New York in 1979 was very different to the New York of today. That much is clear from both the movie The Warriors, which was shot entirely on location in the city “ a gritty, unnerving, graffiti covered city “ from dusk till dawn. It’s also clear from the furore that surrounded the film on its release. It was linked to outbreaks of violence and vandalism. Cinemas were released from their contractual obligations to screen it and the studio offered to pay for extra security and damages due to vandalism. Today, the violence depicted in the film doesn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary, and the gangs depicted are so stylised as to feel more ludicrous than threatening, but at the time it clearly tapped into widely held fears about teenage lawlessness and violence.
Based on a novel by Sol Yurick, The Warriors follows the titular gang from Coney Island who, along with members of other gangs across New York, gather in Van Cortland park in the north Bronx, to hear from Cyrus, the leader of one of New York’s biggest gangs, called the Gramercy Riffs.
Cyrus has a big announcement and the gangs agree a citywide truce and promise to go unarmed to hear what he has to say. What he has to say is a plan to unite all gangs and take over the city through sheer weight of numbers “ but at that moment, two things happen; Cyrus is shot through the heart, and the police show up in force. In the ensuing panic, word gets round that the Warriors were responsible for Cyrus’s death. Lost deep in what has become enemy territory, the Warriors must find their way back to Coney Island, avoiding the gangs and the cops along the way.
It’s a simple premise that’s pulled off with a huge amount of visual flair. The stylised gangs are quite something in their various uniforms, whether it’s the Baseball furies with their New York Yankees kits and facepaints, the Boppers in their purple disco gear or the skinheaded Turnbull ACs hanging from their graffiti covered van wielding chains and planks. Another iconic feature is the smooth voiced radio DJ of whom we only see lips and chin, who passes out instructions to waste the Warriors.
The fight scenes too are truly visceral “ the cast were put through stunt school to ensure the realism of these scenes which are integral to director Walter Hill’s vision of an extreme narrative of great simplicity and stripped-down quality of the script. Indeed, the dialogue too is very stylised, almost to the point of banality. There is little character development or emotional engagement and the characters say almost nothing interesting, but in a way, this only adds to the nihilistic feeling of the movie – the characters have no greater purpose than to get home to Coney Island. And watching them try to get there is quite something. While it’s odd to watch a movie with no character to act as its moral centre, it remains compelling throughout “ so much so that The Warriors has attained cult status and is fondly remembered in way that couldn’t have been expected in its first few weeks of release, when posters and adverts for the movie were being pulled throughout America.