Long Beach, California, 10 January 1942.
Attended University of Americas, Mexico City, 1959–60; Michigan
State University, B.A., 1962, M.A., 1963.
Began in films as writer; directed first film,
, 1975; created
Dog and Cat
TV series, 1977.
c/o Lone Wolf Co., 8800 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 210, Los Angeles, CA
Films as Director:
Hard Times ( The Streetfighter ) (+ co-sc)
The Driver (+ sc)
The Warriors (co-sc)
The Long Riders
Southern Comfort (co-sc)
48 Hrs. (+ sc)
Streets of Fire (+ sc, pr)
Red Heat (+ sc, pr)
Johnny Handsome ; Tales from the Crypt (TV series) (+ co-exec pr)
Another 48 Hrs.
Geronimo: An American Legend (+ pr)
Wild Bill (+ sc)
Last Man Standing (+ sc)
The Thomas Crown Affair (Jewison) (2nd asst-d)
Take the Money and Run (Allen) (asst-d)
Hickey and Boggs (Culp) (sc); The Getaway (Peckinpah) (sc)
The Thief Who Came to Dinner (Yorkin) (sc); The Mackintosh Man (Huston) (sc)
The Drowning Pool (Rosenberg) (co-sc)
Alien (Scott) (co-pr)
Aliens (Cameron) (co-pr); Blue City (Manning) (co-sc, pr)
Alien 3 (sc, pr)
The Getaway (sc)
By HILL: articles—
Interview with A. J. Silver and E. Ward, in Movie (London), Winter 1978/79.
"Making Alien ," an interview with M. P. Carducci, in Cinefantastique (Oak Park, Illinois), no. 1, 1979.
Interview with M. Greco, in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1980.
Interview with Pat Broeske, in Films in Review (New York), December 1981.
"Dead End Streets," an interview with D. Chute, in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1984.
Interview with A. Hunter, in Films and Filming (London), October 1984.
"Walter Hill," an interview with L. Gross, in Bomb , Winter 1993.
"Hill on Hawks," an interview with T. Davis, in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1997.
On HILL: book—
Cantero, Marcial, Walter Hill , Madrid, 1985.
On HILL: articles—
"Walter Hill," in Film Dope (London), March 1982.
Sragow, M., "Don't Jesse James Me," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1982.
Rafferty, T., "The Paradoxes of Home: Three Films by Walter Hill," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1982.
Sragow, M., "Hill's Street Blues," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), June 1984.
Heuring, D., " Red Heat —Cross-Culture Cop Caper," in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), June 1988.
Revue du Cinéma/Image et Son (Paris), June 1990.
Roth, P. A., "The Virtue of Violence: The Dimensions of Development in Walter Hill's The Warriors ," in Journal of Popular Culture , vol. 24, no. 3, 1990.
"Walter Hill," in CinemAction , January 1992.
Solman, Gregory, "At Home on the Range: Walter Hill," in Film Comment , March/April 1994.
* * *
Established in the early 1970s as a writer of action movies (earlier he had ambitions to illustrate comic books), Walter Hill went almost unnoticed for his first two directorial ventures. Not so with his third. The Warriors reportedly occasioned gang fights in the United States, while one British newspaper dubbed it "the film they mustn't show here." Replete with highly stylized violence, The Warriors has been described by Hill as "a comic book rock 'n' roll version of the Xenophon story." It is a precise description: the movie takes the Anabasis and adapts it to an appropriately mythical setting among the street gangs of modern New York. The stranded Warriors fight their way home through the subways and streets of an extraordinary fantasy city. This world, as so often in Hill's movies, is evacuated of any sense of the everyday, and is rendered with the use of the strong reds, yellows, and blues of comic book design. In its subway scenes especially, colors leap from the screen much as, say, a Roy Lichtenstein picture leaps from the canvas, its direct assault on our vision as basic as that of a comic strip.
The pleasure of the movie lies in that style, transforming its much-maligned violence into a kind of ritual dance. Given this transformation, you could as well accuse Hill of celebrating gang warfare as you could accuse Lichtenstein of condoning aerial combat in his painting Whaam! The fascination of Hill's cinema is that it evokes and elaborates upon mythical worlds, in the case of The Warriors grounded in ancient Greece and in comics, though in his other movies more often based in the cinema itself. Thus Driver eliminates orthodox characterization in favour of thriller archetypes: the Driver, the Detective, and the Girl, as the credits list them. They revolve around each other in a world of formally defined roles, roles made archetypal by movies themselves. The Long Riders , in presenting a version of the Jesse James story, traps its characters in their own movie mythology so that they even seem to be aware that they are playing out a sort of destiny born of the Western genre, a sense of fate which also imbues Hill's other outstanding Western, Geronimo: An American Legend. Southern Comfort manipulates and undermines the war-movie ideology of the small military group, while 48 Hrs. pursues its unstoppable and richly entertaining action in precisely the fashion of a Don Siegel cop movie— Madigan , say, or Dirty Harry. It is as if Hill's project is to tour the popular genres, and although he made a sequence of poor films in the latter half of the 1980s, in 1993 Geronimo triumphantly demonstrated that he remains one of the most intelligent genre directors in the modern cinema. This heralded something of a resurgence in the quality of his work, if not in commercial success, with Wild Bill and Last Man Standing (a version of Kurosawa's Yojimbo ) demonstrating his continuing grasp of genre conventions and narrative technique. He remains highly skilled in the use of chase and confrontation, adept at the montage methods so central to action-movie tension, while offering us not a "reality" but a distillation of the rules of the genre game. In his films we are witness to the enmything of characters, if that neologism is not too pompous for so pleasurable an experience, a self-conscious evocation of genre but without the knowing, postmodern wink which often attends such exercises. Hill manages to take the genre seriously and to reflect upon it, in Wild Bill even to the reflexive point at which Bill Hickock is represented as both victim and product of his own enmything.
Inevitably such immersion in popular genre conventions, however skilled, risks critical opprobrium. Although Geronimo has deservedly received its share of positive comment—in part, of course, because it treats its Native Americans with more sensitivity than has generally been the case in genre cinema— The Warriors , Southern Comfort , 48 Hrs. , and Last Man Standing. have all been dismissed as shallow and morally suspect, lacking in the "seriousness" considered necessary to redeem their almost exclusive focus upon action. This, however, is to miss the real pleasures of Hill's cinema, its visual power, its narrative force, and its absorbing concern with myth-making and myth-breaking. These, too, are qualities to which the label "serious" may properly be applied.