Sometimes I feel like I have a weird way of grouping movies together in my head. This process tends to spill over into my DVD organization, as well as into what movies I’ll group together and watch when I’m in the mood for a film marathon. What’s a little weird about this process is that it’s always changing and shifting, causes me to consistently do reorgs on my DVD shelves as well as finding new combinations of flicks to find interesting connective threads to make what I like to call “Spiritual Trilogies.”
For instance, one of my all time favorite SPs is the Billy Zabka Villain trilogy consisting of Karate Kid, Just One of the Guys, and Back to School. Back before we became two corners of the Cult Film Club triangle, Paxton and I joined forces for a blog/article crossover (Pax runs the Cavalcade of Awesome and I run Branded in the 80s) we called Unofficial Trilogies. Whether it was Pax’s love of Sho Kosugi or my nod to Walter Hill’s Rock ‘n Roll series, I had a lot of fun thinking about flicks that fit well together.
Well this past week I was graciously invited as a guest on the Forgotten Films Podcast by host Todd, and we ended up spending about an hour chatting about one of my favorite 80s flicks, Streets of Fire. While doing some last minute SoF research I was reminded of a couple of films that are sort of loosely tied to it that I discovered over this past year, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains and The Loveless. So, what are the threads? The way I see it, Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) and Raven Shaddock (Willem DaFoe) from Streets of Fire could very well have been incarnations of their respective characters from The Stains and The Loveless. So lets take a quick look at Aim and Shaddock…
Ellen Aim. Rock goddess, symbol of what it means to be young, abductee, confused lover with a penchant for the strong silent type as well as the snotty, bespectacled, fast-talking managerial. She knows how to rock a small town’s socks off as well as how to take a punch. Hard as nails, but soft as leather.
Speaking of hard nails and soft leather, we have Raven Shaddox. Leader of the Bombers biker gang, lover of rubber waders, shirtless poker, and sledgehammer fights. Nihilistic, cool, calm, yet ready to blow his top at any second. He’ll be coming for the girl, and then he’ll be coming for you.
So, let’s take a look at the two flicks that could very well be a set of prequels to the 1984 rock ‘n roll fable Streets of Fire. First up, 1982’s Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains!
If Ellen Aim is the sort of ultimate 80s rock goddess, a mix of Debbie Harry, Pat Benetar and more importantly, Joan Jett, what would she have been like as a teenager? My guess is a lot like Connie Burns from the Stains. Burns grew up in a small town with a crappy home life and nowhere to go but out and up. Her career is the only thing on her mind, and though not a bad person perse, she will step all over a man’s heart to get what she wants (sound a bit like Ellen and Tom from Streets of Fire?). I first came to this flick after watching SoF and The Driver (more on that in my article Chasing Marin Kanter), and I can totally see the two characters at being pretty darn similar at the core. Sure, The Stains is set in the reality of the early 80s post punk scene and Streets of Fire is set in, well, Another Place, Another Time, but still, too similar to ignore.
The other flick is the little seen 1982 gem directed by a young Kathryn Bigelow, The Loveless…
As I mentioned in the Chasing Marin Kanter piece, I came to this film, well, chasing Marin Kanter (one of Diane Lane’s Stains co-stars that really grabbed me for some reason.) Kanter is interesting in this flick, but the movie is really only about one guy, Vance, portrayed with a powerfully quiet performance by Willem DaFoe in his first starring role. A biker gang leader, Vance is walking in the steel-toed leather boots of Brando’s Johnny from The Wild One. If Shaddock was a cold evil bastard, taking what he wanted and walking that tight line between purgatory and hell, then Vance is the wanderer, riding around the country, kicking the tires on some small towns looking for the right one to set down roots to build his evil empire.
Though the connections between the three films could be seen as tenuous at best, it’s hard to argue that tonally, these films fit together very well, and I’m more than happy to have them sitting next to each other on the DVD shelf. Some night soon I’ll have to pull them all down, pop ’em in the player and take a 6 hour road trip to another place full of bikers and hard dames, another time set to some raucous punk and 80s hard rock ballads. A spiritual trilogy on a trip to hell.