WARRIORS CREATOR SOL YURICK
Talks About Politics, Economics and
What His Book Was Really About
The Warriors, which came out in 1978, was one of the first films that brought home the idea of the anti-hero. For a lot of people it was Clint Eastwood and his man with no name character. But for me being the daughter of a single mother who took illegal sports bets during the day which required me to stay out of the house from 9am till kick-off everyday, The Warriors was it. I couldn’t identify with a guy who had beat the hangman’s noose during the civil war, but I could identify with a group of teenage outsiders, gang members, who attempt to better their situation by joining forces with a bigger gang only to have to fight their way home to the realization that they are the only ones who can change their lives. So imagine my surprise when the book the film was based on was rereleased and I found out that the writers original vision was much darker, hopeless and true to life.
Carlye Archibeque: I went to the library and read the book and was amazed at the differences between the book and the film, what did you think of the film?
Sol Yurick: Not that much, I thought the first few minutes were great the way he organized the whole thing, then it started to go downhill because the guy that they hired to play Cyrus/Swan was horrible, they hired him and were committed to him and were shocked that he was so horrible, that’s what I heard anyway.
Actually aside from the beginning, in terms of economy, I liked that fine. However there were drawbacks here and throughout all the subway sequences. For one thing there was no one, or hardly anyone else on the trains. Now I might have liked some of the imagry although I can’t remember what; nothing memorable of the kind that has stuck in my memory (liked the clinking bottles routine), but if I liked something it was in terms of filmic stuff, good images (hand taken away from straightneing hair, for instance), but all in the wrong framework terms. When the lights went on at the premiere, I groaned. My daughter said, it’s all right, daddy, the kids will love it.
As for what I would have liked to see included, you would have to change the whole framework and focuss on another ‘hero.’ And if it were Hinton, the image of the kid in the foetal position with thumb in mouth to close the movie, in the hot, summer’s light.
CA: They also leave out all the stuff about the Delancey Thrones and the organization of the meeting. The whole book seems like a discourse on the warlike nature of man and I saw a lot of discourse on the politics of the time and even today, a universal theme of violence.
SY: The thing is the more I study it and you have to remember that the book came out in ’65 and it was written a few years before that actually, and what it was looking at was really the gang phenomen of the 1950s and actually there was a lot of stuff written about that and all kinds of studies. What I found the more I investigated was that, whether they knew it or not, they were political formations and numbered into the 1000s and they made alliances and they had people who ruled and had war councils and negotiations. Now none of these kids had ever studied politics but it almost seemed like it was natural like it was a fundemental development, especially even now the whole ideas of gangs have become a political force world wide, which isn’t being recogonized everywhere, even Al Queda can be thought of as a gang. These are series players on the world stage, so what you have is something that almost looks like a biological development that repeats itself again and again.
CA: I know you based it on Anabasis, the march of the 1000, in the book the youngest is 14 and the oldest 16 and in the movie they make them adults And the hero is white…
SY: And he’s also portrayed as moral as opposed to amoral, and there isn’t the highlight on the role of poverty anywhere in the movie that is in the book, the desolate ending when Hinton gets home, the idea of the prison at home
Before I wrote it I worked for the dept of welfare in Ny in my mid twenties, in a sense we used to say working for the dept of welfare was getting a grant to do your own thing, one guy he ran an art gallery, he did his work in the afternoon.
CA: Did you work with the youth gangs?
SY: No with families. Later when I left the dept I interviewed kids from my own neighborhood, Brooklyn, Park Slope which has now become very fashionable. I talked to kids in the street, but then I discovered pretty quickly that they would tell me what they thought I wanted to hear. So what I did was I rented a panel truck and I would park myself close to where they would assemble and I would watch, In a sense, an author who is trying to write about life has to be a little like an intelligence agent.
CA: What was the most surprising thing about your observations?
SY: The parallel to the, so-called, legitimate political structure. I even met a kid, he was 20-21, and this kid, among other things he was a pimp, but he had read Marx, very shocking at the time. And even those who had read nothing had that political sense, and the ones who didn’t were either the ones who were dominated or went under. the gangs of the 50s, the economic rationale they had ultimately came from the fact that they had no money, but later on when they had access to drugs, they had an economic rationale and that began to develop more in the ’60s. I don’t care of what ethnic composition you are, these formations will happen. It is a result of economics. It’s the poverty that drives them to have what they need.
In a sense it’s like that famous book, Rebel Without a Cause (laughs), there was always a cause there somewhere. But in a sense it’s the need for young people to escape that is given to them and form their own cultures and that leads to the kind of gang formations and such
CA: Going back to the greek, it seems like in that time adolescent rebellion was really middle age activitiy, the romans were a gang, the greeks too, they ran around sacking each other’s villages and rapping the women, but to us they were teens or a little bit older
SY: The thing is by the time the Greek mercenary soldiers were used, and at that time they were the best armies around, but what were they other than kids? and in an overpopulated situation. You hired them out and it’s an interesting stuff. Even in great democratic classical Athens there were gangs of kids. They were called the bearded ones. I also talked to social workers who were working on that and it seems that they were constrained by their theories.
CA: The comic book that the Junior reads in the story
SY: There was a Classic Comics in the 50s, but there never was an anabasis. If you notice you get it presented to you backwards
CA: You dedicate it to your father? Isamel?
