although it does have several iconic shots of the lower Manhattan skyline, and shows audiences a part of the city rarely depicted on film. This focus on the outer boroughs is one of the things I also love about The Warriors, which confuses things somewhat by substituting Brooklyn and Manhattan locations in some scenes that are supposed to take place in the Bronx.

Two of my favorite moments from Saturday Night Fever and The Warriors are the long subway journeys that come near the end of each film. In each film, the subway serves as a venue for the characters to rest after a long, arduous evening and also reflect upon what came before.

I'm sure it was coincidental, but I was struck by the visual similarities between John Travolta's Tony and the surviving Warriors on the graffiti-filled subway, from their weary expressions to the eye bruises that Travolta and Michael Beck's Swan share.

Check out Jeremy's tribute to the opening credits of Saturday Night Fever at Moon in the Gutter, which inspired me to pull out my DVD.


Rupert Pupkin said...

Very cool!looks like it could be the same train car(not quite but close)!

Ned Merrill said...

Well, I'll tell you one thing--they don't look like that anymore!

J.D. said...

Wow, what a fascinating comparison! I never thought of that before but it makes perfect sense now that you mention it. I always felt that SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER would've made a great double bill with MEAN STREETS:

Ned Merrill said...

Thanks, J.D. SNF and MEAN STREETS...forgive my bad pun, but that is a "mean" double bill!

I had a great interview with Ralph Bakshi in an issue of Fantastic Films, lost in my aforementioned apartment flood, where Bakshi and the interviewer discussed the similarities between MEAN STREETS and HEAVY TRAFFIC. They may have even mentioned putting them on a double bill. IIRC, Bakshi and Scorsese shared a mutual attraction for each other's films and Bakshi talked about how Scorsese had expressed his admiration for HEAVY TRAFFIC. I wish I still had the damn magazine so that I wasn't paraphrasing here!

HEAVY TRAFFIC came out a couple months before MEAN STREETS and both traffic in Italian-American / Little Italy culture--the main characters both have conflicting thoughts about their ethnic identity, sexuality, religion while being surrounded by an oddball, eclectic mix of friends / acquaintances, much like SNF for that matter.

MEAN STREETS co-stars Richard Romanus and David Proval would later star in Bakshi's HEY GOOD LOOKIN', which mined similar territory as MEAN STREETS and HEAVY TRAFFIC.

J.D. said...

Very cool. I hadn't thought of a MEAN STREETS and HEAVY TRAFFIC connection but yeah, it makes perfect sense! That is also pretty amazing that Scorsese is Bakshi fan - they certainly share a fascination with similar themes.