I was searching Netflix’s Instant Watch library in hopes of finding something decent that I hadn’t already seen or didn’t already own. Normally, such a search is a waste of time, but on this particular occasion it wasn’t. On this particular occasion I came across a little movie from 1984 called Streets Of Fire.
Now I had heard of Streets Of Fire before. My best friend had told me that the Dan Hartman song “I Can Dream About You”, a song which got quite a lot of radio play at the time, was from that film, so I knew it existed. I had not seen a trailer or any other promotional material, though, so I didn’t know what it was. The title made me think it was an action movie, but the fact that it had a soundtrack with a hit song made me think it was a musical. Watching it some 20+ years later on Netflix, I found out that I was right on both counts: Streets Of Fire is an action movie and a musical. And it is something more than that as well; it is something rather unique and special.
The very basic story of the film is that popular singer Ellen Aim (played by Diane Lane) is kidnapped by a motorcycle gang and has to be rescued by her ex-boyfriend, a soldier of fortune named Tom Cody (played by Michael Paré). That’s pretty much it; there really aren’t any plot twists or character developments. And yet that’s not all. There are pretty fantastic sets; the movie doesn’t take place in any real world location but rather in a hyper-urban, almost dystopian setting. There are the songs. As I already mentioned, the Dan Hartman song “I Can Dream About You” is performed in its entirety during the movie (but not, however, by Dan Hartman; rather, it is performed by Winston Ford and visualized by “The Sorels”). And there are plenty more where that came from. Ellen Aim opens and closes the movie with a couple her own songs, songs written by Jim Steinman (an anecdote: my wife was cooking while I was watching the movie, and when she overheard the first Aim song, she facetiously asked me, “Why is she singing Meatloaf?” She didn’t know at the time how right she was; most of Meatloaf’s songs were written by Steinman). There are the characters; Michael Paré is a true icon (somebody I would have tried to emulate had I seen the movie in ’84), Ellen Aim is beautiful, the motorcycle gang leader, played by Willem Dafoe, is incredibly creepy, and the supporting characters are interesting, particularly The Sorels, tough girl McCoy (Amy Madigan), and Billy Fish (Rick Moranis in what is most likely his least-stereotyped role). And beyond all that, there is the feeling. Streets Of Fire is style over substance, which normally doesn’t work for me, but that style is so fueled by a passion, a teenage-like existential angst, that I couldn’t help but be caught up in it. Perhaps this angst is best revealed in one of the final shots of the film; after rescuing and returning Ellen, Tom decides not to stay with her but to instead leave her. She accepts his decision and goes on stage to do her show, and he walks out alone, but not before standing in the shadows and watching her sing with a pained expression on his face! It is one of the best “man leaves girl even though he loves her” moments I’ve ever seen, second only to the part in Big Trouble In Little China where Jack Burton leaves Gracie Law without even kissing her goodbye.
So I loved Streets Of Fire; really loved it. The only problem is that I would have loved it even more if I would have seen it in ’84 or ’85. Had I seen this movie on TV, I would have watched it repeatedly (as I did Ghostbusters and Electric Dreams). I would have memorized it and quoted it. I would have put my boombox up to the TV to record the songs (yes, kids, that’s how we did it in the analog age; we put the boombox mic right up to the TV speaker and pressed “Record”). The one thing I thought more than any as I watched this film was, “How could I have missed this for 26 years? It would have been such an influence on me.” And that, more than anything, is what I take from this movie (ok, I also took the last song “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young”, which I listen to quite frequently); more than anything, what I take from this movie is that you don’t get to have it all, that lost opportunities are a part of life, that I am who I am not just because of what I saw but also because of what I didn’t see.