Can you count, suckers? I say, the future is ours… if you can count!
I recently wrote about urban environments in RPGs. One of the films I mentioned is an all-time favorite of mine, The Warriors. In brief, the film follows one momentous night for nine members of a fictional New York City street gang, the Warriors. They travel from their turf in Coney Island to a gang conclave in the Bronx that has been called by Cyrus of the Riffs, the most powerful gang in the city. He proposes an alliance of all the gangs – but is assassinated by Luther, leader of the Rogues. However, Luther quickly pins the blame on the Warriors who must make their way back to Coney Island, hunted by both the police and all the other gangs in the city (the latter, they weren’t even aware of, their primary concern being if the truce for the conclave is off).
I was way too young for it when it came out in 1979, but I caught it on tv in the mid-1980s. I loved it – it seemed to have been made for me. Though I hadn’t been a New Yorker for several years by that point, I still had family there and often visited and loved the city. The Warriors turf of Coney Island was only a few stations away from my grandparents’ house on the Brighton Line. Speaking of the Brighton Line, as long as I could remember, I’d loved the New York City subways – they might be grimy, leaking water, brutally hot in the summer, and full of interesting life, both human and animal, but the rolling stock and sheer size and complexity of the tracks and routes greatly appealed to me. As a little kid, I made my own maps of the subway system, focused less on what trains went where (which is what one would normally want on a map) but rather the layout of the tracks and platforms. I bring this odd history up as much of the movie takes place in the subway – on trains, platforms, tracks, and tunnels. There was even a major brawl taking place in the men’s restroom of one subway station. By this time, I was into RPGs, and the fact that the novel the film was based on was, in turn, based on Xenophon’s Anabasis probably helped as well.
There are two editions of this movie available – the original and the director’s edition. I prefer the original – the director’s edition added things like comic book transitions, which I feel detract from the film.
The film takes place almost exclusively at night. We are introduced first to the Warriors as they make their initial trip from Coney Island to the Bronx. They are a group of colorful personalities (and interestingly, multiracial), frequently using homophobia to showcase their toughness – despite one of the Warriors, Rembrandt, definitely giving the impression of being homosexual (something the director later confirmed was indeed his intent). They have a wide variety of personalities – Rembrandt is the youngest, somewhat innocent, and very quiet. Swan is their second in command and probably the most well-rounded of the group. Ajax is constantly challenging authority. Swan is put in command early in the film when their leader, Cleon, is lost early on, his fate not explicitly shown (though likely not being served milk and cookies by either the police or the Riffs). A total of nine delegates make the trip to the Bronx, but not all of them make it back to Coney Island.
The journey is one that’s fraught with danger and is taken through the dark of night. It takes place on city streets, parks, subway trains, streets under elevated trains, subway platforms, and even subway tunnels. They face a variety of dangers, false promises of shelter, rival gangs, and police. The other gangs are extremely colorful and over the top – perhaps the most memorable is the Baseball Furies, mimes who wear baseball uniforms and fight with bats. The Warriors are split up in their journey, with the survivors finally making it to Coney Island as the sun rises, where they need to resolve the dispute between them and the Riffs that the Rogues had created.
I don’t think you could classify The Warriors as a cinematic masterpiece (horror of horrors, some dare classify it as cheesy), but I always walk away from it with a smile on my face. It is a great example of a perilous journey, memorable factions of a subculture hidden from most people, and great use of the environment to enhance the mood. Check it out if you can.
~ Daniel Stack
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