Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Trailer on the MOD DVD: Boulevard Nights (1979, Michael Pressman)

Michael Pressman's Boulevard Nights gets lost in the 1979 gang movie shuffle that also includes The Warriors, The Wanderers, Over the Edge, and Walk Proud, but it's an effective and sobering drama which is worthy of reconsideration.  It was initially lambasted by critics and special interest groups in the wake of violence in theaters where it and The Warriors screened.  The film was criticized for being a routine drama that resorted to Mexican-American stereotypes.  In the years since, it's become a cult film in the Latino community, particularly for its portrayal of lowrider culture, and while the narrative is not exactly fresh or all that surprising, the good performances, particularly lead Richard Yniguez, and period, cultural details make it better than it might sound on paper.  The relationship drama between Yniguez, his longtime girlfriend Marta DuBois, and his troubled younger brother Danny De La Paz, is predictable for the most part...the difference is, at least in 1979, we still hadn't seen too many, if any, versions of this story with Latinos in the lead roles.  

I'd have liked to see the filmmakers concentrate more on the relationship of Yniguez and DuBois, but I suspect that the studio and moneymen pushed the gang content and requisite revenge plot. Yniguez plays the part of a former gang member turned hard-working auto mechanic.  His girlfriend works an office job in a white collar environment and wants Yniguez to follow suit, but part of him still wants to be king of the Boulevard, showing off his souped-up wheels and taking part in lowrider car-hopping contests.  His younger brother is constantly in trouble and getting more deeply involved in the neighborhood gang, VGV.  It is a not so thinly veiled Latino variation on Saturday Night Fever, with the Boulevard, of course, taking the place of the 2001 Odyssey, and the car-hopping reminiscent of Manero's dance contests or the mechanical bull at Gilley's.  Yniguez and DuBois play well off each other and are an attractive couple and I was more interested in the possibilities of the drama surrounding their relationship, rather than Yniguez' futile efforts to get his younger brother out of the gang.  

Here's a good interview with Yniguez, who, unfortunately, did not get many opportunities outside of Latino-specific roles.  He can also be seen in the lead role in the 1976 telefilm, The Deadly Tower, also available from the WA.

The above trailer is quite effective, mixing evocative still frames with a propulsive Latin beat courtesy of maestro Lalo Schifrin, and good, dramatic voiceover from a Latin-American-accented v.o. artist. This trailer is available on the DVD-R from Warner Archive, which features a film-like, unrestored 16X9 transfer complete with original Saul Bass red and black WB logo.

The film was lensed by top-notch cinematographer John Bailey, who was fresh off of operating camera on Days of Heaven, and who would move onto a decidedly more upscale end of town with his next film, Paul Schrader's American Gigolo.  Check out Bailey's blog on the ASC website.

The "VGV" graffiti scrawled on this Warriors display in Gigolo is an inside joke seemingly perpetrated by d.p. John Bailey.  It is the graffiti tag of Danny De La Paz's gang in Boulevard Nights.


Her, Suzanne76 said...

thanks for bringing this one to our attn. looks worthwhile, at the very least for John Bailey's work. i want to see this!

Ned Merrill said...

thanks, yes, it's certainly worthwhile. i'm sure the angelenos will have a field day with location spotting.