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After reading @wastelandJD's Pulp Mindset, I got to thinking about two longtime favorite movies of mine, and and what does and doesn't constitute a pulp story: Walter Hill's Streets of Fire, and John Carpenter's Escape From New York.


Both movies feature a similar basic plot: Important person disappears into impenetrable place. One bad dude must go in and rescue them. This makes them an ideal case study for what Cowan says does and does not make a pulp story. And FWIW, I think he's right.

One on major difference is setting. Pulps were always deliberately vague, creating a sense of wonder by only hinting at the larger world. Streets of Fire opens by telling us it's "Another time, another place," and then showing us a world with a mashed up 50's/80's aesthetic.

You never know exactly when or where this movie is taking place, except that it's not here, and not now. Like Star Wars before it, Streets of Fire is set in some imaginary otherwhen. It's "A Rock and Roll Fable," as the poster says. It's supposed to be magic. And it works.

Escape From New York, on the other hand, is sketched out in rather specific detail. Specific dates are and events are given, detailing just how Manhattan became a maximum security prison. The world of Carpenter's film, while GOOD, is noticeably smaller.

The second, and FAR more important difference, is in the characters. Cowan argues that pulp fiction was primarily the fiction of the white hats, heroes that did right for the right reasons. Even the hardest of hard boiled detectives chased criminals for a sense of justice.

Snake Plissken, as much as I love him, only ever goes to rescue the president because he's forced to. Hauk has to literally implant explosives into him and threaten his life to drive him to action. Otherwise, he's content to watch the world burn.

Tom Cody, on the other hand, only appears to be acting out of mercenary self interest. In reality, he's working to rescue ex-flame Ellen Aim because he still loves her, no matter how much he's trying to convince himself otherwise.

Two heroes with similar personalities. Nearly identical missions. But what ultimately separates them is thier moral core. Tom Cody is a better man than Snake Plissken will ever be.

And THAT is why Streets of Fire is pulp. And Escape from New York isn't.

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