Walter Chaw is the senior film critic for FilmFreakCentral.net. His work has appeared in such publications as The New York Times, LA Weekly, Vulture and Criterion. Chaw also contributed a powerful video essay to an episode of David Fincher and David Prior's Netflix docuseries VOIR.
Chaw is now headlining a recurring series for Wisconsin Public Radio's "BETA," It's called 'Walter on Walter' and focuses on the films of the legendary director, Walter Hill. If you missed the debut episode, here it is for your listening enjoyment.
Chaw is the author of the definitive critical study of Walter Hill's career — "A Walter Hill Film: Tragedy and Masculinity in the films of Walter Hill." The book is available through film critic Matt Zoller Seitz's MZS Press.
Chaw met with Hill at his home in Hollywood Hills and said the legendary director was beyond accommodating in Chaw's pursuit to write a book about his work.
"He is nothing but gracious. He's a really great kind human being," Chaw said. "He invited me into his home, and he said, 'Well, I've been warned about you. You're the guy that didn't like 'The Long Riders.'"
Chaw recalled telling Hill that despite not remembering his review of the film, the film itself stuck with him: "I said ... 'I do know that your films linger with me whether I like them or not initially. And I always wonder about that reaction to any kind of art. I always want to go interrogate why it is something that sticks with me or not.''
The two Walters spent the afternoon chatting and before their meeting was over, Hill pulled out a bottle of champagne to make the work ahead official.
As for Hill's body of work, Chaw said there's something about his films that makes Americans uncomfortable.
"I think that he really pushes that pleasure button a lot," Chaw said. "We're very fond as a culture of the term 'guilty pleasure.' And I think a lot of his movies fall into that category. I think that pleasure should be guilt-free. If you love something, then love it and then interrogate why you love it."
"There's something to his movies that's more than just a throwaway disposable entertainment if there is such a thing," Chaw continued. "And that's what I think makes Americans uncomfortable."
Hill's 1979 film, "The Warriors," was a low-budget film with a short 30-day shooting schedule.
"They had to pay off real gangs for the right to go through their territories," Chaw said. "They hired them on as extras in the big conclave sequence in the first half of the movie. Those are actual gang members. They were all very happy to be there with their colors and to show that they were there."
That added an authenticity to the film that wouldn't have been found otherwise, Chaw said.
There's one scene in the movie in which one of the characters delivers a speech to hundreds of gang members.
"They had to wrangle all of these extras. And so after the speech and the leader is killed, there's panic," Chaw explained.
"The assistant director said, 'OK, this route clockwise, this row, counterclockwise, clockwise, counterclockwise.' And he counted up all the tiers of these young men. And so everybody ran in the direction that they were instructed to run in. And when you look back, it looks just like chaos rather than kind of this organized clockwork plan."
Chaw called it something akin to a "beautifully choreographed" musical like "Singin' in the Rain" or "Oklahoma!"
"You see the person that you're supposed to be with across a crowded thoroughfare and the song breaks out. And in the instance of 'The Warriors,' a fight breaks out," Chaw said. "There's the element of this throb of life that goes through his movies that reminded me a lot of the great MGM musicals — the great Technicolor spectacles."