' Cinema Romantico: Vive Ellen Aim

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Vive Ellen Aim

It was the damndest thing. As the Internet collectively freaked out over the new "Interstellar" trailer (see it here), I immediately planned, as long-time (frustrated) readers of Cinema Romantico know so well, to NOT be the 774,323rd media outlet providing the latest biggest trailer in the history of motion pictures by instead providing the trailer for Walter Hill's thirty-year old, not very beloved "Streets of Fire". It's a joke that never gets old got old a long time ago.

Except plans changed when later in the day I made a daily pit stop over at Roger Ebert's site and, lo and behold, found an Odie Henderson penned "Streets of Fire" retrospective. Kismet, you might say. And I enjoyed it, because while I enjoy forcing my "Streets of Fire" fascination on everyone else, it's a film I rarely "consider". Possibly because a film "from another time, another place" that looks suspiciously like Chicago in the 80's re-imagined as if 2020 was the 50's chronicling a rock 'n' roll diva named Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) being kidnapped by Willem Dafoe - presaging his roles in "To Live and Die In L.A." and "Speed 2: Cruise Control" as if they were rolled into one in an Anne Rice novel - who must then be rescued by the obligatory leather jacketed swashbuckler (Michael Pare) and his accomplice played by Amy Madigan who is almost - almost - as tenacious as an Iowan doesn't deserve "consideration". Yet, Henderson's piece made me consider why I love it.


The title, of course, is taken from a Bruce Springsteen song, but Springsteen, as Springsteen often does, refused to grant the rights for the song to the movie. Which worked out harmoniously because, frankly, that Springsteen song was in no way apropos to the rock 'n' roll fable that director Walter Hill was making. He was making something garish and bombastic, and so Jim Steinman's original tuneage in the form of "Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young" and especially "Nowhere Fast" (see below), which I would in all seriousness name as one of my Top 10 All-Time Movie Soundtrack songs, was exquisitely apt. And that I love these songs so much probably wouldn't surprise you upon advising that on said songs Roy Bittan played piano and Max Weinberg played drums. It's not Springsteen but it's nonetheless infused with the sound of E Street. Of course, I love them!

It wasn't just the music I loved, however, it was the movie too. Why, I wonder? Well, because I saw it when I was an impressionable teenager, I think, and as Henderson writes, "teenaged boys and men who find something in the film to evoke nostalgic feelings for their youth will like it enough to forgive the film its trespasses." One of those trespasses, no doubt, is an attitude toward women, which Henderson fairly addresses. "Her tough-as-nails stage persona hints that she’s strong enough to go on with her life after being dumped by the hero," Henderson writes of Ellen Aim, "yet she becomes completely helpless and victimized as soon as she’s taken hostage." It's an ancient melody. Of course, Thirties Me recognizes these sorts of issues more readily than Teenage Me. So why then, I wonder, does "Streets of Fire" still endure in my mind?

Because of a campy kinda nostalgia, sure, but then there other films I watched in the heyday of my youth that I have long since set out to compost. Like, say, "Commando", the grandiose Schwarzenegger exercise in machismo that I watched near about the same time as "Streets of Fire" and loved just as much. But then while "Commando" did feature Alyssa Milano, the heartthrob of every teenage boy in the 80's, it did not have a pop diva. And my affection for pop divas, we know too well, remains. So maybe it's not "Streets of Fire" that I remember so whimsically. Maybe it's just "Nowhere Fast." Maybe it's just The Attackers. Maybe it's just Ellen Aim.

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