Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Wanderers



I think I can thank The Wanderers for instilling in me a life-long love of all things 1950s and early 60s: clothes, music, cars--it's all in The Wanderers, with the added bonus of a totally swoon-worthy Ken Wahl.

Once again, we're talking about a movie that pre-teens probably shouldn't be watching, but aside from the language, and its opening sex scene, it's not nearly as dirty as the book it was based on, (which, yes, I also read way before I probably should have).

I think the success of Grease lead to a lot of 1950s nostalgia in the 1980s. We saw the rise of 50's-style diners, 80s-does-50s fashions,  and, yes, movies like The Wanderers.

Personally, I was never a big fan of Grease. While I liked the era it was set in, the whole thing just felt inauthentic--the music was all wrong; Olivia Newton John's ending outfit was more disco than rock and roll. That, and John Travolta never really did anything for me.

But The Wanderers felt real, and gritty; authentic. Plus, it's really funny.

Now, the movie does have a few problems. The introduction of Bob Dylan at the end is a little heavy-handed (and not era appropriate). Most of the criticism aimed at the movie seemed to focus on the scenes involving the Ducky Boys, the Irish gang. And it's true, most of those scenes seem like they've been lifted out of director Phillip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But those scenes have kind of grown on me. Yeah, they feel otherworldly, and like a horror movie. But I imagine that's what it would feel like if you were a Wanderer who suddenly found yourself in the realm of scary, switchblade-wielding Irish gang members who seem to magically multiply.

I recently went to a sing-along showing of West Side Story, and I'd never really put the two together, but The Wanderers owes a lot to it. Take out the singing and dancing, and you've got a really similar movie: New York gangs preparing for a rumble. Gang member falls in love with a girl outside his realm. The gangs even have similar gang whistles.

That said, The Wanderers is a much better movie that everyone should see. Except, you probably can't. The DVD is out of print, and not available on Netflix. Can't watch it via Amazon either. You CAN watch a crappy version on YouTube, in 10 or 15 minute increments, which is how I rewatched it, (the only version I have is a crappy VHS copy), and I guess that's better than nothing. In the meantime, I'll keep my fingers crossed for some kind of special edition or Criterion release to happen one day

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