As New York was brought to its knees in the late Seventies, I sat in a cinema in another port city as it also sank to its knees and watched at least four movies in which the Big Apple was the big star: Taxi Driver, Manhattan, Saturday Night Fever and The Warriors. Martin Scorsese shot NYC as a prison; Woody Allen as a lover; John Badham as a playground; but Walter Hill managed to shoot it as all three in an intoxicating collage of squares, rectangles and parallelograms, edges, corners and points brought alive by the sparkling wet tarmac and subway train lights. As the plotting fades into ancient history – no mobiles, no hip-hop, no crack – the city seems more real than ever, a city that would be hard to love, but just as hard to leave.
And there’s plenty more to enjoy, from the parody of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech that uber-leader Cyrus delivers to the outrageously uniformed gangs of New York, to the silent scene when Swan, having told tarty Mercy that he was better than her, silently stops her from tidying her hair when sat opposite proto-Yuppies, all ball gowns and cummerbunds. There’s very little acting required throughout – the visuals are sufficient to tell the story of betrayal, quest to return home and redemption – but David Patrick Kelly, with his speed-addled, psychotic stare balances cowardly cunning and camp crowing perfectly.
Over the years since I tore tickets for the punters at the Classic Crosby, the film has gained a cult following and no wonder – half the WWE schtick is lifted from the film. But this is no John Waterseque trash aesthetic paraded for our knowing amusement, but a genuinely brilliant series of images of a city in trouble, but a city blessed with industrial beauty, an engineering imperative that resoundingly trumped design theory and a shining, shining, shining in the dark.