The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979)
By Alexandra Edwards
I’ve been thinking a lot about New York lately — specifically, Times Square in the late 70s and early 80s. It was a different time. What was once a booming theatre district in the early part of the century had fallen on hard times following the Great Depression. The theatres remained, though they began running more scandalous fare in an effort to attract viewers and stay in business. By the 1970s, Times Square was a den of pornography, with sex shops and go-go bars lining the block, prostitutes and drug dealers on every corner. What is now a scrubbed-clean tourist trap and advertisers’ paradise was once a no man’s land featuring every dark desire humans can imagine.
I couldn’t tell you why it’s been on my mind lately, but I see the Times Square panic everywhere these days: Iris Owens’ stunning book After Claude and Margaret Atwood’s classic The Handmaid’s Tale; Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Tim Burton’s Batman; Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel Watchmen; and, of course, our March film, The Warriors.
“By 1975, many people considered Times Square to be the epitome of urban and moral decay,” says a brief history of the area. Just four years later, Walter Hill would direct a film that gets directly at that urban and moral decay, by creating a dystopian picture of a near-apocalyptic fantasy New York, controlled by gangs and ravaged by street violence. Based on Sol Yurick’s 1965 book of the same name, but updated to reflect cultural shifts from the intervening 14 years, The Warriors is something like fear distilled. It is our world, and yet not our world at the same time.
It’s a worst-case scenario. It’s also a cult classic of epic proportions, drawing on Greek military history and an intimate knowledge of NYC geography and cultural cool.
Such a classic cannot be approached lightly. There’s a lot of ground to cover with The Warriors, from its source material to its enduring appeal, video game and comic book adaptations, historical reality and apocalyptic extrapolation, production difficulties and rival films, not to mention all of its memorable characters and their gangs.
References to the movie itself have been popping up recently as well — my personal favorite was the well-known Community shout-out in the show’s first season. Clearly, it’s time to reexamine this film and its cult popularity.
We hope you’ll join us for this month of writing and art about The Warriors. As always, we welcome your submissions!