Great Title Sequences #2
The Warriors, 1979, Walter Hill
The opening credit sequence of Walter Hill’s The Warriors is a little masterclass in how you can establish location, character, plot and mood all before the film’s even started. Everything about it is great: the opening shot of the Coney Island Ferris Wheel, spokes lighting up against the night sky, (all paths metaphorically leading to the centre), Barry de Vorzen’s fantastic synth theme driving everything forward, graffiti-credits looming out of the darkness, spray-paint red coolly blending with station-light blue against tunnel blackness, the intercutting of expositional dialogue with the casual menace of the other gangs (The Baseball Furies, The Boppers, The Electric Eliminators, The Saracens, The Hi-Hats) moving through their own subway stations towards the gang Summit.
For all its comic book verve, the film retains the dangerous glamour of the period, the sense of New York as a near dystopia, riven with lawless regions and social breakdown, an urban frontier of ethnic and racial tensions, of ‘tribes’ in Darwinian conflict (it’s clear we’re in an updated Western). The iconic space of this time is the grafitti-bombed subway system (immortalised in countless films and television shows as well as by documentary photographers like Bruce Davidson). The empty menace of these bright carriages speeding through the night, creating an underworld of connections, a grid of colour-coded territories, echoes the stagecoach rolling through hostile Indian country, or the gunboat drifting down-river into the Heart of Darkness.
The word gang, its worth remembering, comes from the Old Norse gangr or ganga meaning ‘gait, course, going.’ So a way of holding yourself, a way of walking towards something. It’s original meaning also included ‘journey, way, passage’. So being a gang includes the idea of a journey, a passage from one place to another, one reality to another (the words gangway and gang-plank retain this sense). To be in a gang is to cross over into another reality. You put on your uniform, and you travel into the unknown, banging through turnstiles, prowling platforms, exerting autonomy on an indifferent world.
In this sense, the gang is the ur-unit of dramatic conflict, think the soldiers in Ford’s The Lost Patrol (1934) or the crew of the Nostromo in Alien (1979), even the alliance of superheroes in Avengers Assemble (2012). Inner and outer tension, the need for survival, a crisis or journey, character as fate. It’s all there. In The Warriors these potentialities are compressed into a few minutes, into a credit sequence of real graphic style and economy. Honestly, it’s almost a pity it has to end. I’d happily watch a whole film of this, narrative evolving in clipped statements intercut with shots of the train moodily hurtling through the night. By the time it does end, the audience (if they’re anything like me) is giddy with anticipation for what’s to come. As the man says, ‘whole lotta magic.’