Monday, October 26, 2015

Limited Exposition: CAN YOU DIG IT?

This weekend while perusing through the realm of Netlfix I came across Walter Hill's The Warriors (1979). I'm usually not a big fan of movies from the 80's (1979 close enough), I just have a hard time getting past the cheesy, outlandish, synth- filled madness that is known to accompany films of this era. That being said, The Warriors  is a clear exception. I love this movie. 

This stylized film centers around gang life in NYC, but not the rough and tough street gangs that you see on the evening news- this is the 80s, remember. The gangs in The Warriors are more of a protective family, not a lucrative organization specializing in a drug trade or other illegal activities. They are violent, but only to protect their turf and their gang.

Not the most intimidating crew

The thing I like most about this film is the almost nonexistent exposition to help set up the story. We as the viewer are immediately thrust into this world as the Warriors gang is traveling on a subway. We have no idea who they are, what they are doing, or generally what the hell is going on. The opening is just a mash up of trains whizzing by and different groups of people (characterized by their specific matching outfits) traveling to some unknown location. Details slowly get revealed and pieced together- although not very clearly. A quick cutaway of a subway map reveals they are traveling to Manhattan. Through some brief dialogue we get a sense of the huge scale of this meeting, which also reveals that there are many other gang factions in attendance. Talk of a "truce" and some mysterious character Sirus  give us more questions than answers- at least to start. 

Normally movies like this just annoy me and make me feel out of the loop- I like things clear cut and explained. But the ambiguity of The Warriors works very well. It feels like  a fantasy/alternate reality film at first, but everything we see on screen indicates a normal earth in present day (1979). This is mainly due to the various gangs in outlandish costumes (leather vests, painted mime faces, baseball jerseys, roller skates- the list goes on and on). It almost gives off a post apocalyptic, urban Mad Max type of vibe. It is very off-putting, yet oddly satisfying and believable. 

This film makes you focus more (subconsciously) on the minute details we see and hear on screen and piece together the background of the narrative. It is up to the viewer to decide how the film world came to the specific starting point of the movie. The events that unfold throughout the film are dependent on a specific understanding of the narrative universe and how this world works, but those "rules" are never clearly explained.  However, the average viewer doesn't really perceive this or even know it is happening. That is what makes The Warriors so good. They give us so little information, yet we are able to understand everything about this world and instantly relate it the characters and their unfortunate situation (don't worry- no spoilers). 

I really like this alternate-exposition technique; I think it makes the viewer more engaged and immersed in the film as they try to figure out the nuances of the story world, even if they don't realize it. I think this is a problem that our film Dollhouse had initially- we tried to initially tell too much of the story explicitly  instead of implying story details  visually or through brief dialogue. As our script goes through minor changes I hope we are able to incorporate more (less?) of this into our story exposition.

I understand that not everyone is fan of this exposition choice. I'm usually not. But I thought it really worked for The Warriors. Can You Dig It?

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