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1/9/09

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In 1983 Francis Ford Coppola directed two films based on S.E. Hinton novels. Everybody seems to remember The Outsiders, 25 years later it's considered a minor classic. "Stay golden Ponyboy." But I don't think I've ever heard anyone mention Rumble Fish, and after seeing it for the first time, I'm incredibly surprised it isn't better remembered.

I think what everybody remembers about
The Outsiders is the incredible cast, featuring very early performances by C. Thomas Howell, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio, Diane Lane and a few more recognizable faces in there. But the cast for Rumble Fish is nearly as impressive, with an all-star cast, including Mickey Rourke, Nicholas Cage, Lawrence Fishburn, Dennis Hopper, Chris Penn, with Matt Dillon and Diane Lane, being the only repeats from The Outsiders. Both films are expertly crafted, top notch filmmaking by Coppola and his crew.

Where they differ is in the style and execution. The Outsiders is very straight-forward, made in a classic style of filmmaking. While Rumble Fish is very avant-garde. The entire film is shot is stark black & white, with the only touches of colors showing up in the Siamese Fighting Fish the boys admire, and briefly in one key scene towards the end. Shadows are extremely prevelant throughout the film, they often fortell who's coming and what's going to happen. Clouds sped up by stop-motion often drift by in the background. The fight scenes are choreographed more like dances, than anything resembling a gang fight. The score is like nothing I've ever heard before, it's almost like somebody playing chimes with a pair of metal spoons. And those offbeat choices are probably why the film isn't as well remembered.

While I was reading the book a month back, the film I was directing in my head, was similar to the way that The Outsiders was made. It would have been easy for Coppola to do the same thing a second time around. But being a filmmaker that's never played by the rules, that would have been boring for him. I went in expecting that same style, so I was jarred by what I was seeing, it took me at least 15 minutes to adjust to this very different style of filmmaking. So I can imagine that when these films came out six months of each other in 1983, that audiences were thrown for a serious loop. And it shows in the box office numbers from the time, The Outsiders made over 25 million, a tidy sum for that time, while Rumble Fish made around 2 million.

Rusty James, played nicely by Matt Dillon, is a young ruffian, who wants nothing more than to be like his big brother Motorcycle Boy. He hangs around with his low class friends, gets into fights, cheats his girlfriend, gets suspended from school, is basically up to no good. But it's nothing like the good old days, when his brother ran the gangs and ruled the streets. Rusty James talks endlessly about becoming the great leader his brother once was, but he doesn't have the smarts or charisma to do so. When his brother comes back from a trip to California, he follows him around like a lost puppy, wishing and hoping for his idol to bring him into the big time. But Motorcyle Boy has changed, he's done with those days. He's endlessly talented at anything he puts his mind to, but nothing in life interests him. As the story progesses, we learn more about why these kids are the way they are, they don't tell us everything, leaving a lot to read between the lines.

Rumble Fish is a film that deserves to be better remembered. While not as easily accessible as The Outsiders, I think it is the more interesting film of the two. If you appreciate B&W photography, this film is a must see. Coppola uses a lot of techniques from the classic film noir days, with gorgeous lighting and compositions for nearly every shot in the film. The look has a purpose, it shows us how the color blind Motorcylce Boy sees the world. It's a wonderful character study of these two lost boys, a story that speaks to any age or time. There are great performances from a batch of burgeoning young actors, some who went on to become the biggest names in the business. The film might be considered a little strange for those weened on Hollywood blockbusters, but there is a lot here worth seeing. Rumble Fish is a true work of art. - Grade: B+


1 Response to Rumble Fish:

  1. Great Review ~ I will definitely check this one out!!

    Thanks for sharing!

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