Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Wanderers (1979, Philip Kaufman)

"Set against the urban jungle of 1963 New York's gangland subculture, this coming of age teenage movie is set around the Italian gang the Wanderers"

I first heard about this movie about 4 years ago when I mentioned to an older film buff friend of mine that I had just seen The Warriors. He said "yeah, it's really great but you should check out The Wanderers" I then added that movie to my netflix queue but never got around to it. About an year the same friend made a podcast where the topic was "underseen films". In this podcast he once again picked out The Wanderers and again talked about how he preferred it over
The Warriors.

Finally, one year later after another friend of mine reminded me about this film by placing it on his "underseen and underrated" film list I decided to finally bump it up on my queue to number and one and see how it could hold its own against the much loved The Warriors.

The worst thing anyone can do is compare this film to The Warriors and I have no idea why people always do so. This is not only a different kind of film but it is also a far better film that the fun that is The Warriors.

The comparison I think mainly comes because both films feature rival gangs and both have a slight surrealistic touch to them. The only difference is that The Warriors relishes its surrealistic setting while The Wanderers grounds it all in some very realistic settings which sort of crosses out whatever surrealistic elements it might contain in its cast of colorful characters.

Wanderers takes a premise we have seen over and and over again, the coming of age story. We all expect these kind of films to hit the same kind of notes and we just wish and hope that they are able to hit them well. However, in the case with this film it does all of this while a constant feel of doom is always in the back of your head. That is if you know history.

The setting of the film in 1963 is what sells the movie to me and made me really appreciate and love every single minute. For those who know a little bit about history this is supposed to be the year the innocence of America died. The year that brought on an assassination of a president, the birth of a revolution that was about to sweep the nation, and the impending doom of Vietnam.

All the characters in the film are living in these months leading up to everything that will happen soon enough at the end of year. They are still stuck in the last tiny bits of innocence that exists still and they are enjoying their teen life. All of these scenes as fun as they might be have a feeling of sadness to it all because you just know what is going to happen and once the film catches up with the later part of 1963 and certain events come into play, you cant help but feel uncertain about the characters lives as they are now introduced to this post-innocent world of theirs.

The film is at its best when it hits these emotional scenes. The last half of the film has so much heart and sweetness to it that everything that came before it seems like a sad joyful memory to its viewer, as it probably all seems the same to the characters. It really is some great stuff if you are able to lose yourself in the film and have fun with it.

The other two things worth mentioning are the soundtrack, which although contains every type of song you would imagine a film set in this era to have, is able to still use its music cues in some very fun and emotional ways.

The other thing worth pointing out is the brilliant final 15 minutes of the film. Although the ending can be predicted, Kaufman is still able to inject so much heartfelt moments that it will stick with you for some time. The final message and resolution to the film is not a new one,but it is still a powerful one.

The Wanderers is a brilliant little gem of a film that seems to have gotten a little bit lost in time and only seems to pop up when it is being compared to The Warriors. Its a real shame because it far more than a "gang film" and it contains far more memorable scenes and characters that most films do.

Don't do the same mistake I did and hold off from watching it. This is a really great film that deserves some more love.

- A+

1 comment:

Eoin said...

I googled your review and I utterly agree with you. I love this film. I got talking about it with a friend of mine who grew up in NYC (I live here now) and i told how it made a big impression on my growning up in Ireland, of all places. Somehow that surrealistic quality of the film makes it feel more real (the ducky boys slowly appearing in the football fight scene). I never understood why it wasn't more known or why it wasn't considered a cool movie either. I also think it, in a way, foreshadows the doom that was to become New York City and it's decay up until the 1990s.