Posts Tagged ‘blue shadows’

Streets_of_fireThere’s much more to Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire than meets the eye. Too bad most people didn’t get it back in 1984.

Streets of Fire utilizes a plot that’s been stolen by nearly every 80s arcade game: An evil gang kidnaps a beautiful girl and it’s up to her tough (ex) boyfriend to rescue her and defeat the bad guys. Described as a “rock n’ roll fable,” the film is set in a strange world that incorporates elements of the 1950s and the 1980s.

Streets of Fire Directed by Walter Hill

Walter Hill made a name for himself with hits The Warriors (1979), The Long Riders (1980), and Southern Comfort (1981). This proved him a worthy successor to his idol, Sam Peckinpah. Like Peckinpah, Hill’s films featured tough guys who let their fists – and bats, bullets, and other weapons – do the talking. Streets of Fire was no exception, but its high-concept setting and Wagnerian rock-opera meets rockabilly soundtrack proved to be too high concept for the era.

Walter Hill’s Characteristic Subtext

On its surface, Streets of Fire is action-packed battle of good vs. evil. But nothing about Streets of Fire – or any Walter Hill film – can be considered basic. Streets of Fire tells a deeper, more complex story of a man’s battle with his own inner demons. More to the point, it’s the story of the protagonist’s battle with his “shadow self,” which is personified and brought to life by the film’s antagonist.

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung identified the concept of “the shadow” or “shadow aspect.”In layman’s terms, Jung’s shadow represents all the negative qualities and traits about ourselves that we do not like, such as greed, cowardice, anger, fear, etc. Most people cannot admit to having this traits. Jung’s theory states that the more we ignore or deny our shadows, the darker, denser, and stronger they become.

So, to sum up my theory about Streets of Fire, the film’s hero and villain are actually the same person. And the battle between these two forces is merely symbolic of the battle that the hero is having with himself over whether to stay with the woman he loves or let her go.

Hero and Villain are One in the Same

The hero and villain in Streets of Fire are Tom Cody (Michael Pare) and Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe), respectively. Hill provides enough clues throughout the film to suggest that Raven symbolizes Tom’s shadow self. Some of the more obvious though well-hidden hints include:

  • The villain’s last name is “Shaddock,” which is very close to the word “shadow.” His first name, Raven, is a black bird that’s associated with darkness and death in many cultures.
  • Raven Shaddock and his gang kidnap Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) at a rock concert. Tom Cody and his gang rescue Ellen at a bar where a rock n’ roll band is playing. Note: This is one of many examples of “mirroring” between the two characters.
  • Raven Shaddock is seen wearing a patent-leather abattoir suit, aka his “leather waders.” These look very similar to Tom Cody’s pants-and-suspenders.
  • Raven keeps Ellen tied to a bed. Tom cuts the ropes that bind her. Later, Ellen asks him why he left her and he says he didn’t want to keep her from her music career. In other words, Tom doesn’t want to “tie her down.” (Another good example of conflicting desires within the same person.)

Music Conveys “Shadow” Motif

During the rescue scene, 80s rockabilly pioneers The Blasters play two songs that spell out what’s really going on in Streets of Fire. The first is “One Bad Stud,” which describes a tough, dangerous man moving into the singer’s neighborhood and stealing his woman. If you think about it, this applies as equally to Raven as it does to Tom, making each man the “stud” and the jilted former lover.

If “One Bad Stud” weren’t enough, The Blasters have another song during the big rescue scene. This one is called “Blue Shadows.” This is Walter Hill’s rather direct way of calling attention to the film’s powerful, psychological subtext.

The Final Battle Personifies Tom’s Inner Battle

The film’s final battle between Tom Cody and Raven Shaddock is a cinematic masterpiece. Both men fight each other using chrome-plated railroad spike-drivers, making each one equal as they head into the fight. To emphasize the shadow vs. light motif, Raven is dressed in a black leather pants and shirt combo while Tom wears a white Henley. Tom eventually defeats Raven, stopping short of delivering a final blow that would have likely killed the man. Tom can’t kill himself, after all!

Note: The concept of two men fighting each other on euqal terms to symbolize man’s inner struggle with himself is a Walter Hill trademark. Consider these other Hill-directed films as examples:

  • The Warriors: Many of the gang members strongly resemble each other. Further, in the scene where Swan fights the Baseball Furies, he clutches his fists together and strikes his enemy, which symbolizes swinging a baseball bat, the chosen weapon of his foe.
  • The Long Riders: Cole Younger (David Carradine) and Sam Starr (James Remar) fight each other in a bizarre knife duel in which both men stay connected via a long sash they hold in their teeth.
  • Bullet to the Head: In an homage to Streets of Fire, the hero and the villain – both professional hitmen – fight each other with matching fireman’s axes. Much like the duel in The Long Riders, this battle symbolizes a wise, older warrior (Sylvester Stallone) doing battle with his younger, impetuous self (Jason Momoa).

To Sum Up Streets of Fire…

On the surface, it’s a classic tale of good vs. evil in a highly-stylized world. Symbolically, it’s one man’s battle with his shadow self over whether he should stay with the woman he loves or let her go. And the stylized world where this battle takes place is actually his mind.

It’s a Shame More People Didn’t “Get It”

Hill envisioned Streets of Fire as the first part of a trilogy. The sequels were tentatively to be called The Far City and Cody’s Return. As a huge fan of Streets of Fire, I can’t help but wonder what could have been had Hill been able to finish this trilogy. Would Raven seek revenge? Would Tom and Ellen reunite for good? We’ll never know. Instead, Streets of Fire is a cinematic gem that remains a misunderstood cult classic to those who remember it fondly.

About J.P. Ribner

J.P. Ribner is the author of Viking fantasy adventure series “The Berserker’s Saga.” Currently, the saga features two novels – “Legacy of the Bear” and “Prophecy of the Bear.” For more about his written work, check out his website.