SY: That’s because the kind of gang my father belonged to was the communists
CA: Was your family immigrants
CA: So you’re first generation American
CA: It’s interesting you would come to write about American disaffected youth.
SY: My father came from the Ukraine, which was Russia then and my mother came from Lithuania, which was Russia too. Father enlisted in an out fit called the Jewish Legion which fought in Palestine to free it from the Turks and then he came back here, primarily, for me what I grew up in was the depression which was a kind of surreal craziness. Never mind Freud, it was that time that left a mark on me. My father was a worker in hat factory, heavy into union work, now and then fighting the police, which was very scary for a kid
CA: I didn’t feel you made a moral judgment about the way the kids in the book acted.
SY: My feeling essentially was, let me put it this way, it’s what a guy I play handball with told me, he was the same age as me and grew up in the depression too. The first job he had was working in a laundry and he was told if you don’t come in on the 7th day, don’t come in at all, he said then I had two choices, one was to become a communist and the other was to become a crook. He became a loan shark. and you find in a way these two roles are not that separate, it’s a form of survival and ambition. They take different roles depending on the time you grew up in and the influences and the culture, etc, etc. You know like the thing is that you can’t separate all of the different things as well as your individual choices, aside from the group choices which are available to you.
CA: At the meeting you break them into two groups, kind of the joiners or the ones who “get it”, and the others who “know only to offer violence before it is offered to them.” So there is almost the good of the all and the ones who side with violence. It reminded me of the current Bush administration and their decision to attack “preemptively.”
SY: Yes, although there are a lot more crazy components. These people have wrecked the economy. It’s like what happened in the second world war being applied to now. The second world war got us out of the depression. There’s partly, and this is only one thread, the hope that this will get us out of the depression, but the other thing is that it becomes, in the face of a constant and abiding emergency, it becomes a way of extending your control over people
CA: It’s like wreaking fear. It’s like the War lord in the book, he tells his people who are looking at the houses in the upper class neighborhood this is the closest you’ll ever get “because he knows how to keep them hating.” And that’s the Bush administration, they know how to keep you afraid.
SY: Yes, exactly.
CA: You use terms like “the other” and “the something else.” Were these concepts of the time?
SY: I forget where I got them. The Other became a bigger thing in the post-modern. I was reading a lot in sociology at the time and I wanted to write something that was like a sociological novel, again not bound by theory.
CA: The journey to get to the meeting is half the book. It’s almost as important as the journey back, where in the movie it’s all about getting back.
SY: I was using the technology of the time. Today they would use cell phones
CA: …and everybody would have cars
SY: Exactly, I don’t know how the guy who’s making the remake is going to handle it. Just before Walter Hill bought it, I had another writer who was going to do it, he was really enthuastiac about it. It’s the only book I wrote that you can almost shoot from the book itself..you have to remember when he was shooting it in ’79, you couldn’t make a film where the hero was black, even when I wrote the book I had to fight with the editor over language, we had to fight over how many times the word “fuck” appeared.
CA: It had a lot of natural language in it was fairly forward thinking in that that you have a lesbian gang in it, in the 50s and 60s. People tend to forget history and think that their time is the only time that these issues are at the forefront, which makes it easier for politicians to sell their “revolutionary” ideas. Nothing seems to have changed too much except technology.
SY: This country discourages learning real history. To my great discouragement I keep reading “loss of political innocence” The leaders of this country were never innocent from day one. The first thing they did after the revolution was to cheat the veterans out of their land. It’s incredible, the country is about lies and tax avoidance. It’s not new, the misuse of power, the cycle of legislation and its removal.
CA: The way you relay the speech in the book is amazing. There’s a kind of game of telephone being played with the political ideas as each person who passes it on changes it with their world view.
SY: In a sense, I was trying to …it’s as if I situated myself far away so you can’t hear it and it’s as if passage from person to person where it gets distorted and then what I was also looking for was economy and speed. So that’s why I didn’t give the speech itself. Ismael appears later in The Bag, also Hinton. That’s my best book
CA: It seems Hinton is better off in a group, when he’s alone he’s vulnerable. there’s that brief moment when he thinks he’s going to be the father, the leader of the group, but when he gets home and he has nothing. Why was Hinton the hero of your book?
SY: He has more possibility as a person. He’s sensitive and whereas the others aren’t. They’re more focused on one thing and he’s aware there are other things. The group gives you power but you’re sensitive to things they aren’t
CA: This is a favorite film of many and yet it’s a very poor adaptation of your story and your message, how do you feel about that?
SY: I’ve met people who’ve told me literally that the film was a defining moment in their life and I look at them like they’re crazy. I had a friend with parents in the movie industry so I was not shocked or surprised or outraged. When they made the move they didn’t tell me anything you sign the contract and that’s it. I wanted to see the shooting when they were in New York. I called and introduce myself to the director, and he says who? I say the guy who wrote the book and immediately he launches into, Sol it’s a movie, an adventure story. I said I understood, I just wanted to see some of the shooting. I went to the big assembly scene. Then I’m just watching this and there’s like hundreds of kids and finally my brain got it, hey I created this, but really my main thing was to get the money to keep alive to write another book and to have this book republished. Which it did after the movie came out.