Tonight is what it means to be young

Pub date June 7, 2006
SectionArts & CultureSectionTrash

TEEN FLICKS In the late ’70s and early ’80s a funny thing happened at the movies: Suddenly aware of a whole pocket-moneyed demographic betwixt Disney and the R rating, major studios began targeting a median audience, aged 15. (Ultimately they’d even get their very own designation, PG-13.) An explosion of post-Meatballs teen comedies soon replaced sex farce fucking and wanking with peeping and pranking. Even "nicer" films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the John HughesMolly Ringwald trilogy viewed adolescence as a self-contained world, not the way station to adulthood American Graffiti proposed just a few years earlier.

With the anthemic whining of Pink Floyd’s The Wall as personal soundtrack, kids who’d missed the big party of the ’60s grasped rebellion as attitude, sans social consciousness. Jonathan Kaplan’s Over the Edge (1979) and Adrian Lyne’s Foxes (1980) were fairly realistic portraits of aimless teenage escape from broken institutions (family, school). Exploring the same themes but leaving realism behind, the movies in Jesse Ficks’s Midnites for Maniacs’ "Latch-Key Kids Quadruple Feature" offer archetypal youth-persecution scenarios gone baroque via pop-fantasy tropes and bottomless (if depthless) directorial extravagance. To a generation just learning to want its MTV, albeit with a vengeance, such edgy glamour felt all the more "real" for being surreal.

Following his prior S.E. Hinton adaptation, The Outsiders, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 Rumble Fish replaced saturated-color swoon with a B&W faux-beatnik poesy derived equally from American International Pictures, Maya Deren, and Dal??. Its mannerisms are too indulgent to defend, too dazzling to deny what other movie could stockpile so many desperate debtors to James Dean (Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Dennis Hopper, Tom Waits, Nicolas Cage) and get away with it?

But Rumble Fish is acoustic haiku compared to the florid power balladry of director Walter Hill’s two most delirious action comix. Discarded by Paramount as an exploitation movie and belatedly acclaimed by critics, 1979’s gang warfare phantasmagoria The Warriors was so flagrantly exciting Bic-waving 60-year-old Pauline Kael called it "visual rock" that actual gang fights broke out in theaters, causing at least one death and much moral outrage. Its titular protagonists (derived, by way of a 1965 novel, from ancient Greek military history!) are scrappy underdogs fighting through rival gang turfs across a hallucinatory NYC. KISS ArmymeetsMarvel Comics pillow hump? Blood-churning metaphor for life itself? Whatever: The Warriors remains trash-treasure gold.

Hill went even more nuts with "rock & roll fable" Streets of Fire, a neon-hued rainbow of ’50s juvenile delinquent nostalgia, new wave futurism, and pure 1983 mainstream cheese. Note the Pat Benatar postures struck by music superstar Ellen Aim (Diane Lane, in her bad "bad girl" period) before she’s abducted by freakazoid fan/rapist Willem Dafoe, necessitating rescue by laconic ex Michael Pare. "It’s so much better going nowhere fast," she wails in the quintessentially flamboyant opening set piece. Exactly! Streets of Fire is a stupid, gorgeous, guilty pleasure.

Simple guilt motivates the evening’s opening anomaly. Cipher in the Snow is a somber 21-minute lesson produced in 1973 by Brigham Young University in which a teenage boy exits a school bus to enigmatically expire in the wintry drifts. Why? As various authorities puzzle out later, nobody bothered to love him. Shown even in non-Mormon classrooms for several years, Cipher left a lasting impression on many because it explicitly amplified what many 15-year-olds think: No one cares about me, but if I just died, they’d be soooo sorry. (Dennis Harvey)


Cypher in the Snow, 7 p.m.; Rumble Fish, 7:45 p.m.; The Warriors, 9:45 p.m.; Streets of Fire, 11:59 p.m.


Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120