by request: film fatales #38: american honey (andrea arnold, 2016)
tropical malady (apichatpong weerasethakul, 2004)

the wanderers (philip kaufman, 1979)

I don't think I'd seen this since it came out, almost 40 years ago. I had fond memories, and a revisit mostly matched up with those memories.

But The Wanderers, which tells the story of New York City street gangs in 1963, is very much a "guy" movie, and it's hard not to notice. The girls/women aren't crapped on, but they mostly exist as plot devices, with little attempt to turn them into full characters. The one exception is Linda Manz, just off of her turn as the narrator in Days of Heaven, as Peewee, and that's because she is the one female character who is also in one of the gangs. She is the film's version of Anybodys from West Side Story. (The film makes good use of the size difference between Manz, who is 4'10", and Erland van Lidth, 6'6", who plays her love interest, Terror.) Karen Allen is spunky, but she is either from another world or headed to a different world from the other characters. Toni Kalem plays the girlfriend of Richie (Ken Wahl), the film's main character, and she's offered up as a stereotypical Italian-American (her father's in the Mafia ... Kalem later gained some fame as Angie Bonpensiero in The Sopranos). Because they exist outside the world of the gangs, they are separated from the main action.

The Wanderers came out a few months after The Warriors, which was associated with supposed violence in theaters. The Wanderers was placed into this genre of "gang movies", although it was very different from The Warriors. The latter adopted a comic-book approach, and had its basis in ancient Greek drama. The Wanderers is essentially a coming-of-age story with a nostalgic approach. Both films featured New York street gangs, but that's about it.

Kaufman uses actual events to place the film in its time. Sometimes this works well ... near the end, Richie stumbles onto Gerde's Folk City, where Bob Dylan is singing "The Times They Are A-Changin'", which seems too obvious but is well placed. Other times? Well, when Kennedy is assassinated, and everyone realizes the times are indeed changing, it feels too easy.

As is often the case with movies like this, you can spot many actors at the beginning of their careers. It was Wahl's first movie, and Allen was barely known outside of her role in Animal House. I didn't even recognize Alan Rosenberg, a Hey It's That Guy who has been a regular in numerous TV series over the years, most recently in Shameless. The most notable figure associated with the movie is probably director Phil Kaufman, who made The Wanderers between Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Right Stuff.

Ultimately, The Wanderers works as nostalgia (for 1963, not 1979) ... the great soundtrack helps a lot. And it is an effective coming-of-age story, if you're a man. But that's a big If.

The ending features Ken Wahl's best acting in the film. Watch his face as he goes from sadness over his future, to a temporary return to where he has been.