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UNDER THE RADAR – Streets Of Fire and Manhunter

August 1, 2012

Little film gems which escaped wide attention and perhaps yours too.

by greg moss

Under The Radar is a semi-regular post in which I bring to light little-seen films, which got lost in the crowd due to lousy distribution or were misunderstood at the time of their release, but which deserve to be seen for one reason or another.

First up …


Directed by Walter Hill (The WarriorsSouthern Comfort, 48 hrs). Screenplay by Hill and Larry Gross (48 hrs). It stars Michael Pare, Diane Lane, Willem Dafoe, Amy Madigan and Rick Moranis.

Rock diva Ellen Aim is kidnapped by outlaw motorcycle gang The Bombers and it is up to Ellen’s former flame and soldier of fortune Tom Cody to come rescue her.

Why it’s worth seeing:

A stylish neon-lit urban western, Streets Of Fire is Walter Hill’s attempt to make a film for young people.

As Hill himself states in the soundtrack album liner notes …

Streets Of Fire, is, by design, comic book in orientation, mock-epic in structure, movie-heroic in acting style, operatic in visual style and cowboy-cliche in dialogue. I tried to make what I would have thought was a perfect movie when I was in my teens – I put in all the things I thought were great then and which I still have great affection for, custom cars, kissing in the rain, neon, trains in the night, high-speed pursuit, rumbles, rock stars, motorcycles, jokes in tough situations, leather jackets and questions of honor.”

Hill’s intention is admirable and his explanation goes a long way in explaining why the film failed to find an audience with young people in the mid 1980’s.

Perhaps he misjudged what appealed to his target audience in the decade of ‘Me’.

Despite being billed as a ‘Rock & Roll Fable’, the film is by no means a ‘musical’ in the traditional sense (ie: characters bursting into song mid-sentence) and this is a misconception which needs to be addressed. Yes, music is intrinsic to the piece (with a score by Ry Cooder and songs by Jim Steinman), but it is merely the glue which binds it all together. The film was unfairly judged at the time, as being nothing more than an extended music video (much like the accusations levelled at Russell Mulcahy’s Razorback – also produced in 1984).

But, as the intervening years have shown, the highly-stylized MTV editing (which cuts TO the music) is derigeuer twenty years later – which ironically (despite the 80’s hairdo’s) gives the film a familiar contemporary feel.

I know Streets Of Fire will divide a lot of people, but it is a fascinating curio well worth a look.

Next up …


Directed by Michael Mann. Screenplay by Mann, based on the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Starring William Petersen, Tom Noonan, Stephen Lang, Joan Allen and Brian Cox.

FBI agent Will Graham must consult with his dreaded foe Hannibal Lektor in order to capture a serial killer known as The Tooth Fairy, risking his sanity in the process.

Why it’s worth seeing:

A stylish thriller from Michael Mann, which is now recognised as being far superior to its (overrated) oscar-winning stablemate Silence Of The Lambs, and indeed the Brett Ratner remake Red Dragon – not to mention the abominable Ridley Scott gross-out Hannibal (don’t get me started on that mean-spirited awful piece of shite).

Manhunter has much to admire.

For starters, it is a beautiful-looking film, thanks to Dante Spinotti’s widescreen cinematography and Mel Bourne’s sparse, clean-edged production design.

It has a look all its own.

And, as with all of Michael Mann’s features and indeed his TV series Miami Vice – his choice of music is a major part of its appeal. Here he employs three existing songs by UK primal funk outfit Shriekback for key scenes to great effect – Evaporation for Petersen’s stake-out of the murdered family’s home in the woods, This Big Hush for the love scene between Dollarhide and his blind lover (Joan Allen) and Coelocanth for the tiger-stroking scene at the zoo. Iron Butterfly’s classic rock track In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida also makes a surprise appearance during the final confrontation between Petersen and Tom Noonan’s killer.

Speaking of Tom Noonan, he is mesmerizing as Dollarhide. Both terrifying and sympathetic, it is difficult not to feel conflicted when his heart is broken.

And despite the grisly subject-matter, this film is refreshingly devoid of overt violence and gore, instead relying on atmosphere to create tension.

Highly recommended.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes right-brained people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.

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