By Bruce Hall
January 26, 2010
There are many reasons that certain films achieve what we call "cult" status, but one of them is that they tend to deliver their message in subversive or controversial ways that don't appeal to everyone. While it's true that most people do not like to work for their entertainment, is it possible that even the most unusual films can have something to offer everyone? When I was in college, a group of friends and I would meet regularly to ponder this very question. Beginning with Erik the Viking, we gathered once a week to watch and discuss a different cult classic, but we decided to keep the Viking theme. Now, I'll be working without a turkey leg or a goblet of mead, but with each installment of Viking Night I still seek to examine the same question: Can a film with such limited appeal still speak to us all?
Anybody who knows me knows that I can't stand musicals. I don't like musical theatre, I don't like musical films, and I've never been a big fan of Opera. It isn't that I can't appreciate these things as expressive forms of art; it's just that when it comes to visual entertainment, I'd prefer you either sing me a song or tell me a story – but not both. I do think it is important we learn to appreciate forms of expression that don't necessarily appeal to us, because elements of these things just might appear from time to time in things that we do enjoy. In real life no, people do not break into song in the middle of conversation in order to express themselves. At least, nobody I know does. But the point of a musical is for the song, dance, dialogue and visual to convey a unified and visceral message to the audience. In other words, it's allegorical - an associative storytelling technique that is not meant to be taken literally.
Allegory is probably the oldest and most effective storytelling device that there is, and it requires that you not let the surface presentation obscure the underlying intent of the material. For example, I can appreciate Chicago as a good film despite the fact that I don't enjoy the singing. It's an amusing story about the seductive nature of fame, and how a lie can become the truth if you present it in an appealing way. Sure, I get it. My point – in case you're wondering – is to prove to you that I am capable of overcoming aesthetic prejudice, because I am about to ask you to do the same. Suspension of disbelief is necessary for almost any film, but in the case of one that is entirely symbolic from beginning to end it is a must. Thus begins my case for The Warriors, a little known 1979 movie with a stylistic presence decades ahead of its time. Based on a clever mix of influences ranging from comic books, mythology and contemporary pop culture, The Warriors proves the old maxim that what's old is new again and what seems new is often based on something very, very old.